Ostler wines: passing on a heritage


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Breaking the dirt on the limestone of Waitaki Valley 20 years ago was a “huge leap of faith”, say Jim and Anne Jerram.

And as they celebrate the recent sale of Ostler Wines to ACG Wines Ltd, they say they would do it again “in the blink of an eye”, despite a myriad of challenges.

“We were considerably overly optimistic; we really didn’t know what we were getting into, ”says Jim. “Two decades later, we know a lot about the nuances that accompany a new region, and what makes wine so special – and what made it difficult.”

Jim, then a general practitioner, visited Waitaki in 1998 with Anne’s winegrower brother, Jeff Sinnott, discovering the “piece of land” that would become Clos Ostler.

After two years of due diligence, with modeling based on data from three triangulated weather sites, they purchased the land.

Jim, who has some experience in high country farming in the 1970s, says having Jeff by his side on the vineyard and Anne keeping her health research role and income were crucial parts of the mix.

They believed the lay of the land would protect them from the frosts of central Otago, but the Waitaki frosts were even harsher than those of their southern neighbors. Jim remembers many sleepless nights watching the temperature gauge intently, with helicopters waiting. When they finally installed ice machines on the land, the climate had started to change, with the valley warming.

Commercially, the performance of the zone has always been a challenge, which also made it difficult to find investments in the brand. However, Ostler Wines overcame the difficulties to produce an exceptional range of wines, including the award-winning Pinot Noir from Ostler Caroline. “People say Central Otago is bordering on viticulture; I think we’re right on the edge, ”says Jim. “But it is this edge that is perhaps the magic line as well.”

Wines are a “liquid geography,” he says. “They’re different from everywhere else; not big fruity wines, but very distinct. You can pick them from a range from anywhere in New Zealand.”

Jeff told them early on to expect wines, stylistically different from Central Otago Pinot Noirs, to not be understood initially, Jim says. “And he was right. It took many years to get that recognition.”

The couple feel “incredibly privileged” to have pioneered a new region, talking about getting their hands dirty one day, and in front of sommeliers in Sydney the next. “We’ve worn out a lot of shoe leather, kissed a lot of frogs, and made a lot of gorgeous friends along the way.”

And they are “delighted” that ACG Wines plans to take the business to the next level. Ostler Wines will be operated by Lindis Group of ACG Wines Ltd, a luxury hotel company with three lodges in New Zealand, including Lindis Lodge in the Ahuriri Valley.

The company purchased all the stock of Pinot Noir wine from Ostler Carolin, the Ostler and Caroline’s brands and the vineyard on which the grapes for this wine were grown.

Anne says the new owner’s connection to the Waitaki Valley “really matters” given the efforts they have collectively made to raise the profile of the area.

“To pass the baton on to people who genuinely care about this region, who have a good wine sense and a good palate, and for the ability, as they say, to ‘polish the diamond’ of Caroline Pinot Noir.”

But the Jerrams were not entirely out of the woods, retaining their cellar door, The Vintners Drop, in Kurow, as well as a small vineyard on Lake Waitaki. They look forward to the continued growth of the region.

“It was a wonderful walk alongside the other mainstays of Waitaki,” Jim said.

“And it’s time for us to come back with recognition of the Valley as a tiny part of New Zealand’s best.”

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About Michael Brafford

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