THE STORY OF SHAKY BRIDGE WINES
The journey of Shaky Bridge Wines began 50 years ago when the Grant family asked themselves: Could grapes be grown in Central Otago?
The answer to that question lies in one the region’s most picturesque and striking vineyards: Yes they could.
Tucked between the famous Shaky Bridge and the Alexandra Clock, Shaky Bridge Wines is the producer of some of the finest pinot around.
Owner and wine maker Dave Grant talks about his family’s early days as viticulture pioneers in Central Otago.
In 1973, Dave’s parents Bill and Gill Grant planted some vines on their 40 acre block on Dunstan Road just outside Alexandra to “see what might happen”. Little did they know that it would be a lifelong calling for their wine-making son.
“I was literally born on the ‘Home Block’,” Dave says.
“It was my playground as well as my proving ground when it came to learning how to grow grapes and become a wine maker.”
It was little more than a sandpit but with some experimentation, they soon discovered their piece of dirt could most certainly grow grapes. However, back then there weren't too many believers in a Central Otago wine industry.
“Today with vineyards abounding in every direction it seems like a no-brainer; of course we could grow grapes here. But back then it wasn’t that simple. For one thing, you couldn’t actually get the vines,” Dave recalls.
There was the Government-run viticultural research station at Te Kauwhata, in the Waikato. Numerous varieties were trialled, and promising ones were distributed to growers in other regions, such as the Hawkes Bay. But experts said they couldn’t be grown in cooler southern areas.
Gold-miner settlers like the Frenchman Jean Desire Feraud of Clyde and later on the Government-appointed winemaker Romeo Bragato, who helped develop Te Kauwhata, had long identified Central Otago’s potential to grow grapes but only on a small scale; sheep-farming and fruit-growing became much more viable on a large scale.
From the 1950s and through to the end of the 1970s, small-scale trial plantings were carried out, but like most things, establishing a vineyard is about location, location, location, Dave says. It’s critical to plant on those north facing sites that are free draining and alluvial so the vines can develop a deep root structure in search of water in the intense heat of a Central Otago summer. Heaps of sunshine is essential to growing healthy vines and to fully ripen grapes. And those long dry autumn days and cool nights allow for ‘hangtime’ to slowly ripen fruit and that create intense flavour that Shaky Bridge Wines are well-known for.
Vine to Vino
From the 1970s, people like the Grants, who had travelled overseas and saw grapes growing in similar latitudes to Central Otago, proved the experts wrong.
But the big challenge was getting their hands on some vines. The real turning point was when the Grants heard they could get hold of some Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer vines, which meant going up to Akaroa to a vineyard and digging out the vines themselves.
At the end of the 70s, Bill and Gill got to work setting up one of the first Pinot Noir vineyards in Central Otago and a legacy that their son Dave has continued to expand on with his top quality Pioneer Pinot, one of Shaky Bridge’s signature brands.
By the 1980s, there had been sufficient experience and confidence in an industry for small-scale plantings in the district.
Thanks to people like the Grants who took a punt, by the mid 90s, Central Otago was starting to see vineyard planting on a larger scale. By the end of that decade Dave was beginning to cast his eyes to the future and that took him over the Shaky Bridge that crosses the Manuherikia River to the foothills of the Knobbys Ranges. In January 2000 they started to plant out a vineyard under the Alexandra clock. The 2003 vintage was the first wine to be exported under the Shaky Bridge brand.
Since then he has helped establish nine separate vineyards, two of his own, and the rest for other growers. These days, 90 percent of Shaky Bridge’s production is their award winning pinot, known for its power, finesse and exceptional quality.