Friday, 15 December 2023 15:25

Spring bottling at Quartz Reef

Written by  Sophie Preece
Rudi Bauer riddling. Rudi Bauer riddling.

Rudi Bauer is mid-tirage when we talk, using spring's settled weather to bottle méthode traditionelle.

"Tirage for me is more stressful than harvest," says the Bendigo winegrowing pioneer, whose Quartz Reef label is synonymous with hand-crafted organic and biodynamic sparkling wine. "There are so many details you have to get right."

When Rudi planted his vineyard on Bendigo Station in 1998, he was focused on Pinot Noir, with sparkling wine a pragmatic safety net, "simply because I didn't know what to expect". Bendigo proved the perfect place for Pinot Noir and the méthode traditionelle became far more than a 'plan b' for Quartz Reef.

The first years were tough, with plenty of costs as the wines aged in bottle for 24 months. But after that, sparkling offers a more even rolling cash flow, Rudi says. "You know what you have got in your pantry, because you have two years' stock in house. With Pinot Noir you don't know what you have got until harvest." Seasonal vagaries still have an impact, but the highs and lows are not as dramatic.

When it comes to the sparkling market, Champagne has traditionally held a strong position due to its reputation and status. The very nature of sparkling wine is something people share and show off, and in many cases, Champagne was deemed to achieve this aspirational level," Rudi says. "What is encouraging is that more Kiwis have discovered New Zealand méthode and are actively choosing this." Price increases for Champagne have also redirected more people to New Zealand options, as is the growing trend to drink sparkling for more than celebrations. And with sparkling wine relatively low alcohol, with no tannins, and very little sugar or sulphur, it can be far more than a celebratory show pony.

As he bottles his 2023 wines, with a non-vintage brut, a rosé, and a blanc de blancs, Rudi has plenty on his mind. The base wine has been aging on lees in tank until late October with tirage starting mid-November as more settled weather prevails, to reduce the risk of temperature shock at bottling. Bottles are then transferred to storage for their extended second fermentation.

The entire process, from handpicked grapes to hand-riddled and disgorged wines years lates, is meticulous and costly. But people can buy an "extremely good" New Zealand sparkling wine for $30 to $40, Rudi says. "The quality to price ratio for New Zealand sparkling wine is outstanding."

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