It may seem an unlikely combination for a former top skier to be head winemaker at one of New Zealand’s most picturesque vineyards, but for Rippon’s Nick Mills it is a perfect blend.
Nick, 33, plays an integral part in the family business that has operated on prime land over-looking Lake Wanaka since the early 1980s. Nick established an interest in soil, vines and wine during the early 90s with mentor and award-winning wine maker Rudi Bauer. However, he was not to realise his passion for the craft, until after his promising ski career ended.
A talented skier from an early age, Nick was a member of the New Zealand Freestyle Ski Team by the age of 19, becoming the New Zealand freestyle champion at 21. A few months before the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, and after five years of training, he injured his knee in a Chinese downhill race at Treble Cone - dashing his hopes of an Olympic medal.
Picking up his interest in wine, Nick travelled to France in 1998 to learn more about the art of winegrowing at a technical institute specialising in viticulture and oenology in Beaune, Burgundy. For the following four years, he trained and worked at several prestigious vineyards, including Domaine Jean-Jacques Confuron and Domaine de la Romanée-Conti.
Returning home in 2002 to head the production of the family business, Nick creates organic wines that follow biodynamic principles. This involves rendering the vines and wines as receptive as possible to their soils and surroundings.
"To be granted the opportunity to have my input into Rippon, the land and its wines is really special and comes with a huge amount of responsibility. We have already been here for four generations and it would be lovely to be here for another four. This is of course exactly what I want to be doing, exactly where I want to be doing it."
Nick’s brother David is the property manager and their sister Charlie is the vineyard manager. Their mother Lois, who created the business with Rolfe Mills, has recently handed over her role as business manger to Nick’s fiancée, Jo Montagu.
It was Nick’s father Rolfe Mills who began experimenting with grapes and eventually proved that grapes could be grown in the lower South Island, planting the first block of Rippon’s vines.
Rippon Vineyard also plays host to the popular biennial Rippon music festival. The festival features well-known Kiwi bands playing live all day and night to a sell-out crowd of 5000 people.