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Bannock Brae

New Zealand

Growing wine in Central Otago’s extreme conditions means special care must be given to each and every vine

New Zealand may have initially been put on the radar with its benchmark-style Sauvignon Blancs, but recently there’s a new rising star – Pinot Noir. A number of cult wineries are mastering this challenging grape variety and delivering distinctively deep, fruity and captivating Pinots that are increasingly sought after by enthusiasts around the world.

Among these ultra boutique wineries is this month’s Pinot Noir Series selection, Bannock Brae Estate from Central Otago’s Bannockburn region on New Zealand’s south island. Central Otago is actually the country’s highest and the world’s southernmost winegrowing area, and Bannock Brae Estate exemplifies the best of the region’s severe yet desirable terroir.

Bannock Brae Estate is owned by Crawford and Catherine Brown, both locals to the Otago area and dedicated to producing distinctive Bannockburn Pinot Noir from their single vineyard estate in one of the most dramatic growing areas in the world. Locked in deep valleys and surrounded by snow-covered mountains, this cool-climate site seems to be a perfect match for this finical grape variety.

Crawford brings a lifetime of experience in beverages to the business, once the Master Brewer for Lion Nathan, and prior to that, Speight’s Brewery manager for a number of years. His strong background in chemistry and passion for the art of blending led him to try his hand on the winemaking side of the business, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Crawford and his wife Catherine sought out a piece of property within Central Otago’s Bannockburn area, intrigued by the new and aggressively expanding wine region and found a suitable spot to call home in 1997. The Browns planted a 20-acre vineyard, allocated most of it (97%) to Pinot Noir, and left just a few rows for some Riesling “to play around with.” Since Bannock Brae’s inaugural vintage in 2001, the response has been nothing short of thrilling for the small family estate.

In 2002, the winery’s “Barrel Selection” Pinot was named the celebrated Pinot Noir of the Year by Cuisine magazine (a major New Zealand periodical comparable to our Food & Wine and Wine Spectator) and subsequent vintages have been met with numerous Gold Medals and incredible praise at both local and international competitions.

“Barrel Selection” was chosen to denote Bannock Brae’s top tier Pinot, fitting since each vintage, Crawford and his winemaker Matt Connell taste through the barrels and select their favorites for the program. The second tier wines are named “Goldfields” after the famous gold mining fields that Bannockburn is known for. Goldfields wines include a Pinot Noir, Riesling, and Rosé named after Catherine.

Although the vineyard on Bannock Brae’s Estate may yield impressively vibrant and intense fruit, achieving this each vintage is no easy feat for the Browns. Growing wine in Central Otago’s extreme conditions means special care must be given to each and every vine, and accordingly, almost everything is done by hand – from pruning and harvesting, to daily assessments during the growing season to ensure the ripening grape bunches are developing to their fullest extent. To beat the natural enemy of frost, the Browns rely on a wind machine that blows warm air over the vines throughout the winter season. Although laborious, this TLC is necessary for perfection, and Bannock Brae has stunning, world-class Pinots to show for it.

Also on the charming estate is the Browns’ family home where they live with their two younger daughters. The family enjoys welcoming visitors into their home for private wine tastings where they can relax on the back porch with a glass of medal-winning Pinot Noir and enjoy the breathtaking views that Bannockburn has to offer.

New Zealand’s Bannock Brae Estate is surely an exciting find for fans of Pinot Noir and Crawford and Catherine Brown are thrilled to share their latest achievement with our Pinot Noir Club members this month.

Map of the area

About The Winemaker

Winemaker Matt Connell works in close consultation with Crawford Brown to produce the award-winning wines of Bannock Brae Estate. Connell received a degree in Parks & Recreation Management at Lincoln University, after which he traveled extensively and was involved in hospitality management in New Zealand and overseas. Upon his return to New Zealand, he worked at Passage Rock Wines on Waiheke Island and developed an interest in the wine industry. He then returned to school and completed a Post-graduate Diploma in Viticulture and Oenology in 2001.

Connell spent six months at Wynn’s Connawarra Estate in South Australia before moving to Elk Cove Vineyards in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. It is here that Connell developed his passion for Pinot Noir and cool-climate winemaking. In 2005, Connell returned to New Zealand and accepted the role as winemaker for Bannock Brae Estate, as well as a few other up and coming producers. Connell has made quite the name for himself within the New Zealand wine industry. His record of achievement at local wine shows was recently highlighted at the 2009 Royal Easter Show Wine Awards, where five out of the eleven gold medals awarded to New Zealand Pinot Noir went to wines that he had personally produced.