How an American Became a Central Otago Winemaker
Jen Parr was recently nominated by Gourmet Traveller WINE magazine as one of 6 finalists for New Zealand Winemaker of the Year in 2019. How did she end up on that list? A former financial software saleswoman, she quit a field she wasn’t passionate about to figure out what would make her happy. Introspection led her towards food and drink, and ultimately, making wine. Lauren Mowery interviews Parr for Forbes.
Here’s the story of how an American born in Oregon became a noted pinot noir winemaker in Central Otago with Valli Wine, Mowery writes. She’s established roots so firmly in Wanaka, collecting a little family comprised of a husband and dog along the way, that New Zealand is now her forever home.
“While in Gaillac [France], I wrote about 70 letters to wineries in New Zealand asking for harvest work,” Parr says. “Those who took time to reply graciously told me ‘no thanks’ until finally Villa Maria in Marlborough took a chance on a mature yet incredibly green aspiring winemaker in 2003. That was the beginning of my journey. Eventually I was offered the assistant winemaker role at Olssens in Central Otago. In 2008 I became the head winemaker in the early years when it became Terra Sancta, before I eventually found my dream job at Valli. In 2009, I bought a house in Wanaka and met my Kiwi husband Callum at Treble Cone ski field in July 2011 and we married in 2014.
“At Valli, we focus on crafting premium sub-regional pinot noirs from four growing areas in Otago including the Waitaki Valley in North Otago. Each site has its own microclimate and identity determines the style of each wine. Our goal is to make the best wine from each vineyard that is also a true reflection of each growing season; wines that can be appreciated in their youth but also stand the test of time. I truly believe the vineyard is the real fabric of a wine and winemaking is the thread that ties it all together.
“Central Otago has the only semi-continental climate in New Zealand as well as a dramatic landscape which both contribute greatly to the character of our wines. More sunlight hours, generally dry weather, great diurnal range and highly engaged people all contribute to our identity. The wines range in style from playful to serious with the best examples showing refinement, energy and sense of place. I think the unique fruit purity with underlying structure is what sets us apart from other New World pinots. The freedom from the confines of tradition and spirit of adventure sets Central Otago apart from Burgundy. For a country of 4.5 million people, New Zealand is lucky to have several small regions making great pinot noir. The wines from Central stand out to me because they tick all of the boxes: they are pleasurable, intellectual, and memorable.”
Original article by Lauren Mowery, Forbes, June 10, 2019.
Photo by Valli Wine.