Meet Misha Wilkinson from Misha’s Vineyard in Central Otago

Misha’s Vineyard in Central Otago celebrates its 10th vintage this month and we caught up with co-owner and marketing guru Misha Wilkinson to find out more about her boutique wine business in one of the most spectacular settings in New Zealand.

Get a cuppa or a glass of vino, sit back and enjoy!

What do you do?
I co-own Misha’s Vineyard with my husband Andy. Together we run the business but specifically I look after the marketing aspects of Misha’s Vineyard.Andy and Misha Wilkinson

What does a typical working day look like for you?
We have things set up pretty well in that we walk across the lawn from our house to our office – and that’s where Jill, our admin manager, and Andy and I work. So our ‘commute’ to work is about 2 minutes!

If we’re not travelling, we’re in the office predominantly as we export to over 20 countries around the world so there’s always a lot of communication and work required in that.  Our office days however are always different as we have a lot of trade visitors and media who come to visit so that involves us doing private vineyard tours and tastings for them, plus we’re out and about to the warehouse, winery, vineyard etc. Whenever we think we’ll have a quiet office day, it just never seems to work out that way!

Number of years in the wine industry
We decided we were going to find land and plant a vineyard at the end of 2001 – and then spent 2 years searching for land, and writing our business and marketing plan for our ‘wine project’.

We did find the land in late 2003 and planted in late 2004. So I guess we’ve been in the wine business for 15 years now but in terms of vintages, we’re just coming up to our 10th vintage at Misha’s Vineyard.

First job
My first job was an usherette at the Sydney Opera House (at 16). It was a wonderful job as I could watch my Mum sing in the Australian Opera, (as she was a full-time member of the company) and get paid for it. I also saw a lot of plays, concerts and ballets so I was very lucky.

Why did you decide to work in the wine industry?
After my husband and I completed our MBAs in Singapore in the early nineties, we realised we had complimentary skills and decided we could work together – but at that stage hadn’t decided what industry that was going to be.

Over the next few years, we spent a lot of time talking about what we’d do if we left the corporate world and eventually the idea of establishing and running a vineyard and creating a wine brand seemed the ideal thing. Why? Well I guess wine was our passion (and you know what they say about following a passion), and we analysed what we could bring to the wine business and decided we had skills sets and knowledge that would be ideal in creating and establishing a brand and then creating export markets.

With Andy’s experience running businesses across Asia Pacific (with particular focus on sales, distribution and operations) and my experience in heading up Asia Pacific marketing operations for various large IT companies, we felt confident in creating a brand and running an export business. And then when the product you’re marketing is something you’ve grown and managed every aspect of, there’s a huge feeling of satisfaction that’s at a level way beyond any satisfaction you can get from a corporate job.

What would you do if you wouldn’t work in the wine industry?
I’m not sure I can say I’d still be in the corporate world as I think I had enough years of doing that, so I guess if it hadn’t been a vineyard, Andy and I would be running another type of business together. But I can’t imagine what other product or service we could feel as passionate about to be very honest.

What’s so special about New Zealand wines?
I’m actually Australian by birth (but I always say I’m Kiwi by acquisition – my husband) and I can tell you that I am so glad I’m a part of the New Zealand wine industry and not the Australian wine industry.

Why is that? Australia has gone through (and still is) so many issues due to the commoditization of their wine and there is such a huge glut of wine and it’s such a tough industry if you’re a boutique producer. The New Zealand industry is in such a different place – it’s predominantly run by smaller artisan producers and if you look at the growth of export markets and the price people pay for New Zealand wines, you see how much more value New Zealand has created in their wines.

New Zealand is also a cool climate producer (unlike most of Australia) and cool climate wines ie aromatic whites and Pinot Noir, as well as cool climate Syrah, are much more to my palate preference. Also there are fewer cool climate wine regions in the world so it makes New Zealand wines a little more special.

