Back in New Zealand in 1979, James and Annie began discussions about where they would establish their enterprise. They were sufficiently serious about the potential of Central Otago to have a close look at it around the time that it was stuttering into existence and the New Zealand wine community had been debating its potential. ‘But in the end, says Annie, ‘it came back to staying here. So we then set down a few conditions. We had to be assured of being able to get the varieties right because there was no point establishing a winery if you still had Chasselas and the Seibels! Consequently, they took over, tidied and replanted the family vineyard prior to establishing their winery on the Te Arai River near Manutuke in 1984.
Ameliorating the existing Opua Station varieties included establishing a small nursery for rootstock and grafting vines. The commitment of James to more sustainable vineyard practices was reinforced by his distaste for the spraying regime of the time. Most spraying schedules in Gisborne were similar to the pattern established on traditional West Auckland vineyards. Whether it was needed or not, fungicides, and sometimes insecticides, were sprayed on a regular fourteen-day cycle often influenced very strongly by the supplier of the materials. Spraying herbicides was also standard practice. James began experimenting with reducing spraying and eliminating many accepted practices and replacing them with biodynamic ones. Weed control became mechanical and cover crops were later added. Even botrytis sprays at flowering were limited.
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Chenin Blanc was one of the varieties that the large companies had recommended growing in Gisborne at high yields as a base for white table wines usually sold in bag-in-box packaging. James and Annie had kept the Chenin Blanc vines and in 1984 made a late-harvest wine. James rates his 1985 late-harvest Chenin even better and they have experimented with the same style ofwines from Riesling. The Milltons are playing a similar role in Gisborne as the Hogan family of Te Whare Ra in Marlborough and also Alan McCorkindale, formerly of Corbans, now in Waipara, while Nick Nobilo has now reinforced the Gisborne reputation for ‘stickies with his stylish Vinoptima, made from Gewurztraminer. The New Zealand wine-buying public were rather wary of any wines with residual sweetness. After all, they had only recently been converted to drier wines that replaced the sweet ports, sherries and liqueurs of the mid-twentieth century industry. But the late-harvest wines are totally different. Their sugar, aromas and flavours come entirely from the grapes.
Gisborne would be low on the list of potential regions for anyone establishing a biodynamic vineyard in the early twenty-first century. Yet James and Annie Millton have managed to adapt their practices to meet the demanding BioGro certification. Their prescience and persistence have seen them well ahead of the pack as New Zealand Winegrowers intensify efforts towards all participants committing to their unified programme of sustainable winegrowing. James has mastered the more humid, less continental climate and alluvial and hill soils, and has done it while maintaining his registration as a biodynamic grower. Until the last decade, botrytis had never been Winemaking at James and seen in Central Otago, while here on the Gisborne Plain fungus diseases are the main Annie Millton s winery.
Millton Vineyards & Winery environmental threats for vines.