Ten years ago, Jen Parr and I contemplated our future lives over a glass of Cab Franc. We’d been invited to a party held in the loft of a mutual friend under the Brooklyn Bridge just outside Manhattan. I still hear our words; I can picture the way we draped ourselves across the butcher block island of the industrial-chic kitchen, drinking a fresh vintage of our host’s newest Long Island vineyard experiment. We soberly (in seriousness of topic) outlined our paths, oblivious to the rest of the guests floating around us.
We both aspired to follow a vinous trail, no matter how windy or steep or challenging it might become. Jen hoped hers might lead her through the great vineyards of the world; mine – I was still unsure of how it would unfold. But now, a decade later, Jen and I are reunited by our careers, on the soils of Terra Sancta in New Zealand.
Terra Sancta Winery in Bannockburn, Central Otago, was formed in 2011 by owners Mark Weldon and Sarah Eliott, Kiwis, but coincidentally, also former Manhattan-ites and still lovers of that grand East Coast city that relentlessly propels folks from its walls and into the vines.
Despite the young age of the Terra Sancta label, the oldest vines back to 1991, one of few wineries to possess a vineyard surpassing 20 years of age in the region. Jen Parr, the head winemaker since 2007, will have completed 8 vintages at the winery, come 2014 (including when it was under different ownership).
Prior to my arrival in Central Otago for the Pinot Noir Fest, of which Jen is the two-time Chairwoman, she answered a few questions about Terra Sancta’s winemaking philosophy and professed her love of Loire Valley Chenin and licorice ice cream.
What philosophy guides your viticulture and/or enology (answer depends on role of respondent)? Our philosophy is coined “terra specific” which means we treat our different blocks and sites as individuals and give them the love and attention they require. Personally I try to understand every nuance of every block and think of them as extended family.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker (e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine)? Mother Nature is generally kind to us in Bannockburn except in a year with significant spring frosts. For me, the greatest challenge is trying to nurture grapes without altering their pre-ordained destiny. Making terrior wines is “hands-off” in the winery but all interactions in the circle of wine life give energy and direction. The goal is to work synergistically together to make wines that reflect our place.
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region? I struggle to think of any drawback to making wine in Bannockburn. The climate and soils of the region are so special and perfectly suited to making great Pinot Noir. The arid climate, the gold mining history, the lack of significant rain and the wonderfully beautiful surroundings all add to the appeal of making wine here.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? Being involved in a young and growing industry is very exciting. Pinot Noir excites me the most at the moment as I think in Central Otago we are embarking upon a new era where particular sites will begin to distinguish themselves as extraordinary or of a higher “cru.”
How do you think Americans perceive NZ wines? Sauvignon Blanc would probably be the first wine that comes to mind. I think (would hope) that they view our Pinot Noirs as wines of great quality but they may think they are a bit expensive compared to other new world wines.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Least? Sorry, but only one? Northern Rhone and Beaujolais are neck and neck for me for red wines and I love Chenin Blanc from the Loire. I don’t know that I have a least favorite region as I think it’s important to understand all wines of the world. I drink less Bordeaux perhaps (although that’s changing) but I don’t dislike the wines, they just don’t sing for me in the way Burgundy, the Rhone or Beaujolais do.
Which wine or grape (in the world) is the least understood or respected? Riesling. The sad reality is that this noble grape is largely mistrusted (probably as much as misunderstood). An amazing wine with such poise and nobility, but it’s incredibly difficult to sell.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Single Malt, Craft beer… Oh, you probably mean wine – yes, plenty of that. Lots of Pinot Noir (including rose), Rhone reds and some Beaujolais. I swap a lot of wines with friends so am always trying wines from all over the South Island. Riesling and bubbles seem to be the wines for “occasions” in our house.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? I spend lots of times with our dogs who are heaps of fun. I’m outside as much as possible: skiing in winter, mountain biking, hiking and tramping/camping the rest of the year (aside from harvest). I also love having people around for dinner or a wine.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? Right now, in the most wonderful part of summer, I’d like to be here in Wanaka. Once the season changes, I’d like to go to Italy to explore Piemonte, Tuscany, and Sicily. I’d love to do a lot of it on a bike. And if I was there long enough, I’d head to the mountains and ski.
Give one surprising fact about yourself. This is a hard one to answer as I tend to lay it all out on the table so I don’t think of myself as a modern woman of mystery. Given my passion (bordering on obsession) for wine, it might surprise some that I used to sell financial software. Also, I’d do just about anything for a scoop of licorice ice cream.