Central Otago Wine Tours
Located at the bottom of New Zealand’s South Island, Central Otago is the world’s southernmost wine-producing region. Its picturesque surrounds, with snow-capped mountains and tranquil lakes, make it a favorite with tourists.
Central Otago is considered the only “continental” region in New Zealand. It enjoys hot, dry summers, and snow during winter. The soil structure is also markedly different to other New Zealand wine regions, with heavy mineral deposits in silt loams. These unique conditions give Central Otago wines a character all their own.
Tourists should spend at least three days in the region to get the most from their stay.
Wines from Central Otago
Central Otago is widely regarded as New Zealand’s finest producer of pinot noirs. It is also the most popular grape grown in the region, accounting for around 70% of plantings [Source: Wikipedia.org].
The remaining 30% is mostly made up of white grape varieties, including chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot gris, and gewurztraminer.
Central Otago primarily produces still wine varieties, but recently its wineries have begun to create limited sparkling wines using pinot noir and chardonnay grapes. The results have been internationally recognized for their excellence.
Central Otago Wineries
Central Otago’s vineyards are the highest in New Zealand, with most situated around 200 to 400 meters above sea level. As you might imagine, most wineries in the region offer stunning views. The following are some of the area’s finest.
Black Ridge Vineyard
Conroys Road, Alexandra
Black Ridge was established in 1981, making it one of the Central Otago region’s first vineyards. Its location is superbly rugged, with vines clinging to the hillside. Daily tasting sessions allow visitors to taste Black Ridge’s famous pinot noir, chardonnay, riesling, gewurztraminer, and cabernet sauvignon.
Gibbston Valley Vines
Gibbston RD1, State Highway 6, Queenstown
Gibbston Valley Vines opens its doors to visitors daily. Tourists can taste all the wines in the current range, and selected older vintages as well. Travelers looking to learn more can take a tour of the vineyards and the winery’s unique wine cave. Set 76 meters underground, this innovative natural cellar is the ideal environment for maturing Gibbston Valley’s award-winning wines. Tours cost NZ$9.50 per person, or just NZ$7.50 if you’re dining in the restaurant.
Pisa Range Estate
Rapid 925, SH6 Cromwell/Wanaka Highway, Cromwell
Pisa Range Estate is a boutique vineyard owned by Warwick and Jenny Hawker. The couple produces only a small range of wines, but they do it so well. Their pinot noirs and pinot gris are favorites with international judges and wine connoisseurs alike. The Hawkers love to show guests around the vineyards, and encourage visitors to stay for a meal in their restaurant.
Corner of Gair Avenue and McNulty Road, Cromwell
Rockburn Winery opened its tasting room in 2006. This purpose-built complex is set within the winery, allowing guests to see and smell the production of Rockburn’s delicious wines. Tasting sessions allow visitors to sample the complete range, including gewurztraminers, chardonnays, rieslings, and their award-winning pinot noirs. The cellar door is open daily from Labor Weekend to Easter, and on weekdays during winter.
If you’re looking for spectacular views of the New Zealand countryside, then look no further than Chard Farm. This hidden gem is situated between rugged mountains and the stunning Kawarau River Gorge. You’ll need to drive down a narrow unpaved road to get there but it’s worth it to taste their wines, which include chardonnays, a vibrant bubbly, and four different pinot noirs.
As the name suggests, Central Otago is located in the middle of several major New Zealand cities. This makes getting there a breeze.
Driving is a popular option, as major highways connect the region to Christchurch, Dunedin, Invercargill, Queenstown, and the West Coast via Wanaka.
Driving offers travelers an easy journey, and the opportunity to see more of New Zealand’s scenic countryside. However, it’s worth noting that many small towns along the way do not have petrol pumps. Tourists should always fill their vehicle before visiting these remote areas to ensure they don’t end up with an empty tank.
Queenstown International Airport is less than an hour away from most of Central Otago’s wineries. Air New Zealand regularly flies to Queenstown from Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch. Air New Zealand and Qantas also offer flights from the Australian capitals of Sydney and Melbourne directly to Queenstown.
From the airport, most travelers opt to take a hire car to Central Otago. Queenstown has many hire car companies available, including About New Zealand Rental Cars, Ezi-Rent Car Hire, and Rent a Dent.
Alternatively, visitors may like to stay in Queenstown and take a coach tour to the wineries. Appellation Central Wine Tours and Queenstown Wine Trail offer social and private tours, catering for all tastes and budgets.
Visitors to the Central Otago region tend to fall into two categories. Firstly, there are the travelers who like the convenience of staying in nearby Queenstown. This tourist town has plenty to attract visitors, with its mountains for skiing, thriving restaurants, and bustling nightlife. Hostels like The Black Sheep and Hippo Lodge are favorites with backpackers. Resorts like Crowne Plaza Queenstown and Eichardt’s Private Hotel allow guests to enjoy a little more luxury.
The second group of tourists would rather escape the city, preferring instead to settle closer to Central Otago’s vineyards. Bed and breakfasts are the best option for these travelers, as they offer comfortable accommodation coupled with country hospitality. Some of the area’s wineries, including Hawkdun Rise and RiverRock Estate, have bed and breakfasts in their vineyards.
Every Easter Sunday – The Clyde Wine and Food Festival celebrates the fresh produce created in the historic Clyde district. More than a dozen wineries, and many local restaurants take part in the event. It is held in Clyde’s main street, and entry is NZ$5, or NZ$10 with a tasting glass.