Well known as the heart of skiing and adventure in New Zealand, Queenstown is also famous for its wines, with pinot noir as the star child and aromatic varietals (chardonnay and sauvignon blanc) as back up singers. The vineyards usually come with with jaw dropping views and more often than not a restaurant next to the cellar door with equally jaw dropping cuisine.
There are over 100 vineyards in the wider area (Alexandra, Bannockburn, Bendigo, Cromwell/Lowburn/Pisa, Gibbston, Wanaka) and the mountain-heavy terrain and extreme climate makes sure each of the wines has an intensity and a distinctive finesse about them.
There are many ways to explore the area but basing yourself in Queenstown for a night or two means you can journey amongst the vines during the day and explore the local restaurants and bars by night - sampling yet more delicious local wines but being able to wander back to your hotel or airbnb without worrying about who's driving.
Starting the adventure on a high, leap into your car and make your first stop Amisfield, located just 20 minutes out of Queenstown on Lake Hayes Road, (just off the Gibbston Highway). Currently in the process of converting to full organic certification, the team at Amisfield believe in letting the unique flavour of the terroir and climate come through in the wine. Their minimal handling approach means that the wine takes time, but this dedication is reflected in the calibre of the wines. Housed in a dramatic schist and wood building the cellar door charges a small fee for sampling, but this is refundable on your first bottle purchase. And once you’ve satisfied your taste for wine tasting, move into the bistro for yet more sampling - of their fabulous cuisine.
Next stop is the Gibbston Valley. Drive along the Gibbston Highway (direction Cromwell) and turn right, 100 metres after AJ Hackett Bungy Jump, onto the once precarious Chard Road. Nestled on the terrace above the Kawerau Gorge, Chard Farm is an idyllic location that offers spectacular views and a cellar door open from 10am to 5pm, 7 days a week. The Cellar Door is an adobe style building and it faces north, thus getting all day sun for you to enjoy your tastings. Chard Farm concentrates on making wines very naturally, maximising the mineral soils and continental climate so that it’s wines deliver complex aromatics on the nose, and purity and texture on the palate. The pinot noir is elegant and the pinot gris and riesling tend to be reasonably weighty whilst the chardonnay - the Judge and Jury as well as the Closeburn - are great examples of cool climate chardonnay, made in a tighter, mineral driven style.
Once you’ve added samples of your Chard Farm experience to your car boot (trunk) and your driver has been using the spittoon vigorously, backtrack along the Chard Road and onto the Gibbston Highway as in another 10 minutes and you will encounter Gibbston Valley vineyard and cheesery. Blasted into the hillside - the Cave at Gibbston Valley Wines is worth a stop on it’s own (tours run daily) - but pair this with one of the range of tastings (you can even have a chocolate and wine tasting), or their cellar door food menu or stop and delight in the offerings from the restaurant, the options at one of Otago’s oldest vineyards are vast and delicious. They offer 4 distinct ranges, each showcasing the distinct Central Otago varietals that they have carefully crafted from fruit from their vineyards in both Bendigo and Gibbston.
One vineyard that can’t be bypassed, both for the thrill of sampling their pinot noir, and to see the winery, cleverly designed to pay homage to the sweep of the Falcon’s wing, is Peregrine Wines - our next stop on our Otago wine trail. Committed to sustainability and organic farming, Peregrine has vineyards in the Gibbston Valley, Bendigo and Pisa. They are also major sponsors of Wingspan trust - a body seeking to save the endangered New Zealand Falcon, Karearea and ensure their future.
Consequently it’s not surprising that with all of this going on the team at Peregrine are a pretty nice bunch - reflecting the pretty nice taste of their wines! Focussing on Pinot Noir, they also offer an array of aromatics - Pinot Gris, Reisling, Chardonnay to name but a few.
The Cellar door looks out onto the barrels so you can taste their vintages whilst viewing their latest wines quietly preparing themselves for your next visit.
It’s difficult not to go a little crazy and forget to spit, rather than consume all of the delicious vintages that have been on offer so far on this road trip, so in order to let the driver have their share of quaffing, how about making this your last stop for the day and returning to Queenstown or, to ensure that you make good headway in the morning, make a booking to stay at Mt Rosa Lodge - just a few minutes further up the Gibbston Highway.
Start the next days road trip where you left off, heading towards Cromwell on the Gibbston Highway which then evolves into the Kawerau Gorge Road (it’s all SH6 so as long as you stick to that you will be fine.) Turn right into Pearsons Road and then another right into Bannockburn Road and yet another right will see you driving along Felton Road. Cruise up Felton Rd, and if you have made a booking with Felton Rd wines (tastings are by appointment only), pass Mt Difficulty Wines (don’t worry we’ll return there for lunch), and head up to Felton Road Vineyard.
Like many vineyards in Central Otago, Felton Road Vineyard has adopted organic and biodynamic methods to grow their grapes. Subscribing to the philosophy of guardianship of the land and working with the land to ensure it’s not only sustainable but that it also maximises the biodiversity it supports, means that when you cast your eyes over the Felton Rd landscape you will see the goats managing the briar and chickens wandering amongst the vines fertilising the soil and gifting eggs to the team at Felton Road. But once you have consumed the pristine aspect of the vineyards it’s time to get into swilling and spitting, tasting their wonderful vintages. Do try the pinot noir range as they are delicious and it’s worth adding a few bottles to your take home supply in the trunk of the car too.
