Few grape varietals have the same lure that pinot noir has. That siren song that causes stronger men and women than you or I to throw in successful careers in medicine or law, plant a vineyard and try to forge one in wine.

For Andrew Donaldson, from Central Otago’s Akitu, it was a job in finance (financial engineering to be precise) that was discarded, and many bottles of Burgundy over many years in London that were the cause.

Donaldson’s initiation into wine came via hospitality jobs he held while at university, where he developed a taste for red wine. His initiation into pinot happened later. While living and working in London, he accepted an invitation from an older colleague to join him in the grandstand at the first test at the Lord’s Cricket Ground.

“He only had one rule,” says Donaldson, “and that was that he drank Burgundy before lunch and Bordeaux after lunch.” The man – who would ultimately become a great friend of Donaldson – would bring hampers packed with delicious bottles of French wine and other delicacies to the cricket, and together they’d watch the match while they ate and drank.

This continued for eight years and over that time Donaldson was exposed to some of the great Burgundies, including Dujac, Rousseau and Romanée-Conti. It was while drinking a bottle of great Burgundy that Donaldson had his first “magical moment”. “We were drinking a bottle and watching the cricket and all of a sudden the taste seemed to change. I asked my friend if he’d opened a different bottle,” says Donaldson. “He laughed and said, No – that’s what a great pinot noir can do!”

“And that really intrigued me,” he continues, “I was like how can this wine, this fermented grape juice, physiologically change so much that over the course of an hour of cracking it that it’s going to show to you two or three different sides of itself?”

“I find it an absolutely magical gift that this very simply made, fairly natural product, can actually perform as dynamically as that after sitting in sealed glass for quite a few years. I still find that really quite a mythical and marvelous gift and I guess that’s why I became much more interested in pinots than the other varieties. I was completely seduced.”

But it wasn’t just the Dujac. Donaldson was born in Wanaka, Central Otago, on New Zealand’s South Island, so perhaps a career in wine was inevitable. “I always wanted to end up back in Wanaka, one way or another,” says Donaldson, “and in a funny coincidence, my absolute favorite place in the world was becoming the most exciting region in the world to produce my favourite wine variety. I had to do it.”

In 1999, Donaldson sold the land he owned in Wanaka and bought a larger block about a kilometre away from it. He set up a company, Hawkesbury Estates (named after his grandfather’s house in Wanaka which was named after Australia’s Hawkesbury River) to own the land, but it wasn’t until 2012 that the Akitu label was born.

Akitu is a Maori word meaning ‘the summit, the apex, the highest point’ – a reference to Wanaka’s altitude of 380m above sea level. It also refers to the marginality of the site – the best fruit is usually the last picked, which Donaldson says is terrifying but yields results.

The only varietal Donaldson grows is pinot noir – which for him is like growing multiple varietals “because it’s crazy and different every single, solitary year”. With no real winemaking background or training, he relies on Dr David Jordan, who wrote the original assessment of the site in 2001, viticulturist Steve Blackmore who has helped him run the vineyard since 2004 and fellow Central Otagian PJ Charteris (from Charteris Wines) to help him make the wine.

Although he’s not completely organic (yet) due to the quality of the fruit in Central Otago, Donaldson rarely has to employ non-organic practices and believes that the best wines are made with as little intervention as possible. “Those great vintages that you read about in books… the winemakers always sort of shrug their shoulders when they’re asked about the wine and they say ‘I didn’t really have to do anything.’ And that’s because they’re working with pristine, immaculate fruit,” says Donaldson.

He believes that Wanaka and his connection to it is the reason he’s making wine at all. “I was in love with pinot, but nothing would have happened if Wanaka hadn’t become such an incredibly interesting place to grow fantastic fruit, that could then go on to make fantastic pinot noir,” he says.

“Wanaka got me into this rather than pinot brought me to Wanaka, it was the other way around.”