Born in Ohio, and after travelling all over the world making wine, Anika decided to make Queenstown home.
“People here are extremely down to earth. Locals like to get outside every single day and appreciate the natural beauty around them. They spend their time doing things that bring them joy and make them feel alive. Queenstown pulls you in and people lean into it. I feel like I’ve found the place where I belong.”
When she’s not crafting premium Pinot Noir at Coal Pit Vineyard and Winery, Anika’s hiking in Queenstown’s backcountry or following her passion for sustainability, helping regenerate native bush.
Discover more about what inspired Anika to settle in Gibbston and learn where she found her passion for reforestation.
Getting to Gibbston was always the dream
When aspiring winemakers start in the industry, they often do vintages all over the world to gain experience. In 2016, Anika came to New Zealand for a vintage in Marlborough. When she finished working, she set out to explore the South Island.
Anika recalls, “I vividly remember driving through Gibbston in super moody, volatile weather and thinking, even on a bad day, this is one of the most striking places I've ever been. I can't believe there's a wine region here. So, I really gravitated towards Gibbston and the goal for me was always to get back to this special place.”
In 2018, Anika worked a vintage at Coal Pit Vineyard and Winery. Coal Pit doesn’t have a tasting room onsite (you can taste their wines at Kinross Cellar Door in Gibbston), so Anika hadn’t visited the property before. She says, “I remember driving in and thinking, this place is incredible, it would be a dream to make wine here. The vineyard is nestled in the foothills of the Remarkables. It's like a little amphitheatre surrounded by bush looking north onto the Pisa Range. When their winemaker left after vintage, I applied right away, moved into a cottage on site, and I’ve been living there on the vineyard ever since.”
"This year marks my seventh vintage at Coal Pit and I still can’t believe that this dream I had as I first walked onto this place is now my reality.”
Coal Pit Vineyard and Winery
One of the highest vineyards in New Zealand
Coal Pit is a seven-hectare organic-certified vineyard. The Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc vines planted in 1994 are some of the oldest in the region. The vineyard is 500 metres above sea level, making it one of the highest vineyards in New Zealand. High-altitude vines produce fewer, intensely flavoured grapes and complex, characterful wines.
Anika explains, “I’m a huge advocate for organic viticulture and winemaking. Coal Pit started the process of converting to organic in 2020 and we became BioGro Certified this year. For us, it's about sustainability and the longevity of the vineyard and surrounding environment. Becoming organic can seem like a long, arduous auditing and certification process, but when your farming values align with your values, the work that you're putting in doesn't feel like a hardship.”
“Being organic shouldn’t be a controversial farming method. It's just the moral way of farming. Before 2020, Coal Pit was managing their grapes conventionally, as many vineyards have for a very long time, but the owner of Coal Pit, Rosie Dunphy, is extremely dynamic and continually pushes Coal Pit to evolve. She’s very progressive and open-minded and was totally on board to make the transition to organic viticulture when I presented her with scientific evidence on why it was the right choice.”
A deep connection to nature
Anika’s partner is a Kiwi, but that’s not why she made Queenstown home. “I want to live here because this place is extraordinary. I’ve always enjoyed nature, but our environment here around Queenstown is just remarkable, it's very moving and powerful.”
“A lot of people in Queenstown feel a deep connection to nature. I think that the big-picture view unites us all. We’re filled with wonder for the natural world. We all care about something much greater than ourselves. It's special to be a part of a community where people's passions align.”
Anika in the vines
Exploring the untouched places
Anika loves her job, but she loves life outside work as well. She says, “My main passion is nature. I'm really into hiking and trail running. I get outside almost every day after work. I live on the vineyard and I’m only two minutes from the Peregrine Loop Track. I also love getting up behind Arrowtown. Going up Big Hill or hiking up Saw Pit Gully Trail and then carrying on up German Hill.”
“The views everywhere in Queenstown are beautiful, but the views from up behind Arrowtown are something else. Those rolling hills with brown tussock blowing in the wind are just so beautiful to me. When I’m running in the native bush it feels like I’m running through an untouched place. I get this feeling that this place has been here a long time before me and it's going to be here for a long time after me.”
“The other thing I like about walking the trails behind Arrowtown is that they’re so quiet. I love being out by myself in nature. It's extremely meditative and relaxing. Some of the most beautiful moments I've had in Queenstown have been those moments of peace all by myself.”
Mountain top picnics and sunrise hikes
When Anika’s friends come to Queenstown she likes to take them for a long hike, and then head down to the Arrow River. She says, “It's glacial water. Crystal clear. So beautiful. Sometimes we swim. Sometimes we just take off our boots, let our feet soak in the river, and share a cider.”
“As a winemaker, I’m a foodie too. So, I like the Royalburn Farm Shop in Arrowtown for local produce. Grab a picnic from the farm shop in the late afternoon and hike up German Hill. It probably only takes about an hour and a half to get up. Sit on the top of this beautiful rolling hill, look out over Lake Hayes in the beautiful evening light, enjoy your food, and then walk down. If you want to grab a drink at sunset, there are so many good places to eat and drink in Arrowtown. I love Aosta for dinner.”
“Another thing to do is a sunrise hike. It’s a great way to appreciate some of the more popular trails at a peaceful time. Start on up Ben Lomond at 4am, bring a thermos of tea, sit on the top of the mountain, and watch the sunrise. I did that with one of my friends right before vintage, and it was such a nice, grounding thing to do before going into a crazy busy period. To watch the sun come up from a mountain peak is so extraordinary.”
View from Ben Lomond. Credit Sébastien Goldberg
Regenerating native forest in the heart of Gibbston
Because Anika appreciates Queenstown so much, she wants to see the ecosystem thrive for future community and future generations. She explains, “I'm passionate about sustainability on a scale that’s greater than the vineyard because for the vineyard to thrive, everything around it must also thrive.
I'm very interested in reforestation, carbon sequestration, and building up diversity. I kept looking at this paddock next to the vineyard overrun with gorse and broom (invasive plant species) thinking there has to be something more valuable that can be done with this land. One day I said, ‘Rosie, can we develop a native reforestation plan for this land?’ Rosie is extremely open-minded, so she said yes.”
Anika believes native planting is one of the most effective ways people can make a positive contribution to their local environment. She says, “A lot of our native flora and fauna need native plants to survive. Reforestation is also crucial for the long-term sustainability of the Coal Pit vineyard because a diverse ecosystem supports resilience. With climate change, we have to try and support our ecosystem so it can adapt to what’s happening.”
“Reforestation is not just a good choice for the future of Coal Pit. It also honours Queenstown. We're lucky to call ourselves locals, and it’s our responsibility to be stewards of the land. So, we’ve worked with the Whakatipu Reforestation Trust and an ecologist to develop a 20-year reforestation plan. We plant natives in high concentration so they outcompete the invasive species. We plant a half hectare at a time, and we have an extremely high survival rate of 98% so far.”
“Eventually, there will be this beautiful lush native forest that generations after will be able to enjoy. The forest and the vineyard will have a strong symbiotic relationship that helps support one another. We already see many more native birds in the vines, which we never had before. Plant by plant, step by step, we will leave this land better than we found it.”
Planting native trees
Delve deeper, meet Anika
Anika speaks to her passion for reforestation, and what inspired her to settle in Gibbston.