River-T Estate Wines
A Leap of Faith, taken Wearing Cowboy Boots
To begin with, nobody knew they were even there, hidden behind a poplar hedge, contract-growing for a world-renowned wine maker. “We knew we were doing it right, though,” says Karen Turner, “and our wine maker encouraged us to start our own label.”
It was a leap of faith, a huge outlay of money, dare they do it? But the Alps to Ocean was just starting and they could see that a cellar door would join all the dots. So not only did they start their own label, sold within 100ks so that Karen could go home every night, “We decided to offer all local wines, not just ours. People in the wine industry told us it was business suicide‒ ‘why are you selling other peoples!! Don’t do it!’ It’s an industry no-no. I didn’t listen. I’m trying to sell a region here.”
“We were really blown away by the almost instant local support, they like to see they can choose from 40-50 different wines (as a result the people of Kurow know an awful lot about Waitaki wine). The cowboy boots logo and label designs evoking lake scenes from summers past by local artist Burns Pollock. We want the locals to enjoy local wine and retailing a boutique wine for $22 is really good going.”
Yes, the Whitestone Geopark’s limestone adds a unique flavour: a wine expert, blind tasting, will always know a Waitaki Riesling. The maritime influence of coastal Oamaru means Waitaki produces really different wines, pinot noir and aromatics that are unique. It’s also a very challenging area to grow in, the risks are huge: the weather temperamental to say the least. “We have the longest growing season in New Zealand. We still have our fruit well into autumn, everyone else is done by February/March. When you have a long growing season there is just so much more that can wrong, but the benefits outweigh the risk. “When Waitaki wine gets it right (and that is often), it’s world-award-winning.”
And when you pour a glass of wine, you also need food. “We love using local suppliers, Moa Bakery, Harbour Street Bakery, Pure Microgreens , Hazelnuts from Waitaki Nuts … we can source it cheaper off the big food trucks but we think you should invest in your district.”
Being half way for many tourists passing through the district, River T is also a mini information hub. Staff pour over maps with visitors who have come from Mt Cook or from seeing the penguins or the boulders, there to help answer that all-important question: ‘where you going next?’ Not just tourists, here they live by the old NZ tourism board adage: Don’t leave home till you’ve seen the Country and firmly believe there’s a lot to be proud off, right here in our own backyard.
You had us at wine.
By Lisa Scott