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New Zealand’s first organic and biodynamic winery Millton Vineyards & Winery was set up by James and Annie Millton in Gisborne in 1984. Thirty-five years on, they have earned a swathe of medals and awards for their wines and a well-earned reputation as the pioneers of organic viticulture.

After returning from several years of work in the great wine regions of Europe in the Eighties, James and Annie Millton were given the opportunity to take over her father’s vineyard, Opou, in Manutuke, where they still grow their riesling and chardonnay. Shortly after, they built the winery and established the rest of the Millton estate over four parcels of land, each with their own unique terroir.

What was the most challenging part of the early years of the vineyard?

In the early years, lots of people did not understand what we were doing. Being the first organic vineyard in New Zealand many of our peers thought we were crazy. We even named two of our wines Crazy by Nature as a nod to the days where organics was seen as something reserved for the great unwashed and biodynamics was entirely unheard of. It’s been a delight to watch so many transfer to organic viticulture over the years.

What makes Millton wines unique?

Our wines are expressive of their terroir. We only use natural yeasts in the winery and as such the fermentation is decided by the season. Our intervention is minimal and this allows both the season and the soil to sing without interruption or intrusion.

How have people’s wine tastes changed over the last three decades?

Today’s generation of wine drinkers care far more for the provenance of what they consume and the footprint it leaves on the environment.

What does the Gisborne micro-climate bring to wine from the region?

Gisborne has a mild and pleasant climate. Our vineyards are moderated by the ocean and we are the only dry farmed region in New Zealand reducing our footprint on the land and our precious waterways.

Are there any wine trends you can tell us about?

I believe New Zealand is beginning to both understand and enjoy Viognier. We first planted ours at our Riverpoint Vineyard in 1997 and, over the last few years, we have observed a much greater market demand for it. It’s a wine that can speak to so many palates, be it someone who would usually pick up a pinot gris or those who would choose a red.

What is your favourite Millton wine and what do you like to pair it with?

Opou Chardonnay was first planted in the late Sixties and has become one of our most loved wines. I love to pair this with a hot smoked salmon risotto – be sure to use a good home-made stock and share with friends!