As it so happens, Queenstown is a great place to base yourself to discover the excellent wines of Central Otago and explore the region for some wonderful landscapes. British wine writer Jancis Robinson referred to it as one of the top five New World wine producing areas in the world, so it would make a worthy stop for any wine-lover visiting New Zealand. Interestingly, just like Oregon in the USA and the Yarra Valley in Australia, Central Otago was once a gold rush area in the 1800s. And, all three of these regions are now producing a different type of ‘gold’ – world class wines. The main focus here is Pinot Noir, which thrives in the hot dry summers and cold winters, however, Pinot Gris, Reisling, and Gerwutztrameiner are also popular. We had a rental car, which gave us a ton of flexibility to visit one of the best wineries around Queenstown. Here are all the highlights of our day.
It is a very easy drive from Queenstown to Lake Wanaka which takes about an hour. We took a shortcut via Crown Range Road which brought us directly to the lake. We mostly drove through the bare rugged mountains, but at some point the lake came into the view and totally took our breath away. At first sight, Wanaka is a quaint and dormant resort town, don’t be fooled. There are a lot of fascinating activities available, one of which includes hiking atop the Roys Peak. You can read about Top 10 Must Do’s in Wanaka, courtesy of Wanaka Tourism Association. Since we are keener to exercise out tastebuds than our bodies during our vacation, we chose a less adventurous route and after taking a stroll along the bank of the lake, headed straight to the Rippon Winery.
Often quoted as the most photographed vineyard in the world, it’s not surprising that I pinned this place onto my Pinterest travel board years ago. It is impossible not to fall in love with its vineyards, running down to the shores of Lake Wanaka and the magnificent mountains beyond. Naturally, I was ecstatic to finally see it with my own eyes. But it’s not just the scenery that attracts crowds to Rippon Winery, founded in 1982 by Mills family. In fact, due to the unique soil in this particular parcel of land, wines produced by Rippon stand out from the rest of New Zealand wines with luminous, layered and complex texture. Wine tasting here is technically free, however, you can contribute to their tin as much as you feel inclined to.
We then hit the Route 6, passing some stunning scenery along the way.
Upon arriving to Gibbston Valley and stopped at Peregrine, located about half an hour from Queenstown, just beyond the famous A.J. Hackett’s bungee jump bridge over the Shotover River. Peregrine’s slogan is “wine with attitude” and this attitude shines through not only through their wines, but the award-winning architecture which strikes with its modern and sleek exterior. Its roof is shaped to resemble the wing of a Peregrine falcon in flight, and it is rooted in the landscape in a way that is intrinsically part of the surrounding vistas. The tasting room is equally impressive with its massive barrel room. Peregrine again specialize in Pinot Noir but they are also well known for their dry and late harvest Rieslings too. Just like other wineries in the region, Pinot Noir grapes are Peregrine’s mainstay.
Gibbston Valley Cheesery
By this time, we were both famished and it only made sense to stop for lunch at Gibbston Valley Cheesery. As a huge cheese-lover, it sounded so enticing and I was eager to taste some of the delicious bites on their menu. In fact, it is a huge property, housing a café, restaurant, retail shop and, of course, wine cellars. Since the weather was on our side, we chose to sit in the garden of the restaurant and enjoyed a few dishes from the menu which focus on local ingredients. Our appetizers – oysters and pork terrine – were excellent, as was the grilled free-range chicken breast with charred cabbage, and Justin’s roasted vegetables with hummus and labne. As much as I was tempted by the dessert – dark chocolate tart with salted caramel ice-cream and espresso mousse did scream my name – we decided to skip it in favor of the cheese platter in the neighboring café. Gibbston Cheesery specializes in hand-crafted, artisan cheeses. We opted for the gourmet platter featuring five kinds of cheese and was served with chutneys, antipasto, chorizo, smoked salmon, crackers & bread platter with dipping oil. At this point, we were joined by our parents (who happened to explore the same area at the same time on their own), and we spent a beautiful couple of hours idling our time away on the veranda. Due to its proximity to Queenstown, it definitely makes a perfect place for lunch or dinner.
We finished our day at Amisfield Winery, which is located closest to Queenstown and is insanely popular. They feature their wines as well as house the restaurant. Make sure you book in advance as they get filled pretty quickly. A Queenstown icon for 25 years, known for its award-winning food and wine, Amisfield was chosen to host the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge when they visited in 2014!
With plenty of wine that titivated our tastebuds and amazing scenery to boot, the day trip around Central Otago’s wineries and restaurants was a perfect ending to our trip in New Zealand. The following morning we boarded the plane that took us to our next big adventure – Australia! But that’s a whole separate story.
Have you toured Otago region’s wineries? Which one did you like the most?
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