Now back into the car and return from whence you came, back to Mt Difficulty vineyard. Named after the mountain that overlooks the southern Cromwell basin and partially influences the regions’ climate, (hot summers, long cool autumns and a large temperature variations each day), Mt Difficulty specialises in Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay. Enjoy their cellar door before heading up to the restaurant to sit looking out at the lunar landscape whilst enjoying a delectable platter or a plate of local fare, cooked to complement the wines on hand. The restaurant is open from 12.00pm - 4.00pm most of the year, but do make a booking to ensure you don’t miss out.
Our next stop in the Bannockburn is Carrick vineyard. Head back along Felton Road, turn left into Bannockburn Road and then right into Cairnmuir Rd and drive along Cairnmuir Rd until you reach Carrick Wines on your right hand side. Carrick’s winemaker - Francis Hutt - has recently been experimenting with styles of the wines, leaning a little towards styles that lately are being recognised by wine purchasers globally. However, you can still be sure of the more classical central otago wines in their core range. Tasting notes explain that their pinot noir has concentrated fruit characters, good body and a long lingering silky finish, whilst their 2012 chardonnay has an attractive nose with plenty of citrus, mealy oak and sweet almond aromas and it’s palate is textural, precise and long. So with tasting notes along these lines it’s worth stopping at their cellar door (open from 11am - 5pm) to taste for yourself. They have a restaurant too if you’re peckish, that’s open during the summer (but is closed for a period during the winter month - so please book to ensure you are not disappointed).
Driving into Cromwell from Carrick wines is just a short trip back along Cairnmuir Rd and then right into Bannockburn Rd which will take you straight to the heart of the stone fruit capital of the south island. However fruit isn’t the only thing noteworthy about Cromwell. When the Clyde dam was finished in 1990 the main street of Cromwell was submerged beneath Lake Dunstan. Recognising that the historic buildings were precious, some of them, dating back to the 1860’s gold rush, were saved or meticulously rebuilt on higher ground - thus creating the Cromwell Heritage Precinct. Wander the little streets before heading to Olivers Central Otago, 29 Sutherland St, Clyde for dinner and the night. (This is a quick 20 minute drive down the Cromwell-Clyde Road, (SH8).
Meticulously restored, Olivers follows a philosophy of conservation and sustainability, so your stay will be like turning the clock back architecturally, with all of the modern comforts we would expect from such luxurious accommodation. The restaurant uses local, free farmed fare and weaves it’s magic on every dish and you’ll probably be tempted to pick up some of their delicious snacks and baking for the next leg of our trip, in the morning from the deli out the front - the Merchant of Clyde.
The plan for the next day is to move north towards Wanaka, however our first stop is back to Cromwell. The Wooing Tree Vineyard is on Shortcut Road, a wee detour as you drive out of Cromwell heading towards Wanaka. Whilst the wine is the story of today, prior to the land being developed into a vineyard, the “Wooing Tree” was a locally known place for lovers to meet. With the vineyard development, the trees on the land were felled to make space for vines, but upon hearing of the trees’ long history the owners decided this particular tree had to be saved. It is now the namesake of the vineyard, is on the label and stands proudly amidst the vines. The cellar door is open most days and if your party is less than 8 people then there is no need to book (and they have a sandpit and slide for those bringing small people who are not so interested in wine). The restaurant serves platters, cheese boards, and sweet treats for those with a sweet tooth, to accompany glasses of their latest vintage. (However please note that they close for a few months over the winter - May to the end of July). The pinot noir, as with most of the vineyards in the area, is their speciality but their rose and blondie make for great summer drinking.
Now leap back in the car and head north along the Luggate - Cromwell Road for about 9 minutes and you’ll spy Clarks Road on your left hand side. And just up Clarks Road (number 46 in fact) is Domaine Thompson Vineyard. Now, whilst they don’t have a cellar door so we can’t stop, it’s worth taking note of this vineyard as they have vineyards both in Mt Pisa and in Gevry in France. They too have understood the value of letting the terroir come through in their wine by following a policy of minimal handling and in 2013 their move to practice biodynamic farming on the vineyards has meant that the vineyards are thriving with birds and bees and insects. And this vibrancy is reflected in the wines that they are making today. You can pick up a bottle or two online, or stop at Raewards when you’re back in Queenstown and grab a bottle from them.
The trip from Cromwell to Wanaka takes about 45 minutes along State Highway 6. Whilst it’s not as awesome (or as tricky) as cutting through the Crown Range it is nevertheless a pleasant journey through glorious Otago scenery.
Once in Wanaka however, it’s time to give your taste buds and your eyes a real treat. Drive through Wanaka heading towards Treble Cone and along the Wanaka-Mt Aspiring Road and you’ll arrive at Rippon, overlooking the lake on your right hand side. Given it’s position, nestled against the hills framing Lake Wanaka, Rippon is possibly the most dramatic and beautifully located vineyard, and their wines absolutely reflect this gloriousness. The Mills family, who have been farming this land for over 100 years, understand the responsibility of their guardianship over the land. Consequently they practice biodynamic farming and, like many of the vineyards covered in this trip, they let the character of the land and the climate flourish by minimally handling the grapes when making their wines. The result is a range of rich, delicious wines that will enchant the taster. Rippon produces a distinct range of outstanding pinot noir wines, from their entry level pinot noir to the limited edition single vineyard wines, Emma’s Block or Tinkers Field. Alongside these are five other varieties, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Gamay and Osteiner, so there is literally something for everyone.
Rippon focusses solely on their wine, consequently there is no regular restaurant operating from their vineyard, unless of course you manage to be in the area during their summer pop up “Chefs Table” season held in Rippon Hall. Opening times vary so check out theripponhall.co.nz to see if the stars align your visit and their open season.