A spirit of adventure
For Jen, ‘making wine was never a question’. Originally from Oregon, she travelled to New York, San Francisco, London and South Africa on her journey from financial software sales rep to one of the most awarded and well known wineries in New Zealand. Wine was always calling her, and eventually it brought her to Central Otago.
“I would describe this region as ‘beatnik’”, she says, speaking from her home in Wanaka where she is temporarily holed up thanks to an unexpected drop of September snow. “Its personality is derived from the energy of the place, the energy of the people. It’s that spiritedness, that open-mindedness. Everybody comes here with that spirit of adventure.”
Local favourites from a Pinot aficionado
An adventurous spirit is something shared by many in the region and, being a wine lover as well as a winemaker, it doesn’t take much prodding to get Jen to reveal some of her favourites outside the Valli vineyards.
“Our region is a big family, all working together with this sense of shared energy,” she says, listing Dave Sutton at Te Kano, Rudi Bower at Quartz Reef, the team at Maude Wines, and Bannockburn’s Felton Road as members of that family as easily as if she was naming blood relatives.
As Jen shares some of her top spots in Wanaka (Federal Diner, which is ‘overlooked for dinner’, Cork, which serves local wine by the glass and offers winemaker nights, and Rippon ‘for the views as much as the wine’,) she notes that, in her neighbourhood, it’s common to be sitting in the same restaurant as your winemaker – and to end up having a chat.
‘It’s about respecting that there are forces out there that are bigger than you.’
Central Otago isn’t known for its temperate climate, with Queenstown and Wanaka famed for their snow, while Alexandra is touted as the ‘hottest, driest and coldest town in New Zealand’. While this might turn some off, locals know that this is an incredible place to be all year round, with outdoor adventures as abundant as great wines.
In winemaking as well as life, Jen takes her cues from the landscape. “It’s about respecting that there are forces out there that are bigger than you.” Forces that dictate everything from vintages to flavours, right down to daily life.
A sunny day might call for a hike or a winery trip, while cooler nights lend themselves perfectly to an evening at home with a slow cooked meal and a glass or two.
A sense of immediacy and truth – to place, to self, and to the journey of winemaking – seems to echo through Central Otago as well as its winemakers, with Jen being no exception.
“What I aspire to take out of the region, and what I think is the backbone of great wine, is a combination of generosity and humility. The generosity of the people, the place, and the wine is so engaging,” she says. “It’s such an essential part of every wine you drink.”