New Zealand’s Central Otago wine region vies with Patagonia in Argentina for the title of the world’s most southerly vineyards, which cling to the sides of mountain ranges that form part of the South Island’s incredible scenery.
This area of New Zealand, first lured European settlers with the promise of finding gold in the 1860s, and it was one of these early prospectors – a Frenchman named Jean Desiree Feraud – who is credited with planting the first Central Otago vineyards.Since miners were more interested in beers and spirits, the region’s wines went largely unappreciated until the 1970s when modern wine producers, such as Chard Farm, Rippon, Black Ridge and Gibbston Valley, finally realised Central Otago’s potential for commercial viticulture.
Central Otago vineyards now cover over 1,932 hectares across an assortment of sub-regions that can be easily reached from the resort town of Queenstown. The region may only contribute 2.4% towards the country’s entire production, but many of the wines from here are exported to applauding international audiences.Pinot Noir, carrying different expressions according to the sub-region it is grown, reigns supreme in Central Otago – although the region is also noted for its elegant aromatic whites such as Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Central Otago wine regions
Although there is no official geographical classification, Central Otago vineyards can be broadly divided into six main sub-regions, each with their own characteristics and subtle differences in the wines they produce:
Gibbston, which is also known as the ‘Valley of the Vines’, is the highest of the sub regions where the cool climate and north facing hillside vineyards that overlook the spectacular Kawarau River create light bodied Pinot Noir without sacrificing its intensity.
Bannockburn is one of the warmest and driest sub-regions where wines, particularly Pinot Noir, are rich with excellent ageing potential. Some of Central Otago’s most renowned wine makers, including Felton Road and Mount Difficulty, have vineyards here.
Bendigo was formerly one of the most prosperous gold mining towns in New Zealand and remnants of its past can still be found scattered across the rugged landscape along with around 30 wineries. Although Pinot Noir is still ubiquitous, the region also grows commendable Riesling, Chardonnay and, more recently, Syrah.
Alexander is where the region’s first vineyards were planted by Ferraud in 1862, and the Frenchman’s old stone winery still stands. The marked extremes in climate produce full-bodied, driven styles of Pinot Noir, but its real claim to fame is being one of the world’s most southern vineyards.
Wanaka is the smallest and most northern sub-region, which is accompanied by spectacular views of Central Otago vineyards surrounded by snow peaked mountains and glistening lakes. There are only a few wineries here, but the Pinot Noir produced is exported around the world.
The Cromwell Basin around the banks of Lake Dunstan is another sub-region that specialises in Pinot Noir grown across the surrounding areas of Lowburn, Pisa and Northburn. The region’s landscape is also enhanced by stone fruit orchards that provide perfect settings for picnics and gentle strolls.
Most Central Otago wine tours leave from Queenstown, which also has a reputation as a haven for adrenaline-fuelled activities such as bungy jumping, white water rafting and even skiing during the winter months.
At Wine Paths, our local expert can organise exclusive tours of Central Otago vineyards, which can include elaborate tastings, luxury accommodation, fine dining experiences and some unique outdoor activities. Visit our New Zealand destination page for more information and inspirational ideas 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.