How Merlot grapes found a home in the Alexandra Basin
About Thyme Hill Vineyard
Thyme Hill Vineyard was established in the mid-nineties by the late John Kelly in the Alexandra basin, just a few kilometres outside of the Alexandra Township. An adventurer and an entrepreneur, John Kelly was the first to bring Merlot grapes to the region.
The vineyard is on 6 ha of land in a beautiful setting, north facing slopes providing stunning views of Leaning Rock and the Dunstan Range. Surrounding the vineyard is the landscape so unique to Alexandra, the purple thyme, punctuated by schist rocky outcrops.
John Kelly unfortunately left us in 2008, and the vineyard was left to its own devices following John's passing.
Keen grape grower Inge Diks purchased the vineyard in 2011 and adopted the challenge of reviving the vines and continuing John's vision of growing boutique Merlot in Central Otago. It was certainly a challenge and a risk that would appeal to only a select few. The vines had been pruned every winter however improving irrigation and fertility was needed to increase vigour in the vines.
Naturally all of us here at Thyme Hill were keen to get the first taste of the grapes, however due to the condition of the vines the decision was made to grow for vine health rather than harvest for the first two years. This would allow the grapes to recover and set up for long-term success. Our patience has paid off, with dramatic increases in yields and quality of the grapes over the last 9 years. At Thyme Hill the focus is on the process rather than the outcome, and we find that this yields consistent quality in the grapes. All of the work is done by hand, and harvest time is usually a great occasion for celebration with friends, family and the community.
Meet the Grapegrower
Inge has a pioneering spirit and is naturally drawn to challenges with high rewards. In 1991 she emigrated from the Netherlands to the South Island and took up dairy farming on the West Coast. After 20 years of the wild and beautiful elements and challenges of West Coast living, Inge decided it was time for a new challenge and moved from the wettest part of the country to the driest! She now earns her crust producing quality Merlot grapes on her vineyard on the outskirts of Alexandra, and has earned herself a reputation of a 'someone who gets things done', among the vineyard community.
Grape growing appeals to Inge as it is a great balance of science, hard graft, grape husbandry and problem solving. The weather and climate is certainly a challenge but is arguable the most crucial aspect of winegrowing system. Four seasons in one day is certainly possible at any time of the year! In the setting of Central Otago grape growing is a choice for style of life, growing boutique niches among the towering southern mountains and vast river valleys. True job satisfaction is achieved through seeing your vines come to fruition, from bud burst through to harvest and onwards through the wine-making process to the enjoyment of togetherness with family and friends.