Time spent working across Europe, where he studied oenology and viticulture in Burgundy, impressed on Mike the crucial influence of soil on the character and quality of wine.
Working for some respected names in Burgundy, Alsace and Mosel, as well as the New World, Mike arrived in New Zealand in 1996 and joined Neudorf.
Following a quest over many years to find the ideal terroir for his own vineyard, he discovered the combination of clay-limestone scarp slopes and marginal climate he was seeking in viticultural terra incognita of Waikari. It was there in 2000, with his partner and winegrowing collaborator Claudia Elze, that he established Pyramid Valley.
Committed to faithfully discover, record, and transmit the ‘place-voice’ of this terroir, Mike became a local pioneer of many approaches now more widely adopted within the industry.
This included establishing biodynamically managed vineyards from inception, extended skin contact for white wine, no additives bar minimal sulphur at bottling if required, and using neutral clay amphorae.
This, along with meticulous practices in the vineyard and winemaking, such as pied de cuve and hand de-stemming, enabled Mike to achieve his aim to make wines where the voice of the places speaks louder than the grape.
Mike died in his sleep of natural causes at home in Mount Lyford, Canterbury on 12 November 2020, aged 55. His legacy lives on in the inspiration he radiated to fellow winegrower, the knowledge he generously shared with all, and the quiet hand that guided the distinctive voice of the exquisite wines that have tragically outlived him.
A celebration of Mike’s life in wine will be held at Pyramid Valley’s Waikari estate on 27 February.
This article was published in issue 126 of New Zealand Winegrower magazine.