North Canterbury – Waikari

Bell Hill vineyard

Down in the small township of Waikari, you’ll find a couple of very pleasant cafes to get a cuppa and a bite to eat – there’s also an attractive Village Green where you could sit and have a picnic. The Weka Pass Railway, which is staffed by volunteers, runs over 12.8km of track through cuttings in the local scenic limestone covered hills from Waikari to Glenmark (and back). Check the website for details, but it seems to be running every other Sunday during the winter. The trains have 1930s carriages and an open-air viewing carriage, and is pulled by either a 1909 steam or 1950s diesel locomotive.

Waikari view from station

Pyramid Valley as a world-famous vineyard began when Mike and Claudia Weersing finished their worldwide 15-year quest for the perfect place to grow grapes – in Waikari. From 2017, Steve Smith and Brian Sheth came together to take on the Pyramid Valley legacy, with the Estate now managed by Huw Kinch who earned his stripes making wines in Martinborough. Pyramid Valley has always been bio-dynamically farmed, and the wines reflect this, the site, and the place. I’ve often heard Pyramid Valley wines from the past described as “extraordinary” and it will be really interesting to see how the ‘next generation’ of wines develop. 

Pyramid Valley winery

I reviewed two of the 2016 Pinot Noirs – both 95/100 – Angel Flower Pinot Noir is here > www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=2457, and the 2016 Earth Smoke Pinot Noir here > www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=2408

As well as what is now classified as the ‘Botanical Collection’ of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay – which includes the two wines reviewed; there is now the ‘Appellation Collection’ that includes wines from Marlborough, Central Otago as well as North Canterbury, across a few varietals including Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and an ‘Orange wine’. If you want to visit – and the Cellar Door is currently closed as big developments take place including the new, impressive winery that I saw on my visit – you’ll need to book an appointment through the website www.pyramidvalley.co.nz

Visits usually include a tour, barrel samples and tastings in the cute Cellar Door that was once a stable block. Look for an interview with winemaker Huw Kinch on WineFolio in the next few weeks. The vineyard is at 548 Pyramid Valley Road, Waikari, phone 06 650 5550.

Bell Hill

A short drive from the township (and not that far from Pyramid Valley) is Bell Hill vineyard. Another vineyard that was founded (in 1997) after founders Marcel Giesen and Sherwyn Veldhuizen concluded a search for a plot of land “where they could grow Pinot Noir and Chardonnay with limestone soil derived characteristics which can be defined by structure, acidity and longevity”. The climate was considered marginal for growing grapes, and the land is quiet elevated, but I think it’s fair to say that Bell Hill is now considered to be one of New Zealand’s great vineyards, appearing on the Fine Wines of New Zealand list for both their Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. I spent the afternoon in the vineyard with Shwerwyn and our conversations are here >www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=3657

The vineyard is probably the most closely-planted that I can recall seeing in New Zealand. Larry McKenna extolled it’s charm when I suggested I would try and visit – “it is immaculate” were his words. The limestone is evident in scars across the hillside, and underfoot. The vineyard is not open to the public, but – as I did – you can email and request an appointment to visit on info@bellhill.co.nz. The wines are produced in limited quantities and they have to manage demand very carefully. The best way to be able to enjoy a bottle of their wine is to express an interest and be added to a mailing list. I tasted the two main wines, from the current release 2016 vintage, at my visit and they are quite wonderful – tense, detailed, complex and ethereal.

Bell Hill packaging
North Canterbury wine map

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