Although Rockburn’s flagship wine is Pinot Noir, I do have a soft spot for their Gris for a while now. Rockburn is one of those producers everyone seems to be aware of but not many know much about.
So I caught up with Paul Donaghy, their General Manager and a good friend of mine, to find out a bit more about this boutique producer from the rugged south.
Hi Paul, thanks for your time…. tell us, who started Rockburn and when?
Dick Bunton a well-known heart surgeon from Dunedin started Rockburn as a hobby in the early 90’s with key plantings going on through the Gibbston Valley in the mid 90’s and latter in Lowburn in the late 90’s. Then in 2001 the Rockburn brand was developed.
What’s the story behind the brand name?
Rockburn takes its name from the rugged, rock-strewn, burn-scarred landscape of Central Otago. The region is renowned for its stunning scenery of rugged mountains and picturesque lakes. Nestled on the 45th parallel we share a climate that is similar to Burgundy, the great Pinot Noir producing region of the world.
What’s your signature wine?
Pinot Noir! We make a barrel selection i.e 10 barrels (not every vintage) from the best barrels our winemaker Malcom selects. The barrel may contain wine from either Gibbston Valley or Lowburn is then kept in oak for another 5-6 months for further oak influence. Only around 250 cases are made.
Number of employees
Three full-time with a contract viticulture team which gets up to 20-30 during peak picking times.
What sets you apart from other Central Otago producers?
We are a bricks and mortar business. We own our vineyards, have our own winery and winemaker.
Also, we are multi regional – meaning we have two vineyard sites; one in Gibbston Valley and one in Lowburn. This enables us to make a very consistent style of Pinot Noir with our Rockburn wines year in year out.
No sadly our Cellar Door managers dog – Pip just passed away. The funny thing though with Rockburn is that of the 3 full-time staff all 3 have a sets of twin children (not really an animal story!).
Funniest customer tasting story?
A couple of years ago I had to fly to China via Hong Kong. It was my first time to China and I booked my own flights. Not realising I needed a visa to enter China I had to wait several hours at Hong Kong international airport for an emergency visa.
Eventually I managed to catch the train to Guangzhou late in the afternoon to be collected by our distributor in a limousine. Driving along the freeway at 160kph to get to the tasting I ended up only being 30 min late. Upon arrival to the tasting; red-carpet, champagne & caviar to start. The tasting was unique that at the end we played a game like pass the parcel whereby I turned my back to the group and tapped a glass with a spoon. Once I stopped and turned around the person holding the parcel unwrapped the layer of paper to reveal a corkscrew or a wine type of prize.
At the end everyone at the tasting wanted a photo with me and Gan Bei (aka bottoms up) a glass of Rockburn Pinot with me. At the end of the day I returned to my hotel room absolutely shattered from the stress from earlier in the day and the fantastic tasting I had just been part of.
Favourite regional wine & food match
Central Otago Pinot with any type of lamb dish.