I apologise for the long hiatus on this blog. My family and I have been going through some personal changes in our life situation, and will soon be making our way back to Europe where we will be settling permanently in Germany. It will be a huge change for us, but one I am genuinely excited about.
Nevertheless, we still have about four and a half months to enjoy the upcoming New Zealand summer, which I am determined to do, as I don't know when we will make it back to this part of the world again once we leave.
New Zealand will always have a special place in our hearts, and it is beautiful places, beautiful wine, and some truly amazing people that does wonderful things like Misha's Vineyards in Central Otago, which I'd like to introduce to you today, that will stay with me long after we no longer call New Zealand our home.
Stretching 210 to 350 metres above sea level, Misha's Vineyards was born out of the love, hard work and passion of Andy and Misha Wilkinson, who after returning to New Zealand from Asia, wanted to find the best place in the world to grow cool climate grapes and most particularly Pinot Noir.
Misha was lovely enough to answer some questions about her journey into this ever-evolving, complex and utterly wonderful world of wine, resulting in some truly remarkable wines that is gaining traction on a global scale, and the adventure it's been. I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did.
Meet - Misha Wilkinson of Misha's Vineyards
Tell us a little about yourself and where you came from.
I’m Australian actually – born in Melbourne, raised in Sydney. But I always refer to myself as ‘Kiwi by acquisition’ – my husband Andy is from New Zealand. I come from a theatrical background and had aspirations of being on the stage too. But sadly I didn’t stop growing so never became a ballerina!
How did you get interested in wines?
I believe my Mum had a lot to do with my early interest! She was an opera singer and when I was growing up she always had theatre people at our house for parties or impromptu gatherings after the opera. There was always bubbles being poured and although very young at the time, I had the occasional sip out of my Mum’s glass. Things developed from there but it wasn’t until I met my husband Andy in the early nineties that the interest in wine really took off. We spent almost every holiday in wine regions, started our wine collection and attended every tasting or wine event we could! It was Jeff Poole, owner of the Fine Wine Delivery Company, who really got us into New Zealand Pinot Noir in 1999 when we were living in Auckland and that’s when we started tasting and collecting Pinots from various New Zealand regions. They obviously made a big impact as five years later we planted our own vineyard in Central Otago!
What sparked the idea of having your own vineyard? Was it a difficult journey getting started?
Besides just falling in love with New Zealand Pinot Noir, it was when my husband and I were doing our Marketing MBA in Singapore in the early nineties that we realised we had complementary skills sets and that we had the sort of relationship that meant we could work together. We finished our Masters and agreed that we would do something together at some future point – but had no idea what that was at that stage. We went back to our corporate careers but in 1999 we moved to New Zealand and that’s when New Zealand Pinot Noir and Rieslings started really coming into focus. After 18 months we went back to Singapore but we were determined we would return to New Zealand to start our own venture. It was a happy day when we figured out the venture that made most sense was a vineyard– combining both our interest (or should I say obsession) with our skills sets. Then over two years, we developed a marketing and business plan whilst making regular trips to New Zealand in search of the perfect piece of land which we finally found in late 2003. We commenced planting the following year and Misha’s Vineyard was born.
There has been no aspect of the wine business that I would call easy - least of all the planting and development process. After that 2-year search for land, we realised our perfect site had no water – lots of rocks and rabbits, but no water. The difficult process of putting in a major irrigation scheme commenced as did the process of removing rocks (or should I say boulders) from the land. For much of the vineyard, the holes for the posts had to be individually spiked with the post then lowered in because the ground was so hard and rocky. For many years, we commuted between New Zealand and Singapore as we were growing the vines and waiting until they were four years old until we took our first crop. So from the idea of having a vineyard till having our first commercial bottle, it took eight years.
What is a day in your life like?
I have yet to have two days the same! As we export to over 20 countries we are travelling a lot. A usual day ‘on the road’ with a distributor in one of our export markets, would have us out seeing customers (and potential customers) all day with up to eight appointments during the day followed by a tasting or wine dinner in the evening. We’re usually exhausted after a business trip – but we love them. When we’re not travelling my day starts at 8.30 in the office in Cromwell and could involve absolutely anything – but there always seems to be a lot of time spent doing follow ups from trips and planning for the next one! My role at Misha’s Vineyard is largely marketing-based.
What is your favorite part about your work?
I have lots of favourite bits – I love the fact that I work with my husband as we have created this brand together. Not everyone could spend 24 x 7 with their partner but in our case it works and it’s great that we can travel together for business
What is your least favorite part?
So whilst I say I love the travel, the downside is having to leave our receptionist behind – Bogart, our standard poodle. I just hate how often he has to go to kennels because we’re on the road. Fortunately he stays at what I call ‘Adventure Camp’ – it’s a luxury retreat and the staff there assure me has a great time there.
Is there a wine that is particularly special to you in all your vintages?
I think that would have to be Limelight Riesling. That wine has lived up to its name and been in the limelight since the first vintage. It’s quite unique in its style and it’s won a big fan base. We’re just about to bottle the 8th vintage of this wine - each one has been consistent but with each bottling, we always taste it and say ‘is this our best vintage yet?” Maybe we just keep liking it more and more. (By the way, that wine has now been made a ‘Potential Classic’ wine of New Zealand by Michael Cooper and rates in Bob Campbell’s Top 12 New Zealand Rieslings, so it has a lot of fans).
Which wine (yours or otherwise) do you tend to drink when you need a pick-me-up?
If it’s not a Pinot or Riesling, then our go to is Nebbiolo. We love the Piedmont region of Italy and the wines from there. How can you go past a good Barolo? Actually, I can’t not mention bubbles here. A glass of sparkling is the best pick-me there is and although I love champagne, we make excellent sparklings here in New Zealand and a glass of Palliser or Quartz Reef bubbles will do nicely!
Who would you share a bottle of your wine with?
Whilst from time to time I come across someone whom I think it would be fun to share a glass with, the one person that I’d always prefer to share a glass of wine with is my husband – my partner in love, business and life.