We spent Friday afternoon touring the Central Otago wine region, which at the 45th parallel makes it the Southernmost wine region in the world. For those that have forgotten their geography, the 45th parallel is exactly halfway between the equator and the South Pole.
There are multiple wineries in this region, but most are on the small side and production limited. The earliest vines were planted in the 1970s, so it is a young region. The cool climate lends itself to the production of good Pinot Noirs, different in style from Burgundy but still solid. The one above is the best we tasted and highly regarded locally. Unfortunately we won’t be able to find it at home. Otago wineries also focus on making Pinot Gris and Riesling for the most part and some rose-style wines. They don’t make a lot of Sauvignon Blanc. The Marlborough and Hawkes Bay regions on the North Island already make an ocean of that style, which any U.S. wine drinker knows from the abundance of it found at local shops.
We visited four wineries on a tour led by Richard of Discover Wanaka, who was very enjoyable to travel with. A former science teacher who retired from a government ministry, he was highly informative. The tour included a food-wine pairing at a winery called Wild Earth, and visits to Domain Road and Wooing Tree. Wild Earth is run by a transplanted Californian who came up with a way of turning old barrels into smokers to cook food. The food turned out by the cookers was quite good, though his wines were average.
We enjoyed the visit to Domain Road for the views (below) and because the woman running the tasting room was just fun to talk to. The tasting room was made from a converted shipping container, something that was common in Christchurch post-earthquake. Wines were good but because of the limited production on the pricey side. The last one, Wooing Tree, produced one modestly priced Pinot that was decent, so we did buy a bottle of that. But two bottles is all we can consume over the remaining days we have here.
We effectively added a fifth tasting later in the day of a winery called Maude, that our host had recommended. A restaurant called Bistro Gentil serves as Maude’s tasting room during the day. We ate there last night (it was excellent) and the restaurant offers a pay-by-the-glass option. Each table has a card that you take to a machine that allows you to select from multiple wines. You can opt for a small sample, or a full glass. Pretty slick system, had not seen that previously.
Today we shove off from Wanaka to make our way to Queenstown for the final leg of our trip. Unfortunately, some cold air is moving in so that may impact some of our plans, but our tour to Milford Sound, expected to be a highlight of the trip, is still on for tomorrow. That is the main event. If it rains on the day we scheduled golf, no big deal, we will adjust and probably bag that. We have to take our time as today is the running of the Queenstown Marathon, so there are going to be street closings to deal with. But we will just take our time and let the race play out. We had a really enjoyable stay at Wanaka; below are some images from another winery, Rippon, that sits above the town. We walked up to it yesterday morning for the lake views, but we didn’t taste.