The grapes of Rath-friland
Almost three decades after Co Down man Alan Brady planted the first half-acre of grapes among the southern mountains of New Zealand with a view to producing the finest of wines the area has become one of the world’s most famous wine-producing areas.
The 100th producer recently moved into the Central Otago area of South Island, NZ, made famous as a wine producing region by Alan, who worked briefly for the Belfast Telegraph in the 1960s. Now their superb vintages are exported all over the world.
Such has been his contribution to the wine industry that he was made a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 1996, and he is soon to publish a Penguin book on his 30-year experiences from pioneer to expert.
Now in semi-retirement, Alan Brady (73) is producing what he calls a hand-crafted pinot noir under his Wild Irishman label.
“Not only am I proud to come from Ireland, but there’s also a wild native shrub that grows in perfusion in the hills around our vineyards, and it’s called ‘Wild Irishman’,” said Alan.
Alan, who hails originally from Rathfriland and attended Newry Grammar School, started off in journalism with the Ulster Gazette in Armagh in 1955, then moved to his family’s newspaper the Rathfriland Outlook, after which he contrated itchy feet and went to New Zealand.
After stints with the dailies in Wellington (North Island) and Dunedin (South Island), he returned to Northern Ireland and worked two years as a reporter with the Belfast Telegraph (1962-64).
But the lure of New Zealand was too strong and after working for the Otaga Daily Times in Dunedin and as a reporter and regional editor on television, the call of the wine beckoned and he and his second wife bought a piece of land deep among the mountains, restored an old miner’s cottage and thus began an historic vintage story.
Said Alan: “The sceptics scoffed at the idea of New Zealand’s most southerly vineyard, but Central Otaga is on latitude 45 degrees south — the same as Bordeaux in the Northern Hemisphere — with cold winters and hot, dry summers.
“We experimented with various grapes, persisted, built the region’s first purpose-built winery (Gibbston Valley) and released the region’s first commercially-produced wine in 1987.
“Today there are 2,000 hectares of vines in the region, 100 producers, and Central Otago wines are sold in markets all around the world. Our pinot noir has earned the respect and admiration of wine writers and consumers , and now they are beginning to look seriously at our rieslings.
“I built a second winery Mount Edward in 1997 and successfully established this as an international label. We now export to 15 countries, although the United Kingdom and Ireland remain one of our most important markets. James Nicholson of J N Wines in Crossgar is our all-Ireland distributor. Mount Edward Pinot Noir is listed in top restaurants in London and throughout the British Isles.
“Grapevines are wonderful plants to work with and so alien to anything I grew up with in Ireland. The annual ritual where man and nature work together at harvest to turn grapes into wine is a hard habit to kick.”
Alan has three daughters, living in New York, Singapore and Wellington, NZ, and two granddaughters. He is an elder at his local St John’s Presbyterian Church and a parish councillor on the Wakatipu Community Parish.