Water with Terroir

9 December 2022. Words by David Sly.

To some, water is just water. But to Simon Wooley, it is far more than that. A quest to find the perfect accompaniment to food, and to effortlessly complement wine, took him to the many pristine springs across New Zealand, until he discovered the source for his Antipodes water. That water had the perfect balance between minerality, softness and vitality. It was water with a sense of place, terroir, if you will.

Antipodes founding partner Simon Woolley, a New Zealander who travelled the world working in hospitality, went on the hunt for a carbonated mineral water to sit comfortably with clean, lighter food flavours after he stopped drinking alcohol 31 years ago. “If you want water that goes well with food, or with fine wine, then you need something that has a flavour, a terroir, a presence,” says Woolley .

After returning to New Zealand in 2003, Woolley’s nation-wide search for an exemplary natural mineral water that he could package as a commercial beverage became an arduous eight-month process, which resulted in him examining hundreds of samples that fell short of the taste quality he wanted.

Above: the Antipodes bottling plant with Putuaki Mountain in background. Opposite: Simon Woolley.

He referenced the work of an NZ academic who tested 308 natural mineral water bores on the Rangitāiki Plains, in the North Island’s Bay of Plenty region – with the most outstanding being the eventual source site for Antipodes. It was among three water sources from different parts of New Zealand that stood out for Woolley , which he presented to Master of Wine Michael Brajkovich, from Kumeu River Wines, for blind tasting. One sample from the South Island was so clean it had a neutral taste, which Woolley says lacked a crucial enjoyment factor. Another sample was peaty, which he preferred at the time, but the sample Brajkovich recommended was soft and had subtle minerality that he said made the water taste alive. This became the Antipodes source, an aquifer on volcanic ignimbrite rock with a high silica content, which flowed under natural pressure to the surface from a depth of 327 metres.

Minerality in water is measured by total dissolved solids per milligram (TDS), with calcium, magnesium, sodium, bicarbonate, sulfate, nitrate and silica all present in very small amounts, but still detectable as subtle flavours. Some European bottled mineral waters can carry up to 2,488 milligrams per litre and subsequently have rich, assertive flavours. Antipodes measures at an average 130 milligrams and has a gentle mineral lick, yet it features a high silica component, which gives the water a softness, a very fine bead in its carbonation and a silky smoothness in the mouth.

Other dominant minerals have a different effect. High carbon content in water heightens the effect of acidity on the tongue, while high calcium elevates sweetness. Water with dominant bicarbonate can exaggerate the effect of tannins in the mouth.

Above: Antipodes have created a wetland reserves around their water source to enhance and preserve the environment.

“All the same minerals are present in water, but each water has different concentrations of each mineral, and every terroir that water is sourced from is different,” says Woolley. “It’s a bit like a single vineyard wine. This is why we chose the name Antipodes, to highlight our water’s sense of place, and explain that it boasts a quite separate flavour from European mineral waters.”

Packaging played an important role in underlining this water’s New Zealand identity, with Antipodes’ distinctive squat bottle based on the half-gallon “jar” of beer, a popular take-home vessel sold at New Zealand hotels until the 1970s. “It’s a classic Kiwi shape, underlining that this water is singularly different.”

Still, despite its distinctive flavour profile – with just enough minerality to add personality to the drink and to speak of its terroir, but without intruding on the water’s purity – Antipodes water has still faced challenges drawing the attention of a global market to its unique qualities. “Once we get people to do a tasting of our water, especially when it is presented to people with a good palate as part of a wine tasting, then they can taste the difference and they do understand that Antipodes stands apart,” says Woolley. “It’s why I just think of myself as being the custodian of a special resource, because this 300-year-old water says something special about where it comes from.”

Antipodes are a supporter of Young Gun of Wine and our Deep Dives.

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