Tousle-haired and bright-eyed Peter-James (PJ) Charteris was 13 when he stepped into the Vilagrad Wines Vineyard at Hamilton, in the North Island of New Zealand, to earn pocket money, learning how to prune vines in the process. The wine bug bit, and when he left school aged 18 in 1986 he spent two years as a vineyard and cellar hand at Vilagrad.
In 1988 he crossed the ditch for the first time, enrolling in the oenology degree course at Roseworthy, Adelaide, graduating at the end of 1991. Between then and 1993 he managed to work for Tim Knappstein Wines (1991); vintage work at Lindemans Hunter Valley ('90, '92, '93); back to Vilagrad December '90 to August '93 (as winemaker); vintage '92 and '93 at Adelsheim Wines, Oregon (August to November); then becoming winemaker for Southcorp that November.
Impossible? It was all based on the varying months of vintage across the ditch and the hemispheres. Even then, it didn't stop entirely. While rising rapidly up the Southcorp winemaker hierarchy between '93 and June '99, he undertook a vintage at Flowers Winery, California, August-November '98.
In June '99 he was headhunted by Brokenwood, remaining there for 12 happy years, taking one final overseas sabbatical with Paul Jaboulet at Hermitage in the northern Rhone Valley. It was at Brokenwood that he met is partner Christina (Chrissi) Pattison, sales and marketing manager for Brokenwood '99 to '06.
With the full approval of Brokenwood, in 2008 the duo founded Charteris Wines at Bannockburn in Central Otago, leading to continuous ditch-hopping as they patiently built the business up, focusing on its best varieties: Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and an outlier of Riesling.
With a 1000-case production it's not paying too many bills yet. So PJ is actively engaged in building up a consultancy business, helped not only by his exceptionally broad career, but as a distinguished senior judge in the Australian show circuit.
No matter what the variety, what the style, PJ has already been there and done it.
2014 Charteris The Hunt Vineyard Central Otago Riesling
All experience riesling winemakers in New Zealand understand the very high natural acidity the grapes have, and the need to balance it with residual sugar that is absorbed into the fabric of the wine. This is a perfect rendition of that balance, with intense lime/grapefruit flavours up front, then a palate with outstanding length, seemingly fruit sweet, not sugar sweet.
95 points; drink to 2029; 11.5% alc; screwcap; $33
2013 Charteris The Astral Vineyard Central Otago Chardonnay
Matured in two French puncheons (one new) and three French barriques. It has a complex, faintly funky, bouquet ex 100% malolactic fermentation (essential to reduce acidity) and repeated lees stirring. Despite this, it is remarkably fine and tight, possibly protected with all movements in the cellar by gravity. These are high spirited wines, and need a gentle hand to calm them.
95 points; drink to 2033; 13.5% alc; screwcap; $50
2013 Central Otago Pinot Noir
A two-vineyard, three-clone blend, most matured in 1- and 2-year-old French oak for 15 months. 'I really wanted fruit expression from the two best vineyards,' says PJ. Clear, bright crimson-purple, it is wondrously fragrant, with truly beautiful red and black cherry riddled with spice. Power without excess baggage, not the Central sledgehammer style, despite 30 days on skins.
96 points; drink to 2025; 14% alc; screwcap; $41
This is an expanded version of the article "From boy to man" written by James Halliday for the Weekend Australian on 16 January 2016.
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