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A Central Otago pioneer

Quartz Reef is one of Central Otago’s first wineries, and after more than two decades of wine-making, Rudi Bauer – one of the founders and chief wine-maker – is recognised as one of the region’s wine-making visionaries and pioneers.

Originally from Austria, Rudi came to New Zealand on a six month working holiday visa in 1985 to learn about local viticulture and to check out the birth place of Sir Edmund Hilary. He stayed a lot longer that six months, and ended up scaling a pioneering path of his own on a perfect north-facing slope in Central Otago! It was back in 1991 that he spotted his ‘dream vineyard’ when driving through Bendigo Station in Central Otago. There were no vineyards there at the time, and while breathtakingly beautiful, the soil had never been tested for growing vines.

Historically it had been used for gold mining (back in the 1860s), sheep farming and was also home to a lot of rabbits. As wine writer Curtis Marsh put it: “effectively, Bauer was embarking on a blueprint for planting vines on Mars, and even he sensed the marginality and challenges… and not only the hostile terrain in terms of suitable soils or sufficient water, but even more practical issues of electricity and infrastructure on a 12,000-hectare station of ‘dust, rocks and rabbits’ abutting the Southern Alps.”

Six years on, in 1996, Rudi had convinced the owners of Bendigo Station, John and Hearther Perriam, of his vision. Together with them and business partners Clotilde Chauvet (of Marc Chauvet Champagne) and Trevor Scott, Quartz Reef Wines was born. The rest, really, is the foundation of the history of Central Otago wine-making. The region is now better known both here and overseas for its wine than goldmining or sheep farming!

Quartz Reef has 30 hectares under cultivation. The sun-drenched slopes that Rudi spotted more than 25 years ago have indeed proven themselves as the perfect location for growing vines.

We have long been big fans of the Quarz Reef Methode Traditionnelle at Farro, and this month we welcome two new wines to the range, the Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.

What bought you to New Zealand? 

I got a six-month working holiday visa to come out here and broaden my viticulture and wine-making knowledge, to see this beautiful country and to find out where Sir Edmund Hillary came from.

What made you stay? Have you been here ever since?

I originally had no intention of staying beyond by six-month visa. But I was working at Mission Vineyards in the Hawke’s Bay and they extended my visa for one more year. In the off season I worked a vintage in California and Oregon. Then I meet a wonderful girl, got my permanent NZ residence visa, supported by Mission Vineyards, and as they say – the rest is history!

What attracted you to Central Otago?

The striking beautiful landscape, the dynamic energy and sense of place. How long have you been making wine? I’ve been making wine for more than 40 years, starting in Austria in 1977. That has included stints in Austria, Burgundy, California and Oregon, the Hawke’s Bay, Canterbury and now Central Otago.

What makes the Quartz Reef range unique? 

For us there are three things: the single source of the fruit; very warm north-facing slopes with high plant density; and we are very proud to be fully biodynamically certifed with only organic inputs. We have a very low yield, we harvest everything by hand with a lot of care and attention to detail, as well as a respect for the soil.

What is the main difference between old world and new world wines?

In New Zealand, you can really see the intensity and purity of the fruit. In Central Otago, we have the purity of fruit and also a vibrant acidity, whereas in the old world, the fruit tends to be more settled, mature and a little bit more conservative.

What makes a great Pinot Noir? 

A single site and a dedicated ‘vine shepherd and barrel nurse’. [A figure of speech for the role of the viticulturist to look after the vineyard and the wine-maker nursing the wine in barrel.]

What tips can you provide Farro customers selecting wine? 

Always trust your own palate, listen to any advice and learn to consciously be aware of what to see, smell and taste.

What’s your favourite wine memory? 

Being in Montalcino, in Tuscany, sitting on the church wall with Suellen in the early evening, with some wonderful local antipasto from the market and a fine bottle of Chianti, letting the world pass by.