Queenstown is New Zealand’s most popular tourist resort courtesy of three main drawing cards: breathtaking natural beauty, adrenaline fuelled outdoor activities, and as the gateway to the Central Otago wine region.
While the adventurous take part in pursuits such as bungy jumping, white water rafting and skiing amid the stunning valleys and mountains, more discerning wine enthusiasts can visit around 200 of the world’s most southerly vineyards near Queenstown. Queenstown vineyards are scattered across six sub-regions in Central Otago, of which Gibbston – the so-called ‘Valley of the Vines’ – is the closest and most recognised with a reputation for producing some of the world’s finest Pinot Noir. But how did wine growing this far south begin? The gold rushes of the 1860s originally brought settlers to this remote mountainous region in the country’s South Island, although 150 years later it is wine that has become the most precious commodity here.
Over 50 wineries can be explored as part of the Queenstown Wine Trail as part of what some critics claim is among the top five wine growing regions in the world, and arguably the most scenic with snow-capped mountains tumbling towards glistening rivers and lakes carved by imposing valleys. Queenstown has also been voted as the world’s friendliest city by readers of Condé Naste Traveller, and includes other nearby natural attractions such as the country’s highest peak Mount Cook, spectacular glaciers and the Milford Sound – New Zealand’s answer to the Grand Canyon.
A French miner named John Desire Ferraud is credited with planting the first vines in the area before establishing the Monte Cristo winery near Clyde. However, it wasn’t until a government commissioned survey 30 years later that the area’s potential was revealed, reporting: ‘There is no country on the face of the earth which produced better Burgundy grapes than were produced in Central Otago and portions of the North Island’. Despite this glowing reference, the arrival of vineyards in Queenstown was delayed until the 1980s when Irishman Alan Brady ignored contrary advice and began planting Pinot Noir grapes in the rugged region.
Brady and several other viticulture experimentalists shared their knowledge before he produced Central Otago’s first Pinot Noir vintage in 1987, and by the turn of the century vineyards near Queenstown were gathering a reputation on the international stage.The new millennium brought greater success with Gibbston Valley’s Reserve Pinot Noir being proclaimed the world’s best at the prestigious London International Wine Challenge in 2001. With the wines from Queenstown vineyards being acclaimed by critics and collecting international accolades, Central Otago welcomed a rise in wine tourism by opening some of the country’s most contemporary and architecturally striking wineries, including the estates at Peregrine Wines and Amisfield.
In the last 20 years, the number of wine producers in Central Otago has risen tenfold – there are now around 200 vineyards near Queenstown covering almost 2,000 hectares and contributing 2.4% of premium wines towards New Zealand’s entire production. Pinot Noir – with a variety of expressions produced from various sub regions – still reigns supreme (75%) in the best vineyards Queenstown boasts, although some excellent aromatic whites such as Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris also flourish here. Over 50 wineries can be explored as part of the Queenstown Wine Trail as part of what some critics claim is among the top five wine growing regions in the world, and arguably the most scenic with snow-capped mountains tumbling towards glistening rivers and lakes carved by imposing valleys. Queenstown has also been voted as the world’s friendliest city by readers of Condé Naste Traveller, and includes other nearby natural attractions such as the country’s highest peak Mount Cook, spectacular glaciers and the Milford Sound – New Zealand’s answer to the Grand Canyon.
Central Otago’s original pioneer Brady believes there is reason to be optimistic for the future of Queenstown vineyards, saying: ‘There are very few places where pinot noir grows so easily and produces such consistently good wines. Older vines produce more distinguished wines, so as our vineyards mature the future looks very bright.’
If you are interested in exploring vineyards near Queenstown, contact Wine Paths local expert for more information and inspirational ideas before planning an exclusive bespoke trip.
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