It all began in the early 1990's with 'The Gang Of Four' - the owners of five newly-planted vineyards in Bannockburn shook hands and decided to work together to produce wine under one label, Mt Difficulty. The handshake bound the owners of Molyneux, Mansons Farm, Verboeket Estate and Full Circle until 2004 when Mt Difficulty Wines Ltd was formed, and the majority of the individual vineyards passed into the ownership of the company.
Today Mt Difficulty Estate is comprised of six vineyards; Templars Hill, Pipeclay Terrace, Menzies Terrace, Mansons Farm, Target Gully and Long Gully – total plantings of 40 hectares protected by the rain shadow of Mount Difficulty (1,285m) in Bannockburn, Central Otago. The region provides New Zealand’s only “continental” style climate combined with unique soils ideally suited for growing Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris. We continue to push the limits of what we are capable of, with experimental plantings of Chenin Blanc and other exciting varieties that are yet to be revealed.
As a result, Mt Difficulty Wines Ltd now owns some of the oldest vineyards in the Bannockburn sub-region of Central Otago in New Zealand's rugged South Island. This vine age gives our wines, particularly the Pinot Noirs, extra complexity and concentration. The Bannockburn area is internationally recognised as one of the few places in the world outside Burgundy where the pernickety Pinot Noir variety has found a home. Parts of New Zealand and cooler areas on the western seaboard of the United States are the only other regions where Pinot Noir seems to truly flourish.
The unique microclimate of the Bannockburn area is partially created by the presence of Mount Difficulty which overlooks the southern Cromwell basin, and is the namesake of Mt Difficulty Wines. Mount Difficulty is integral in providing low rainfall and humidity for the region. Bannockburn enjoys hot summers, a large diurnal temperature variation and long cool autumns; conditions which bring the best out of the Pinot Noir grapes. These conditions, along with soils which are ideal for viticulture, provide an excellent basis not only for Pinot Noir, but also for Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Chardonnay. The soils are a mix of clay and gravels, but all feature a high pH level; grapes produce their best wines on sweet soils.
Mt Difficulty Label
In 1999 Matt Dicey came on board as winemaker, and he made the 1999 and 2000 vintage wines at Longburn Winery in Cromwell's budding industrial area. In 1999 the range was increased to include Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc; while Gewürztraminer and Riesling were added in 2000. Gewürztraminer proved to be too difficult to grow economically (the variety often has a poor fruit-set) and the vines were pulled out prior to 2001. More recently the Mt Difficulty Chardonnay vineyards in Bannockburn have been replaced with other vines, including Chenin Blanc, leaving the Growers Series (introduced in 2011 to showcase the terroir of other sub-regions) to fly the Chardonnay flag from 2010. Recently, we have been busy with new plantings of Chardonnay in Bannockburn with the desire to augment the small amounts of Lownburn Valley.
The vintage release in October 2001 marked a progression for Mt Difficulty Wines, with several Single Vineyard wines being seen for the first time. The 2001 white wines included two later-pick Rieslings and a late pick Pinot Gris, plus two Single Vineyard Pinot Noirs from the 2000 vintage. The philosophy of Single Vineyard wines is to display the unique characteristics that are particular to their site. With such a mixture of soils, microclimates and grape clones the difference in the wines from each vineyard site is quite noticeable and significant.
Roaring Meg Label
DOWNSTAIRS & UPSTAIRSThe Mt Difficulty Winery and Cellar Door - commonly referred to as “Downstairs” and “Upstairs”
In late 2000 a new winery was commissioned among the vines in Templars Hill vineyard on Felton Road. The winery was specially designed to produce quality Pinot Noir, but included separate facilities for other varieties and a specific barrel hall for Chardonnay. The building was completed just prior to Christmas 2001 and included an on-site Cellar Door which received many enthusiastic visitors over the busy summer holiday period. As Mt Difficulty became better known, the small Cellar Door outgrew its premises in the winery and a new architecturally designed building was built high above the winery on Templars Hill. This building opened in February 2003 and visitors were able, for the first time, to enjoy a glass of wine over a light platter lunch in the small café while marvelling at the views.
Today the Cellar Door and Winery Restaurant showcases Bannockburn and Mt Difficulty to thousands of New Zealand and international visitors annually. Though still small, the café has evolved to become a destination restaurant, with people travelling here for the food as well as the wine. Our popularity with diners necessitated another extension, with a new wine tasting area having been opened in May 2012. This has improved the experience of wine enthusiasts and diners alike. Watch this space though, more to come!
OUR PEOPLEIt all began in the early 1990’s, when the owners of five newly-planted vineyards in Bannockburn shook hands and decided to work together to produce wine under one label, Mt Difficulty. The agreement between the original “Gang of Four” was bound only by a gentlemen’s handshake, and remained in effect until 2004 when Mt Difficulty Wines Ltd was formed, and the majority of the individual vineyards passed into the ownership of the company. In 1999 Matt Dicey came on board as winemaker, and he made the 1999 and 2000 vintage wines at Longburn Winery.
WINEMAKER / GENERAL MANAGER
Matt (aka Le Grand Fromage) has a lifelong association with the wine industry, and is a fourth generation vigneron. After achieving a Masters Degree in Oenology and Viticulture Matt spent four years gaining experience overseas. He returned to Bannockburn in 1998 to try his hand at the ultimate winemaking challenge – making the best wines possible in a region with infinite potential. Matt's winter passion is skiing with his family, while summers bring jet boating and mountain biking "adventures".
CELLAR DOOR MANAGER
Jacqui worked in wine retail before she arrived at Mt Difficulty in 2003. She has been the first point of contact for our mailing list customers and members of 'The Pinot Club' and the 'Not-So-Difficult Wine Club' for many years, but these days shares the role with all of the team at the Cellar Door. On Tuesdays you'll sometimes get her out of office message; she'll be on the Cromwell golf course.
Sales & Marketing
After a number of years in the wine industry overseas, Fraser and his family moved to Central Otago in early 2016. Originally with a hospitality background, Fraser has worked in various marketing and sales roles in New Zealand, the United States, and the United Arab Emirates. Tennis and travel are Fraser’s passions; good coffee and Pearl Jam are what can change a good day into a great one.