During our visit to New Zealand in 2007, we spent a day in Central Otago visiting some of the vineyards in the area. Which was a very pleasant way to spend a day.
While New Zealand is best known for it's Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir is the dominate grape to be planted in the Central Otago region comprising around 85% of vineyard plantings. Small amounts of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Reisling have also been planted. While minor amounts of Sauvingon Blanc and Gewürztraminer have also been planted.
Four distinct areas make up the Central Otago wine growing region. Most of the regions vineyards are located in the Cromwell basin which includes Bannockburn in the South, Lowburn, Wanaka Road and Bendigo.
The second largest growing area is around Gibbston where the vines are typically north-facing fans and terraces above Kaawarau Gorge. Clyde and Alexandra vines tend to be grown amonsgt schist rocks and a small number of vines are grown around Wanaka which tend to be against a somewhat dramatic background of Lake Wanaka and the mountains.
The soil of Central Otago are varied and range from light sands to heavy silts and schist. Most soils are from loess or alluvial deposits. Underneath gravels allow for good drainage. In some areas in the west, there is also glacial otwash or moraine.
The climate of Central Otago is semi-continental which means that there is a greater variation in daily and seasonal tempratures. Summers are typically hot and dry while autumns are cool and dry with cold nights. Rain falls evenly through the year with greater rain fall in the west of the area - which is the area around Wanaka. Comparativly low rainfall results in low inciden of botrylis and fungal diesasse which limits the need for spraying of the grapes. Conversely, however, frosts can occur through the winter months of March to November. This impacts the vine growing season and needs to be controlled. As a result, many vineyards are north-facing and flatter vineyards have wind machines, water sprinklers and misting systems. Controlling frost by use of helicopters is not unknown but comes at a significantly higher operating cost than the more capital-intensive machines. Additionally, introduced predators such as rabbits pose and additional problem.
The Central Otago Winegrowers Association have placed various brown coloured road signs throughout the region which help you easily find where the various vineyards in Central Otago are. During our 2007 trip to Central Otago, it was pretty clear to us when we were approaching a vineyard and where it was. Which is handy if you just want to pop into a vineyard during your trip - but be sure to have a designated driver (I do not under any circumstance support drink-driving so designate a driver who will stay sober while you sample) If all of you wish to participate in wine tasting, I can recommend Appellation Central who did a great tour for us in 2007.
Harvest time in Central Otago is typically April to May.
I've never found Central Otago wine outside New Zealand and, in my experience, it's been difficult to get Central Otago wine outside of the region itself - even within new Zealand. Wine production volumes tend to be small and the number of vineyards is, on a relative basis, is high. Many vineyards supply local restaurants and bars and this often comprises most of their sales. Your best bet, therefore, is simply to goto Central Otago and try the stuff in-situ. Which is, generally, the best approach to wine anyway. So there!
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Mark Sukhija is a travel and wine blogger, photographer, tourism researcher, hat-touting, white-shirt-wearing, New Zealand fantatic and eclipse chaser. Aside from at least annual visits to New Zealand, Mark has seen eclipses in South Australia (2002), Libya (2006), China (2009) and Queensland (2012). After twelve years in Switzerland, Mark moved back to London in 2012. You can follow Mark on Twitter or Facebook