High Garden Vineyard.

I first met Robin Tedder MW while I was working vintage at Brokenwood Wines in the Hunter Valley in early 1984. At the time he was involved in merchant banking and was the employer of my best friend Ashley Zimpel, despite being only a few years older than us both.

Robin deemed my future as being pretty hopeless. He thought my naive attitude and wine industry ambitions were greatly optimistic. I had about $20 in the bank and dreamed of being some fancy wine merchant or more preferably a painter or novelist. Although our trajectories were different, we shared a common interest in wine, and similar family connections and backgrounds. His wife Rita, one of the best cooks in the world, has also been a great friend to us and all our children. Like brothers we have had our occasional falling outs, but Robin has always watched my back and provided the type of advice that helped us get ahead over the past 40 years.

Robin deemed my future as being pretty hopeless. He thought my naive attitude and wine industry ambitions were greatly optimistic. I had about $20 in the bank and dreamed of being some fancy wine merchant or more preferably a painter or novelist. Although our trajectories were different, we shared a common interest in wine, and similar family connections and backgrounds. His wife Rita, one of the best cooks in the world, has also been a great friend to us and all our children. Like brothers we have had our occasional falling outs, but Robin has always watched my back and provided the type of advice that helped us get ahead over the past 40 years.

Our intertwined lives switched on and off like a flickering lamp, but the power source has always been connected. During the mid-1990s, I encouraged Robin to undertake the Master of Wine program and found myself coaching him as his “preposterous tutor”. Thankfully it took him “two goes” to pass that difficult examination or I would never have heard the end of it. When he decided to buy his own vineyard in the Lower Hunter Valley a few years later, I found myself involved with his Glenguin project as an advisor and painting the image for his labels.

The sustainably farmed Glenguin Estate (glenguinestate.com.au) is now more than 25 years old and has been a source of great frustration and fulfilment. Named after Robin’s ancestral and spiritual home (his great grandfather worked at Glengoyne Distillery), the brand has stumbled through the decades rather than making a clean breakthrough. Nonetheless the wines are beautifully made and reflect meticulous attention to detail. The Aristea Shiraz derived from the Schoolhouse block is particularly impressive and reminiscent of the great Lindeman’s Hunter River Burgundies of yore.

Unfortunately, the quest for making something ethereal in wine often leads to impecunity and happy madness; not even ear plugs or boiled Minties can assuage those lustful intentions for immortal transcendent pinot noir.

Having already become a fully paid-up member of the residual millionaire’s club (that’s the one in which you first spend over $5 million), it was rather surprising to see Robin fall into another trap; this time Central Otago. But his enthusiasm for the superb pinot noirs of Grant Taylor at Valli captured his imagination.

When Robin purchased High Garden Vineyard (highgardenvineyard.com) in the Gibbston Valley, it seemed – in theory - as if he was taking on the most marginal of vineyard sites. Situated between 420m and 490m above sea level, on schist soils, the vines actually benefit from being grown in something like a sun-trap capturing long sunshine hours and radiated heat. Typically yields are very low averaging around 25 hectolitres per hectare, which is Grand Cru territory.

Nonetheless I am thinking about all the lessons Robin told me about investment and return on capital. Maybe he has become a softie or something?

I am sure Rita and Robin had serious misgivings about the timing of their vineyard purchase. Soon after the ink was dried, the pandemic prevented any travel and the 2020 vintage was made in absentia. But these difficult circumstances have been overcome by the support of well-known viticulturist Gary Crabbe and the highly accomplished winemaker Jennifer Parr.

Now that the 2020 High Garden Pinot Noir has been released, it somehow vindicates Robin’s new-found madness. It’s an incredible debut wine with extraordinarily beautiful black cherry, strawberry dried roses aromas, abundant fruits, underlying chestnut notes, lacy textures and superb mid palate viscosity.

Robin is one of the most driven people I know, with an insatiable appetite for knowledge, making a difference and physical exhaustion. Who would have thought his first Central Otago vintage would make such an instant breakthrough? But the journey – shared with Rita - has taken nearly 27 years through thick and thin. While still professing to be a student winemaker, I suspect he will be sleeping much better for having achieved this important and beautiful milestone in wine