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The figure that people will quote you around here – the people whose wine you respect, might be talking 6 or 7 tonnes per hectare depending on the site, and in the Napa I’ve worked with vineyards that will make wine of reserve quality at 5 or 6 tonnes per acre [12 to over 14 tonnes per hectare]. If you can get all of your grapes doing well, if you can get consistency through the yield, take good care of them, you can get a reasonably high crop and get good-quality wine out of it as well.
Given that most enterprises in Central Otago are cropping Pinot Noir at less than two thirds of what is common in Californian, it is not surprising that Central Otago Pinot Noirs are not cheap.
Although Clifford Skeggs recognised the commercial opportunities for growing grapes and selling wine within an easy drive of his home on the outskirts of Wanaka, he was also motivated altruistically. His aim was to produce wine of high quality at a reasonable price and market as much as possible from the restaurant adjacent to the winery:
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I’ve got a wee cafeteria in the front of the building and I want to build it up into a family environment for particularly the summer months. And I want to be able to provide wine and beer and reasonably good food at competitive prices for the younger people and their families.
The camping ground opposite his winery provides a small captive market, especially during the summer school holidays and the skiing season.
Son David Skeggs is now leading a revitalised Akarua with winemaker Andrew Keenleyside, who came to Akarua with seven years experience working in the wine regions of California, Germany and Oregon. This team is likely to allay Clifford Skeggs earlier concerns when his investment was looking precarious:
I have developed it now to 52 hectares of planting and it’s really grown like Topsy. I’ve got a very substantial investment in it now that I want to see through to maturity. But in the meantime it’s just like pouring money down the drain. It’s not the type of business I’d been acquainted with in the rest of my working life, I can assure you.
We are likely to see both grapes of excellent quality and more fine wines emerging from Akarua’s low-yielding vineyards.