Queenstown may conjure images of pristine ski fields and extreme sports but the landscape of the adjacent Central Otago region cultivates more than epic hiking trails and precipitous gorges. On New Zealand’s South Island, about three hours from Australia’s east coast, this impressive wine country stretches across six subsections, from the glacial shores of Lake Wanaka to the vines tucked beneath imposing, snow-capped mountain ranges.
Pinot noir dominates the scene, with more than 1500 hectares under vine, and accounts for about a quarter of the country’s production of the vibrant-red drop. The unique microclimate – low annual rainfall, chilly nights and long, sunlit days that slowly ripen the grapes until they’re picked in autumn – results in bold pinots with intense and often dense flavours, while grapes from cooler sites such as Gibbston, Bannockburn and Alexandra offer spice and elegance.
The wineries themselves, many of which are committed to sustainable practices, offer stunning scenery year-round. Rippon, a biodynamic vineyard started in the 1970s by pioneer Rolfe Mills on his family’s sheep farm, basks in enviable views of Lake Wanaka. Others, such as Felton Road and Burn Cottage, are well positioned to appreciate picturesque mountain vistas.
Savouring a glass of red requires nothing more than a journey along winding gorge roads from Queenstown, making a day – or weekend – of wine-tasting an easy addition to any adventure.
Where to eat
For breakfast: Armando's Kitchen
The compact breakfast menu
is full of Mediterranean-style
fare at this Italian eatery – ostensibly a pizza and pasta joint – overlooking Lake Dunstan. Scrambled eggs
are served alongside smoked salmon, bacon and a croissant, while peppery mince, a runny poached egg, cherry tomatoes and wilted spinach are piled atop chewy ciabatta.
71 Melmore Terrace, Cromwell
For lunch: The Cloudy Bay Shed
This is a “shed” in the loosest sense of the word. In winter,
the cave-like cellar door invites you to snuggle into a low-slung chair by the fireplace; in summer, you can take a seat outdoors with a view of the vineyards and the towering Pisa range beyond. The casual eats include Akaroa hot-smoked salmon or cheese and charcuterie platters (each with wine pairings), while the three-course fine-dining experience, served in an airy space decorated with New Zealand art, features a seasonal menu and matching wines.
45 Northburn Station Road, Cromwell
For dinner: Bannockburn Hotel
You can find classic pub grub, including steaks and burgers,
at the Bannockburn Hotel but you’d be remiss not to order from the tapas menu. Share plates include milky burrata with translucent curls of prosciutto and a sprinkle
of pine nuts and chopped
dates or pork and beef meatballs in a rich, smoky sauce. The wine list is astounding, featuring more than 200 local and international drops. Overwhelmed? Co-owner Anna Mackintosh can lead
you to your perfect glass.
420 Bannockburn Road, Cromwell
For taking home: The Merchant of Clyde
This café-bakery-deli attached to Olivers, an upmarket lodge and restaurant, is a meeting point for locals and visitors alike. In the small deli you’ll
find imported and Kiwi treats, as well as a range of housemade chutneys, jams and preserves featuring unique flavour combinations, such as spiced apricot and coriander.
34 Sunderland Street, Clyde
SEE ALSO: Read Before You Leave – Queenstown
Where to stay
New Zealand’s newest luxury lodge sits above a switchback in the Ahuriri River (the old border between the Otago and Canterbury regions) where majestic snow-capped peaks stretch into the distance. The property itself is cleverly tucked into the hillside, its roofline mimicking the undulating landscape. Five suites are finished in dark timbers and each space – from the lounge and bedroom to the ensuite – flows seamlessly. Pre-dinner drinks, breakfast and dinner (made with local ingredients and fresh-picked produce from the garden) are included in the tariff and activities, from horseriding to in-room massages, can be arranged. There’s really no reason to leave this Arcadian valley once you’ve arrived.
Mt. Michael Lodge
Hugged by vines on all sides, Mt. Michael Lodge rests on a hilltop dwarfed by ranges to the east and west. Despite the generous size of the four guestrooms, each is a snug respite from the crisp Central Otago climate thanks to soft carpets, velvety throws and for those staying in the Lakeview Retreat, a library and outdoor heated spa. The grand fireplace will draw you to the shared living area, as will the warmth of owners and hosts, Fiona and Alistair Marris, who provide an impressive breakfast spread and convivial conversation at the communal dining table.
If you don’t want to drive
Take to the skies instead of the road. Heliview can ferry up to three passengers to the top of Mount Michael for a wine-tasting at altitude. Prefer to stay on the ground? Retrodub operates wine tours with its five-strong fleet of 1960s and ’70s Volkswagen Kombi vans, each fitted with their original décor.
The winery’s famous views are even more lovely from its rammed-earth cellar door and best appreciated with
a glass of biodynamic wine
Drink now: Jeunesse Young Vine Riesling
Cellar: Tinker’s Field Mature Vine Pinot Noir
If you suffer from vertigo, it’s best to skip this pioneering winegrower. But the cliff-
hanging track in is worth it
for the scenery and the pinots.
Drink now: Judge & Jury Chardonnay
Cellar: The Viper Pinot Noir
Sample Grant Taylor’s pinots at the Kinross Cottages cellar door or book a personal tasting with Taylor or his winemaker, Jen Parr.
Drink now: The Real McCoy Pinot Gris Orange Wine
Cellar: Gibbston Vineyard Pinot Noir
Named after the high point that protects the Bannockburn “dress circle” from chilly winds from the south, this is a class act all the way.
Drink now: Bannockburn Pinot Noir Rosé
Cellar: Bannockburn Long Gully Pinot Noir
Visit downtown Wanaka
for the tasting room of this rapidly evolving brand helmed by Sarah-Kate and Dan Dineen.
Drink now: Maude Pinot Gris
Cellar: Mt Maude Vineyard Pinot Noir