Central Otago Wineries
Central Otago Wineries
One the easiest and best activities from Queenstown is a visit to the Central Otago wineries. The region now has over thirty wineries and counting—the closest is Chard Farm only twenty minutes east of Queenstown. In a half-day or even less you can drive Central Otago’s scenic roads and visit the tasting rooms of a handful of the best vineyards. There are also guided wine tours departing from Queenstown that provide transportation and know Otago wine as well as anybody.
Interestingly, Central Otago is home to the world’s southernmost commercial wine production. Pinot Noir is the grape, and at a latitude of 45º South, the climate is similar to Oregon’s Willamette Valley and the Northern Rhone Valley in France. This area of New Zealand is insulated by the surrounding mountains creating the only continental climate zone in the country, an ideal setting for this notoriously fickle grape.
The Otago vineyards consist of a series of sub-regions, and the Gibbston Valley, the closest sub-region to Queenstown, is one of the most picturesque. Starting 25 km kilometers east of the city, this stretch first put New Zealand Pinot Noir on the map in the 1980’s and has produced a number of highly regarded vintages since. The Gibbston Valley Winery is the most visited, but Chard Farm has a more personal feel and a spectacular setting alongside the Kawarau River Valley. Other vineyards down the road include Peregrine and Waitiri Creek.
The highest concentration of Otago vineyards can be found in the Cromwell Basin, 60 km east of Queenstown. Here the land is more open and grapes more consistent (the cooler, wetter climate of the Gibbston Valley causes the vines to ripen later there, which can lead to a build-up of color and flavor, but the results are more variable). Approximately 70 percent of Otago wine is grown in the Cromwell Basin and there are many opportunities for tastings including Wooing Tree, Rockburn, and Aurum Wines.
The stunning Rippon Vineyard, located on the shores of Lake Wanaka with the Buchanan Mountains as a backdrop, has become the most recognized image of New Zealand Pinot Noir (and possibly New Zealand wine in general). Although only 3 percent of Otago wine is grown in this sub-region 70 km north of Queenstown, Rippon has created some of the most highly rated vintages and lives up to its lofty reputation.
There are a smattering of other vineyards throughout Central Otago, including south of Cromwell near the small towns of Clyde and Alexandra. Fore more information, the Queenstown Visitor Center on Shootover Street can answer questions about the Otago wineries and has helpful information detailing the locations of the vineyards, tasting rooms, and hours of operation.