In the early 1990's the owners of four vineyards in Felton Road decided to combine their efforts to make and market their wine, thus taking advantage of the economies of scale that could be achieved by concentrating on one brand.
The vineyards were Molyneux, Mansons Farm, Verboeket Estate and Full Circle, though none had previously released wine to the market under these names.
The agreement between the original "Gang of Four" was bound only by a gentlemen's handshake, and remained in effect until 2004 when a limited company was formed.
Mt Difficulty Wines
Anyone who has ever tried to think of a name for a brand will understand how hard it was to arrive at something that was pleasing to all participants. Initial discussions showed that the Gang were miles apart, so a day was chosen to have a brainstorming session at which each vineyard was to present their individual case.
After a number of hours' debate, where each member would rubbish the others' choice only to have their own name greeted with derisive mirth, "Mt Difficulty Wines" was declared the winner.
Later a similar session was held to decide the winning design for the distinctive label. This was a far shorter meeting – the chosen design stood head and shoulders above any other offering.
The name "Mt Difficulty Wines" could be said to be symbolic of the difficulties faced by growers trying to make the very best wine they possibly can, as well as the difficulties trying to get four assertive and opinionated parties to agree to anything! In fact, the name pays homage to a geographic feature without which winegrowing in Bannockburn would, ironically, be somewhat more difficult.
Mount Difficulty is the dominant feature above the vineyard - a rather benign-looking, rounded peak to the west of the winery, which overlooks the southern Cromwell basin. The mountain is essential to the unique micro-climate in Bannockburn, providing shelter from the cool winds of the Wakatipu and increasing the heat of the summer days. The diurnal temperature range (the difference between temperatures by day and at night) is the key climate indicator for quality Pinot Noir.
Mount Difficulty itself was named by William G. Rees, one of the original settlers in the Wakatipu Basin. In the 1860’s he employed a party of six men as drovers to bring a flock of 3000 sheep from Oamaru, on the east coast of the South Island, to Glenorchy, at the head of Lake Wakatipu. This was an arduous undertaking with many rivers and a number of mountain passes to cross.
The sheep were driven over the Kakanui Mountains to Shag Valley, over the Rough Ridge and Raggedy Range, at last reaching the Molyneux River (later named the Clutha). There they used the station boat to cross the river, making the sheep and horses swim across at a point later called Muttontown.
Crossing the Cairnmuir Range to avoid the Cromwell Gorge, they reached the Kawarau, but found it impossible to get the sheep up the Kawarau Gorge – the gap between the bluff and the river was too narrow. As a result they were forced to back-track and take the mob on a long roundabout trip to Hawea, across to where Wanaka now stands, then over the Crown Range and into the Wakatipu Basin.
William Rees named the mountain that was his nemesis Mount Difficulty.
The road through the Kawarau Gorge to Queenstown can still be precarious with winter ice and rockfalls, but thousands of travellers now drive around Mount Difficulty without any thought of William Rees and his mob of sheep. However, the more observant of them notice the names of Roaring Meg and Gentle Annie as they pass by two creeks in the gorge, and many stop to take photographs of the power station at the Roaring Meg.
The colourful story of Roaring Meg comes from Central Otago's pioneering past. Discovery of gold in the 1860's attracted many young men to Central Otago in search of their fortune. Following them came a number of enterprising young women equally keen to share in the spoils. Legend has it that Meg was one such lady; a high spirited, fun-loving young thing with an eye for the opportunity.
Robert Gilkison, lawyer and historian wrote: "It used to be generally told in Cromwell that an early party of diggers took with them two girls from a dancing saloon. When they reached the first large stream they carried the lasses across, and one made so much fuss that they called it after her, 'Roaring Meg', while the other was particularly calm and peaceful and the next stream was called 'Gentle Annie' after her."
Some say that Meg set up an establishment to "service" the local miners, which quickly became a popular local institution. Roaring Meg became well known throughout the region.
Later New Zealand's first hydro electric power station was named in her honour. The power station still feeds the local power grid to this day, while the name of Roaring Meg is seen around the world on the label of Mt Difficulty's second brand.