Quest Farm, Pisa Ranges, Central Otago
It all started back in 1999 when Mark Mason left the well established Sacred Hill Winery he co- founded in 1986 to focus on one variety, something that will challenge him for many years. He found what he had been looking for, a serene hidden alpine valley at the foothills of Central Otago’s Mt Pisa Range. It helped there was a ski field 8 km away…
The farm he purchased was overgrown with wild briar roses, had no power and limited water. What it did have was 145 hectares of steep, warm north facing slopes, a complex range of soils from clays to glacial till and gravel loams and quartz deposits from up to 800,000 years ago.
Mark brought a little bulldozer and got on with clearing the wild rose briars and marking out multiple separate plots to give as many chances as possible for the vines to show their future potential as blending components from this privileged site.
After a few years hard labour he had 18 different vineyards on different slopes, aspects, and soils and some of the highest plantings in New Zealand. To maximise the potential for complexity , eight clones (5, Abel, 10/5, 667, 777, 113, 114, 115) were grafted onto drought tolerant root stock , all planted at close spacings of 3400 vines/hectare.
Fast forward to 2014 and its more than 14 years since the vineyard was planted, now all meticulously looked after by Michelle Crawford.
Mark’s domain these days is the gypsy winery – Quest Farm’s own winemaking gear supplemented by leasing local cool stores as his winery. He uses all the normal artisanal winemaking methods – hand picking, destemming, no crushing, varying amounts of whole bunch additions, small wild ferments, hand plunging, long skin contact and basket pressing into barrels. He deliberately chooses one to three year old barrels which allow him to see what the different plots are trying to convey – new oak would mask these complex nuances.
With the single vineyard bottling, Mark aims for subtle style – one with aromas of rosehip, dark fruit and spice, with a structured long palate. It’s the wine he and Michelle like to drink, so it is natural that this to be the wine they share with the world.
For anyone else, having tamed the land and established the Quest Farm style it would provide time to relax. However, Mark and Michelle can’t stand still and their future includes; building a sustainable winery with solar and micro hydro, expanding the merino and highland cattle farm and when the vines are a little older a new range that shows off Quest Farm’s three distinct soils. Oh, and perhaps one day go for a ski again….