Behind the Scenes at Central Otago Magpies Party

A table full of some best wines of Central Otago surrounded by wine tanks some already filled with the first grapes of the season is a welcome start to another vintage season.  This is an annual event for the Central Otago wine community and affectionately dubbed the Magpies Party.

Why magpies?  Magpies are the name given to those seasonal winemakers that fly into the region from all over the world, put on their gumboots, work those longs shifts, and help make another memorable vintage of Central Otago wine.

Hosted by the Central Otago Winegrowers Association (COWA) and Quartz Reef it’s a unique event across the wine world. And, most seasoned and first time winemakers in Central Otago don’t want to miss it.  Rudi Bauer, always the gracious host, greets new friends and old with a glass of his Quartz Reef sparkling wine.

This is still early days for the 2016 vintage season, although some grit is beginning to form under our fingernails, we are not yet too wary from long days and short sleeps.  It’s a good time to greet the new arrivals,  have a good catch-up with other winemakers and get an initial impression of the harvest this year.  Central Otago is still small enough that a good part of the winemaker and winegrower community can fit in one room.Central Otago Magpies Party 2016

John Montero of Ellero whose vineyard is in the Cromwell Basin had already started to harvest Pinot Noir:  “We’re usually among the first to get started. We’ve had a good growing season with some hot weather and we’re off to a good start.”

Antony Worch, winemaker for several Alexandra and Cromwell based vineyards noted the variation between the two sub-regions not much more than 30km apart: ‘The Cromwell basin has had about 130 growing degree days (GGD) more than Alexandra this season, and has already topped 1120 GDD for the season a good 170 above average.”

Growing degree days (GGD) is a measure of heat accumulation and can be helpful in predicating vine development over the season.  Many of the winegrowers in Alexandra, the most southerly of the Central Otago’s wine regions and the most southerly in the world are still a couple of weeks away from the start of the harvest.

There is a discussion among many of the winemakers about seeing good flavor development and ripeness earlier and at lower potential alcohols this season.  Perhaps a function of the region’s vines getting older, a uniqueness of the vintage, or some are not quite yet fully convinced of the notion and are taking a wait and see approach.  Regardless at the moment, the vintage is shaping up to be a good one.

But back to the party, wines ranging from some of most recently released 2014 Pinot Noirs to rare older vintages in magnum are piled on this table set up in the middle of the Quartz Reef cellar.  A united nations of languages are spoken as glasses are swirled and wines are sipped.  Thoughtful comments are offered by many of these international guests, some only recently being exposed to the wines of the region.  Some of the more experienced point out a few more unique items among the assembled treasures that are so casually being passed from glass to glass.Central Otago Magpies Party 2016

Wine barrels up-turned on their heads act as temporary cocktail tables. Barbecued chicken burgers and hot wings, ensures enough sustenance to keep some of the more enthusiast party goers at the winery to almost the time of the morning round of punch downs.

Unfortunately, this unique event is not open to the public. But it’s not too late to get your CV into the hands of a Central Otago winery and with some luck you may be one of the Magpies talking wine at next year’s party.  See you there!

Jenn Kingen Kush & Michael Kush

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