Hanmer Springs Wines is a vineyard on the edge. From the air to the ground, owner Sarah’s first passion for flying has taken her from the great heights of the Middle East, flying Iroquois helicopters to the grounded, though elevated nature of the Hanmer vineyard.
Having followed her father’s footsteps as a pilot, Sarah was part of the Royal New Zealand Air Force, but always had a passion for drinking wine. After completing an EIT Diploma in Viticulture and Winemaking, she went on to work a vintage at the highly acclaimed Gibbston Valley in Central Otago. In order to save what she needed to get her wine brand off the ground, she spent ten years flying helicopters between various oil rigs out from Dubai.
While abroad Sarah spotted a Hanmer site that she had been eyeing up for years, and made the call to bring her family home to allow them a New Zealand childhood.
Hanmer Springs Wines is one of the highest altitude vineyards in New Zealand, and with a whole lot of dedication they produce exceptional wine with a distinctly clean alpine freshness. The 30-acre land looks out over the Hanmer township and is located on the sunny slopes of Medway Road. The gentle gradients are more challenging in parts, with some located at a steep 30 degree angle – requiring a special tractor to work the terrain. Because of this obstacle, and in order to take care with the vines, most of the vineyard work is completed by hand.
Varieties currently grown at Hanmer Springs Wines include Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Grüner Veltliner, with around 7000 plants currently there are plans in place for future planting. Mostly silty loam and clay – particularly loved by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, while the other varietals are more suited to the stones on the lower levels, which extracts the best flavour out of them. As of 1st March 2020, Sarah’s vineyard is Biogro certified organic – a huge accomplishment for anyone, but particularly this unique vineyard site.
With the help of Theo Coles, Sarah makes Hanmer Springs Wines using traditional techniques with minimal intervention and opts for maturing vessels that include aged oak barrels, stainless steel and ceramic eggs. Believing less is more they don’t use chemicals or filters, and they use wild yeast from the vineyard and a small amount of sulphur added when bottling.
Sarah and her team are passionate about monitoring weather conditions and even have a live weather feed on their website so you can keep an eye on vineyard conditions. The Spring frosts are their biggest challenge, though are often saved by katabatic winds.
There are big and exciting plans in place for Hanmer Springs Wines, with a tasting room on the way – soon we will all get the chance to enjoy these delicious and durable drops.
Why North Canterbury? Born and bred in Canterbury, it was always going to be where I came home to. North Canterbury is the most suited to growing grapes as it is protected from the cold Easterly that often plagues Christchurch city and South. I’ve always loved Hanmer Springs and thought it would be a great place for the kids to grow up. The climate is very similar to Central Otago as it is a large inland basin, so gets extremely hot in Summer and extremely cold in Winter. Once we found a beautiful North-facing site above the Hanmer river, we figured we could make a go of it and here we are!
What’s your favourite thing to do in North Canterbury? There are so many amazing things to see and do in this region. One of my favourite hidden gems is Gore Bay on the coast near Cheviot. It’s a stunning surf beach set amongst native bush with no shops or cellphone coverage. The perfect place to relax!
Top 3 local brands? That’s a tough one as there are so many great producers out there, from the larger guys down to the boutique family-owned ones. Also, I haven’t yet had time to try them all out. I love what Tussock Hill are doing with their two sites and new tasting room. For natural, artisan wines you can’t go past The Hermit Ram and No.31 Restaurant in Hanmer is a definite fave!