Fighting the Odds: Immigrant’s Vineyard in Central Otago

Immigrant's VineyardImmigrant's Vineyard

Overlooking the Clutha River and Old Man Range, Immigrant’s Vineyard is one of the most southern vineyards in the world, exactly in between the Central Otago towns of Alexandra and Clyde.

Lucienne and Roland van der Wal immigrated to New Zealand from the Netherlands in 1986. They arrived with a backpack each and a bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Business administration. This proved to be a bonus as the New Zealand government was looking for people to kick-start tourism in New Zealand, so a work visa and jobs were easily obtained.

For the ensuing 26 years they owned and operated businesses in hospitality and retail. In February 2013, a month out from harvest, they followed their passion, changed their lifestyle completely and purchased a somewhat neglected 23ha vineyard in Alexandra.

Let’s find out more about this 23ha boutique estate from the immigrants Lucienne & Roland …

Who started Immigrant’s Vineyard and when? Where is it?
The vineyard is in a prominent location, in between Clyde and Alexandra, bordered by the Central Otago Rail Trail, the Alexandra golf course and SH8. It was originally planted between 2000-2003, but things went wrong after the financial crisis in 2008 and the vineyard was neglected for four years prior to us purchasing the property in 2013. We re-named the vineyard “Immigrant’s Vineyard” referring to our heritage.

Back in the Netherlands Lucienne did various courses in wine appreciation/sommelier. While in New Zealand she went to the EIT in Hawke’s Bay and studied viticulture. Since purchasing the block we have been busy getting the plants back to health, through various pruning regimes and lots of fertilising, especially with seaweed and fish, and inter-row cropping with beneficial grasses/crops, in order to improve the soil. Although not organic, we follow sustainable wine growing principles, which mean we only use organic chemicals and sprays.

Alexandra is the most southern wine growing area in the world. This means it can be very hard to ripen the grapes. Big differences in day and night temperatures increase the flavour and body of our grapes and resulting wines. We grow Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and also produce a 100% Pinot Rosé.

What’s the story behind the Ruru name?
Our first wine was the Ruru 2014 Pinot Noir and in 2015 we added a Pinot Rosé, Gewürztraminer and Pinot Gris. While looking for a nice name for our own label, we turned to the vineyard, where we have a large number of birds, either temporary or permanently. We have a New Zealand falcon, hawks, shags, kingfishers, plovers, oyster catchers, tuis, bell birds, black swans, several varieties of ducks.

However all the bird names we tried, were already in use by other vineyards or wineries. One night on the way home we saw a small owl on the road, that night we heard the distinctive call of the morepork, and early one morning we saw it sitting on a trellis post. We looked online to investigate the name. We learned the Maori name for morepork was Ruru. Furthermore Maori legend has it that the Ruru is a guardian and bringer of good luck. Henceforth our wines had a name – Ruru.

What sets you apart from other wineries in the region?
Virtually all vineyards in the area are “lifestyle properties”, where the owners have other businesses. Although it is a lifestyle choice, it also has to be a viable business. We are a two-man band with Roland doing all the machine work and maintenance and Lucienne doing the viticulture work, admin marketing and sales.

It is full on, especially knowing that from October to April there will always be the risk of frosts, so you continuously have to be “on guard”.

Immigrant's Vineyard

Roland “on guard”

What’s your signature wine?
Although Central Otago is all about Pinot Noir, my favourite, especially coming summer, is our Pinot Rosé.

Most memorable winemaking moment to date?
There are various highlights in this venture.

When we bought the vineyard, a prominent person in the Central Otago winegrowers fraternity told us we had made the wrong decision as the vineyard was not economically viable. This comment was like “the red rag to a bull”! We had to make it work. The fact that our vines are healthier each year, the soil is improving and our crop level increased from 30 tons the first year to 100 tons now, gives us confidence we are on the right track.

To see your first wine coming off the bottling plant is another highlight.

Top 3 things to do in your area?

  1. Take a passenger flight in a glider and have a bird’s-eye view of the Alexandra Basin. Alexandra airport is situated just above the vineyard.
  2. Visit all the vineyards in the area. This can easily be done by bike, ending in Clyde with dinner at Paulina’s Bistro or Oliver’s Restaurant.
  3. Mountain or road biking – Central Otago Rail Trail.

Thanks, Lucienne and Roland!

Find out more about Immigrant’s Vineyard in the video below. Also make sure you check out their website and follow their wine ventures on Facebook.

Cheers,
Caro

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