Mike Wolter was an important leader in the wine industry of Central Otago, and a friend to all of us at Two Paddocks. Over the years he produced many great wines at vineyards in the area. He realised a dream when he started the Central Otago Wine Company, which makes wine for several vineyards in Central Otago.
In 1997 Mike died in an industrial accident while working in the winery he created. This page is a tribute to Mike, his family, and his great work.
A tribute to Mike Wolter by Sam Neill
I got to know,and become friends with, Mike and his wife Bridget in the eighties. Bridget looked after my garden, and Mike would come up the hill and give her a hand on occasion. Mike was quiet and laconic, and I soon grew to enjoy his company and the odd leisurely yarn. Mike was becoming increasingly involved with vineyards in the region, and his interest in viticulture intrigued me.
After planting the first vineyard at Gibbston, I quickly realized that Mike was logically the man to look after it. He took over the yard and his experience and quiet enthusiasm soon became apparent in the health and well being of the place.
About the same time Mike started talking to me about setting up a winery in Cromwell. It would be called, straightforwardly, The Central Otago Wine Company. Mike's idea, having had several very successful seasons as winemaker at Black Ridge, was to create a winery which would make wine for potential wine labels like my own Two Paddocks. I was onboard as a partner quickly, partly because Mike was by now a friend, but, more importantly, because I trusted implicitly his vision and judgement. This has turned out to be a good call-- the company is now in its fifth vintage and has produced some wonderful wines including of course Two Paddocks.
Tragically Mike died in 1997. This was an enormous shock and, in a sense, we're still in the process of recovery. I very much miss Mike's dry wit, and considerable wisdom. I do feel, however, that he would be pleased with how things have gone since then. The company has flourished, the vineyards he nurtured prosper, and Bridget has held together his family and business with great tenacity and courage.
His legacy lives on.
Mike was born in Gisborne in 1957 where he lived until 1974 when he went to work in Auckland wineries, Corbans and then Babich. He later included some time in Barossa Valley. Generally wine making in New Zealand at this time was bulk orientated.
In the late 1970s he returned to Gisborne and worked at developing vineyards while continuing to make wine at Gisborne wineries during the vintage. At this time the New Zealand wine industry had started turning around and putting more emphasis on quality.
After traveling and working in Europe, he returned to Queenstown in 1987 and began work at Taramea Vineyard. This was early times for the Central Otago wine industry when grape varieties, sites etc. were still at the experimental stage. In 1992 he began to make wine for Black Ridge in Alexandra.
At this time he was also developing and managing vineyards for Nevis Bluff, Kawarau Estate and later Two Paddocks. This lead to him setting up the Central Otago Wine Company, making wine for six different wine producers.
His specialty and love for developing award winning Pinot Noir showed through in successive years between 1994 and 1996 when Black Ridge was awarded three silver medals for its vintages. Mike made the 1997 Black Ridge Pinot Noir and the 1997 Dry Gully Pinot Noir which were both awarded gold medals. He also made several medal-winning Chardonnays in 1996 and 1997. Mike also enjoyed making Gewurztraminer and Riesling, some of which are now quite delicious with several year cellaring. The Pinot Noirs from that time continue to develop flavours, which is why Mike was so sure and passionate about the region.
He died at his winery on July 4th, 1997 after accidental inhalation of carbon dioxide. With ten years experience of wine making in Central Otago behind him, he was poised to make many more fine wines from the region. Mike is survived by his wife Bridget and children Hannah and Hugh. The founding co-owners of the Central Otago Wine Company continue to make quality wine in the spirit that Mike had always intended.