Central Otago Winegrowers Association: www.cowa.org.nz
Central Otago region
Central Otago, in the south eastern corner of the South Island between Queenstown and Dundein is the world's most southerly wine region.
It should be too cold, and much of it is. But the experience from last couple of decades of commercial winemaking in the region has shown there are spots where it is possible in a good vintage to produce world acclaimed Pinot Noirs. They are intense, dark and brooding extractive wines that represent a completely different approach to Pinot Noir than the Burgundy imitators.
Brands such as Akarua, Quartz Reef, Mount Difficulty, Mount Rosa, Gibbston Valley, Olssens Garden and Rockburn are now known to Pinot Noir connoisseurs around the world. International wine writer, Jancis Robinson, famously ranked Central Otago as one of her favourite five New World wine regions - along with the distinguished company of Napa Valley (California), Margaret River (West Australia), Stellenbosch (South Africa) and Willamette (Oregon).
While production is still quite small it is the most rapidly expanding wine region in New Zealand with new vineyards popping up faster than we can keep track of.
Like a number of Victorian regions Central Otago had a 19th century incarnation as a wine region following the discovery of gold. The Monte Christo winery was established in 1861. The buildings from this first winery still survive. There are records of gold miners establishing substantial vineyards around Cromwell.
Viticulture faded away after the gold rush and Dunedin's relative demographic decline. Following some trial plantings a second wave of viticulture was launched in 1981 with planting's at Black Ridge in Alexandra, Gibbston Valley Vineyards in the Gibbston Valley and Rippon Vineyards in Wanaka.
The average climate statistics indicate that the region is too cold with snow covering the vineyards in winter. However, the rugged terrain offers considerable diversity in the meso-climate with Lake Wanaka and Bannockburn having a much higher heat summation than Queenstown.
There is a short summer (Dec-February) where temperatures exceed 30 degrees and the far southerly latitude extends the duration of summer days. Still the vines tend to be planted high up on northward sloping hillsides to maximise light and to stay above the frost line.
Some are planted on sandy silts near the Lake Wanaka and Lake Hayes which mitigates against the temperature extremes. Severe spring and autumn frosts often provide the climatic benchmarks and challenges for the vintage. The region is best treated as series of quite diverse sub-regions: Alexandra, Arrowtown, Bannockburn, Cromwell and Lake Wanaka.
In 2006 the vineyards covered over 1,250 hectares with Pinot Noir and accounted for 77% of production. Chardonnay is next most common variety with small amounts of Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Merlot.
The nearby Queenstown tourist phenomenon has led to a respectable number of boutique cellar door and restaurant operations to cater those who want mountains, lakes and wine (car drivers will need a designated driver!).
The heart of the region lies in Cromwell with numerous wineries and the Central Otago Wine Company (COWCo) and VinPro contracting winemaking facilities.
The pioneering Gibbston Valley Winery features a huge wine cave cellar and conducts regular tours of the cave for visitors. top