Jody Pagey on The Philosophy & Future Of Winemaking

South Island born and bred Jody Pagey is this year celebrating his 20th vintage in the wine industry and 12th in Central Otago. After experience around the world, Pagey is putting all of his experience into use as the winemaker for Mount Michael Wines. We talk to Pagey about his philosophy and the future of winemaking in the region.
Where did your inspiration to become a winemaker come from? Was there an epiphany moment you can recall?

What first drew me to wine was the travel. The ability to hop from the Southern Hemipshere to the North several times a year for work was great. This is when I realised wine is only grown in beautiful places so traveling around chasing the summers was amazing. My epiphany didn’t come until I was lucky enough to work with François Millet at Comte George De Vogue in Chambolle-Musigny. A life changing experience getting to work with one of the great winemakers of the world at one of the top Domaines in Burgundy. It has been a huge influence on my winemaking.

What makes your wines unique?

It’s really popular at the moment to talk about minimal intervention winemaking and making wines that speak of their place. Minimal intervention means different things to different people but to me it means being respectful. Picking the fruit while it still has freshness and energy. Guiding it through the winemaking process with a delicate touch allowing the fruit to shine.

What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?

That the art of winemaking is interpreting the fruit. It is speaking of the vineyard and the season and it is the winemakers role to understand that, and translate that into wines that are clearly understood

While your main focus is Central Otago, what is your next favourite winegrowing region?

Burgundy. I go back there every chance I get. It has such a rich history and its great to get that perspective. Especially when you come from Central Otago where we have only been making wine for 30 years. It gives you a real sense of how young we are in Central Otago and how we are still figuring it out.

What wine varietal are you most passionate about and why?

Pinot Noir. Its just such a transparent wine. There is nowhere to hide any mistakes. If the work isn’t done in the vineyard or the winery, it will show in the wine. You can’t be lazy with Pinot Noir. It’s also a wine that has some many subtleties. These are often hidden below masses of fruit or new oak but they are there if you are willing to pull back on the winemaking and look for them.

Which wines have you been most proud of?

The 2015 vintage was my first as “the” winemaker and my first trying the techniques I learned in Burgundy on fruit from Central Otago. The results have been fantastic and given me real confidence to continue down this road.

If you could choose any wine in the world, what particular bottle of wine (vintage/varietal /region) would you cite as the benchmark – the gold standard – for all wines to be measured up to? The wine you’d like everyone to try at least once in a lifetime?

That’s a very difficult question. I can think of several wines that are “must try” purely on reputation and scarcity. But I’m not sure that’s the point. I think if I was only allowed one more glass of wine in my life, I would have to choose a Pinot Noir from Chambolle – Musigny. It is such a soulful place and the wines reflect that. They are balanced and ethereal, even humble. They have an old worldliness that’s unmistakable. I think that’s the benchmark for Pinot Noir.

What’s your winemaking philosophy?

I touched on it earlier, respectful winemaking. Not trying to tame the wines, letting them express themselves. It’s not about the winemaker and their bag of tricks, it’s about the vineyard and the season. I think both should be evident in the finished wine.

What has been the most outstanding moment in your winemaking career to date?

Tasting in the De Vogue barrel cave with François. I had told him I was looking to change the barrel program at home so he took the time to spend several hours with me tasting through his barrels. We discussed his barrel philosophy and how he had come to choose the barrels he does. A truly unique and priceless experience.

Describe an average day in winemaking…

One of the great things about winemaking is it’s very diverse. So for part of the year, you are working 12 hour days, 7 days a week making wine and others you are sipping Rosé at the Viaduct in the sun (while selling wine, of course). In the same day, you can be topping barrels in the morning and doing a Helitasting on a peak overlooking Queenstown in the afternoon. It’s so diverse and it’s always changing.

What is the next big thing for New Zealand wines?

Rose is king at the moment but I think Chardonnay is on the comeback. Chardonnay is a wonderful variety because it comes in so many different styles. You can drink a rich, toasty, full bodied beast one day and enjoy a flinty, lithe, mineral beauty the next.

What makes Mount Michael wines unique?

We have a great young team that’s driven and full of energy, with great plans for the future. We want to make wine approachable and enjoyable for everyone. We able to source and only use fruit of outstanding quality and we only make tiny quantities of each wine so having our own full-time winemaker is quite unique, this gives us total control over style and the direction we want to take the wines.

Tell us about your latest release?

As I mentioned, we only make really small amounts of wine. We have a crisp, dry Pinot Gris thats great over summer. Our Pinot Noir Rosé is in the classic Central Otago-style, with bright, pure fruit and freshness. Our Reserve Pinot Noir is Bessie’s Block and is drinking really well right now. We also have our Estate Pinot Noir and we have just released a new wine The Mountaineer Pinot Noir, the first wine in a new series of fruit driven, accessible wines.