Andrew Keenleyside is the head winemaker at Akarua. Based at Akarua in Bannockburn, Andrew is responsible for managing the 350-tonne winery, which is purpose-built for producing Akarua’s premium pinot noir and sparkling wines, as well as white wines.
With seven years spent working in the renowned wine regions of California, Germany and Oregon, Andrew’s international experience has provided him with the platform to hone his skills in Central Otago.
Away from the winery scene, Andrew likes making the most of Central Otago’s outdoor playground, mountain biking and trekking.
Why did you become a winemaker?
While studying for an applied science degree, I developed a love for wine and was drawn to the wine industry. After graduating, I spent three years as a vineyard manager when I realised I really wanted to be in the winery, making the wine. I was fortunate to get a job in Napa for my first vintage and was hooked, I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.
What’s your winemaking philosophy?
To craft wines that are both approachable and have integrity. They not only reflect Central Otago, but remain true to the special sites we have at Akarua.
What has been your winemaking journey so far?
It began in Napa. I then came to Central Otago to do one vintage and found home. Over many years I worked in several wineries around Central Otago, gaining invaluable experience and insight into the region before joining Akarua in 2009.
While basing myself in Central Otago, I travelled several times to the US and Germany to further increase my winemaking knowledge and experience.
Which wines have you been most proud of?
The ones which come out of the most challenging vintages; where there is little room for mistakes, and you taste the wine later and think to yourself ‘YES! We nailed it!’
How do you know when you’ve got a good vintage?
The wine sings to you. They are rich, complex and perfectly balanced. Like life, good wines are about balance.
What is your favourite wine to make and why?
I love pinot noir. It is the most fickle and sensitive variety on earth. It is also the most transparent and reflective of place. It is the most challenging to grow and to make, but when you get it right, it is also the most rewarding.
What makes the region so special?
Central Otago has a distinctive semi-continental climate which is unique in New Zealand. It is one of the hottest, coldest and driest regions, with dramatic shifts in temperature from day to night. This gives us intensity of flavour and excellent acidity.
What’s different about the new generation of Akarua wines?
The recent purchases of established vineyards in great sites has enabled us to create wines with more depth and complexity while remaining loyal to the Akarua style.