I’m incredibly proud of what the New Zealand wine industry has done and feel honoured to be part of it and feel we’re still growing as an industry with lots of opportunities ahead. I don’t think there will be too many wine producing countries that would have the same level of optimism about their industry as New Zealand does. That’s not to say it’s easy being a boutique wine producer anywhere and it’s certainly not an industry where you’ll make your fortune. But if you love what you do and do it well, New Zealand is a good place to be doing it!

What the story behind Misha’s Vineyard wines?
There are many stories around Misha’s Vineyard that include the gold mining history of the land from when the Cantonese came out to work there in the late 1800s to find their fortune in gold, and we also have an auspicious vineyard where the lucky number 8 (meaning prosperity in Chinese) is a predominant feature of the vineyard development and with a location that in feng shui terms is described as the horseshoe position (or armchair position), making it an ideal location to bring luck and good fortune.

We also have a strong theatrical/operatic theme that runs through the brand and the naming of our wines. As well as having an opera-singing mother, I trained to be a ballerina (but ended up growing too tall for the ballet and just danced with the opera for a couple of seasons) and then did a degree in musicology and worked for the Royal Opera House in London, before leaving the theatre and moving into IT marketing.  But when it came to naming our wines, the theatre and music became the inspiration with our wines having names like ‘The High Note’ Pinot Noir, ‘Limelight’ Riesling, ‘Dress Circle’ Pinot Gris etc.

What sets your wines apart from other New Zealand wines?
In terms of what sets our wines apart that’s to do with a few key things. All of our wines from our one vineyard site – so they’re all ‘single vineyard’ if you like. That site is a spectacular 57 hectare vineyard on the edge of Lake Dunstan in the Bendigo region of Central Otago.  It is a steep and rocky site that takes us a month to pick due to the elevation from 200 metres up to 350 metres above sea level, and the various landforms and soil types as well as the range of clones we have, mean that it’s a site that offers complexity and a unique character to our wines.Lake Dunstan

We also have the world’s best winemaker – Olly Masters! Olly, who did vintages in Burgundy then worked for Dry River then many years at Ata Rangi before joining us for our first vintage, is one of the most respected winemakers in New Zealand and judges some of the top wine shows in Australia and New Zealand. Olly definitely takes a minimalist approach with winemaking but his wines do all reflect a certain style where precision, texture, elegance and a delicate touch, is apparent across all the varietals.

If you were a wine, what wine would you be?
I think I would be a Riesling – much better suited to summer than winter and would like to be described as balanced but edgy, exciting and racy, has a touch of sweetness and definitely ages gracefully!

Wine & dine, what’s your favourite match?
I think Pad Thai noodles with our Limelight Riesling is a match made in heaven.

Share a fact about yourself that only a few know
I can do a fantastic trumpet impersonation (without the instrument) – just need to be slightly intoxicated and hold my lips the right way!

Hidden gems and favourite spots in your region
Lake Dunstan in Cromwell. There are very few people we see walking around the Lake early morning when we take our dogs for a walk. We mostly have it to ourselves and feel very fortunate that we have such a spectacular spot that we can visit every day.

Things you still want to do – what’s on your bucket list?
To be honest, it’s better to live and enjoy things every day or the things that are just coming up rather than living for something way out in the future that you may not achieve.

Last book read
Gone Girl – but I’m not a good book reader. I prefer to write than read.

Advice on buying wine
Experiment! Don’t buy something you know. Ask a friend or a wine shop expert what they suggest and take a risk. There’s so much to enjoy so you shouldn’t just buy something you already know about.Misha's Vineyard Wines

Dead or alive, who would you like to share a glass of vino with?
My husband – and he’s definitely alive.  He’s my partner in all things and there’s nothing better than delving into our cellar and finding a wine we’ve collected and aged and then opening it up and enjoying it together – and perhaps remembering where we were when we purchased it (if overseas).

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Cheers Misha for your time!

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