The wine growing region of Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island is home to the world’s southern most commercial vineyards – as well as stunning landscapes of soaring snow-capped mountains and crystal clear rivers carving their way through deep ravines.
A Frenchman, Jean Desiree Feraud, is credited with planting the first vines here after arriving in the region in 1862 to find his fortune as part of the Dunstan gold rush. The wines from Central Otago have been heavily influenced by his plantings and techniques to become some of the New Zealand’s most revered exports.
The region, which covers 1932 hectares and accounts for only 2.4% of the country’s entire production, is primarily known for the quality of its Pinot Noir – with a variety of expressions produced from various sub regions – although some excellent aromatic whites such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc also flourish here.nConsequently, Central Otago wine tours have become a popular pilgrimage for intrepid wine travellers. At Wine Paths, our local expert can organise exclusive tours across New Zealand, including elaborate tastings, luxury stays, fine dining experiences and some unique activities.
There are six sub-regions that form the Central Otago wine trail, each has their own specific conditions that encourage a diverse spectrum of subtle styles:
Lying in the heart of the glorious Southern Lake District, Wanaka is the smallest of Central Otago’s sub-regions. The unspoilt picturesque landscapes provide a peerless setting for Central Otago wine tours, as well as a romantic ambience if you are travelling as a couple.
Gibbston, meanwhile, is the highest of the area’s sub-regions where the cooler climate and north facing hillside vines lengthen the growing period to produce lighter-bodied wines without sacrificing the intensity of flavours. The so-called ‘Valley of the Vines’ is also one of the most scenic viticulture areas in the world.
By contrast, Bannockburn, on the south bank of the River Kawarau is one of the warmest and driest of the sub-regions, which leads to an earlier harvest than its neighbours and produces highly distinctive and complex styles. The small mining town also offers a glimpse into the past when prospectors flocked in search of gold.
The region’s original vines were planted in Alexandra by Feraud, whose stone winery still stands to this day. The marked extremes in climate produces vivid, aromatic wines with a well-balanced structure that can be sampled as part of typical Central Otago wine tours. Alexandra’s oasis of orchards and weathered rock formations make it ideal trekking country, while in the winter there is natural ice skating on the enormous Manorburn Dam.
Bendigo is a comparatively warm sub region on the Central Otago wine trail, which is particularly noted for its red wines from Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon as opposed to the ubiquitous Pinot Noir. The region’s rugged landscape is scattered with around 30 wineries among the remnants of old mining towns.
The highest concentration of vines are planted in the Cromwell Basin, which also covers Lowburn and Pisa. As well as being home to some award-winning Pinot Noir and Riesling wines, the Cromwell area is also recognised for its stone fruit orchards that can create a scene for perfect picnics.
Most Central Otago wine tours leave from Queenstown, which sits on the shore of the beautifully clear Lake Wakatipu and has become renowned as the outdoor adventure capital of New Zealand – where thrill seekers can enjoy bungy jumping, sky diving, canyon swinging, white water rafting among the many outdoor activities available.
If you are interested the best wine tours Central Otago has to offer, visit our New Zealand destination page for more ideas and inspiration before planning a bespoke trip. All of our private tours can be tailor made to meet your exact requirements, ensuring every detail is taken care of before you arrive.