So, here’s the problem. I’m profoundly sad to be leaving Waipara and the good people I’ve met at Greystone in North Canterbury but my consolation prize is I’m going to Central Otago – easily one of the top five regions in the world for Pinot Noir and other cool climate grapes.
I’ve flown from Christchurch to glorious Queenstown on the South Island of New Zealand. A window seat affords me a clear view of the rugged, mountainous terrain below. It’s awe inspiring and terrifying at the same time. I was going to rent a car and take my mono-swilling daughter (Riesling ~ 10g RS) on a wine tour of the region, however, a birds-eye view of the mountain range below puts a dent in our plans. Even if I spittoon my wine, I still can’t risk driving these roads. I need a plan B.
The $600 for a private driver is a definite no-go and none of the tour companies tell you which wineries you’ll be visiting, which is frustrating because I have a list. Enough agonizing. I choose Appellation Wine Tours and hope for the best. I’ll visit a place in Queenstown called The Winery to enjoy the others on my list….they appear to have every wine produced in New Zealand on tap and I’ve heard nothing but good things.
There are four distinct sub-regions in central Otago each with a different microclimate. The coolest of these regions is Gibbston Valley, where most of the vines face north to maximize the day’s ultraviolet light. Gibbston is also “cool” because it’s home to the incredible Kawarau Gorge where you’ll find state-of-the-art bungee jumping/back realigning crazy folk. (I passed on the opportunity).
Our first stop of the day is at lovely Waitiri Creek in Gibbston Valley where vineyards look onto the impressive Remarkables Mountain Range. The oldest vines in Central Otago are 30 years old and most grow on some kind of slope. Waitiri Creek’s vines were planted in 1993 and their soil is mostly wind – blown glacial deposits on 4 – 5 metres of free draining alluvial schist (a type of metamorphic rock formed from mountainous plate tectonics). The vineyards are all about slope and sit between 300 – 350 metres above sea level. In a beautifully refurbished 1880 church – now a cellar door – we sample several crisp white varietals plus a bracing, flinty Rose and a dark, surprisingly ripe flavoured single vineyard Pinot Noir.
Next up is Domain Road in Bannockburn, a drier, warmer location in the south part of the region. Domain Road Vineyards is a boutique, family-owned winery, which has just cleared the LCBO hurdle to sell wines in Ontario. They overlook a fascinating ridge of land called The Sluicings, a remnant of the gold rush prospecting which defined this area in the mid 1800’s. The harvest is in full swing the day we arrive and the winery team expect to push through 80 tons of grapes. We taste an impressive dry Riesling that’s loaded with citrus and stone fruit goodness with a big mineral finish. My daughter celebrates an off-dry Duffers Creek Riesling with honeyed notes that speaks to her sweet wine preferences. Domain Road’s collection of awards is mostly for their Pinot Noir, grown on soils of a former apricot, peach and apple orchard. The vines were planted in 2002 and the 2013 Pinot Noir we taste is loaded with ripe, cherry fruit and beautiful, earthly rustic scents.
Lunch calls and we enjoy the view of a lifetime at Carrick Wines with the hills of Mt. Carrick framing the western skyline. Carrick was one of the first vineyards in Central. With a wide diurnal range – hot summers and very cold winters – Carrick’s signature Pinot Noir is concentrated with a firm acidic backbone. It’s a lovely companion to a platter of local cheese, smoked salmon, salami, carved ham, green-lipped mussels, chicken & bacon paté, antipasto and freshly baked breads.
A quick visit to Mt Rosa after lunch is more of a party than a tasting, and cellar staff are clearly all about entertainment at this locale. I think we drink some wine but at this point, who cares! Once the Grappa is pulled out its game over!
We’ve had a great day with our incredibly knowledgeable and gracious tour guide, Wendy, and a van full of wine-lovers from around the world.
I don’t get to Prophet’s Rock, Felton Road, Burn Cottage (check out the branding) or Chard, which were high on my list but I now have a reason to return. Central Otago needs a week. A day doesn’t cut it. Not by a long shot. I will be back…. maybe for vintage NZ17?