The majestic golden tussock hills, dramatic river gorges and weird schist rock outcrops of ‘Central’ make it a most memorable wine trail destination.
Central Otago at latitude 45′ south is the southernmost commercial wine region in the world. This is a region of climatic extremes and New Zealand’s only true continental climate zone. Summer is typically very hot while autumn is short and winter brings a succession of ice-cold days. New Zealand’s characteristic maritime climate has no moderating influence in this sheltered inland area.
Distinctive climatic factors are matched by dramatically different soil structures with very heavy deposits of mica and schists with thick silt loams. The dominant grape variety is Pinot Noir followed by Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. The wines are noticeably different from those of northerly regions, expressing a special intensity and vibrancy that characterises cool climate wines. The grapes are usually picked in mid to late April, which is around six weeks later than the grape harvest in the warm, humid North Island regions. Central Otago’s reputation for high quality wines has been enhanced by an award for the world’s best Pinot Noir. There are around 40 wineries in the region and half of these are open to the public.
Four separate wine trails can be identified so several days can be spent touring the countryside. The Queenstown and Arrowtown trail offers rich variety with wines as dramatic as the landscape itself. You can even sample wines in the surreal atmosphere of New Zealand’s largest underground wine cave. The Cromwell and Bannockburn trail passes through stunning scenery along the Kawarau River Gorge and Lake Dunstan. The Wanaka trail embraces just a few boutique wineries and the Clyde/Alexander trail has ten wineries plus a fascinating heritage of gold mining. The dry, rocky soils that once gave up gold nuggets, are now yielding a harvest of liquid gold.
Central’s dramatic scenery and fine wines invariably leave a deep impression on visitors.