Central Otago wine region – part 1· Blog
Aug 24th, 2012 | By Jayson Bryant | Category: Blog
Central Otago wine region
If there were any New Zealand wine region that should have an appellation then it’s surely got to be Central Otago. As you drive from Queenstown, towards Arrowtown, Wanaka and Cromwell, the first vineyard that you encounter is Amisfield. It really does have a captive audience. The first or last winery that you get to really is at a premium advantage, providing the wine is good at least.
But it’s not all about wine in this region. There are a myriad of other offerings to entertain, amuse, engage all the family. Either base yourself in Queenstown or head further afield to Wanaka, Cromwell, Clyde, or head further to Lake Hawea. Whilst enjoying your stay you’re constantly reminded of the juxtaposition of the wine and scenery.
Central Otago wines have taken a battering since 2008. There has been a proliferation of sub standard new wine labels spring up in the the turbulent tough times of the global financial crisis. Sure this has dealt with the excess fruit, but I have a feeling that it’ll be sometime before Central Otago winemakers can regain the prestigious platform that every other New Zealand, and possibly world, wine region envied. Crikey even Cloudy Bay want part of the action these days.
But step away from those less reputable wine labels and you’ll find the true nature of the wines here. Go to Mount Edward, speak to Misha, of Misha’s Vineyard, chat to the guys at Rippon, taste the wines of Wooing tree, Locharburn, Felton Road, Olssen’s, Prophets Rock, Peregrine, and Gibbston valley and you’ll understand the true passion of the region. Chat and taste for only a few minutes and you’ll appreciate the true potential that the regions wines have, and they haven’t reached yet.
Queenstown is the capital town of the region. It’s the town that you fly in to, unless you can afford to fly into Wanaka . A town of two halves. The first half is for the adrenaline junkie, but everyone’s written about that. The second half is about food and wine. There are many hints that you’re in a great wine region. The restaurants are on all streets, it’s a tiny town really, and the wine shops are present.
The cafés are great. They serve coffee to rival Auckland. The views are to die for. But, and it’s a big but, you’ll want to get on the road to another destination after 24 hours. The people seem as transient as the tourists. Real estate has boomed here over the last 10 years. The town has literally exploded, with shrapnel sized apartments.
Once on the road and out of Queenstown you’ll discover the true heart and nature of the region. Staying in Queenstown is like staying in London and saying you’ve seen Britain. The real gems are beyond the walls of this two horse town.
Arrrowtown is a look back at how Central Otago used to look. There’s not much here except a very respectable restaurant, Saffron, and an old English sweet shop. If your’re staying in Queenstown then it’s worth the trek to taste some of the local cuisine at Saffron, but if you’re pushed for time then I’d suggest you focus your attention elsewhere.
Wanaka is at risk of ruining the primary reason why people travel far and wide to be there. It’s not Queenstown. It’s quaint, but with the building development that’s taken place over the last 5 years it has almost lost its charm. The only other reason that people base themselves in Wanaka is for the Skiing, either on Treble Cone or Cardrona, but visitors will take themselves to other places if Wanaka becomes too commercial.
The local architecture is a blend of 1960 – 1980s with a melange of styles. It’s not designer fashion, but merely cheap and not particularly cheerful in appearance. The older buildings have charm and character. It’s as if the Auckland Architecture rejects have decided to make a statement, and if it were unique throughout NZ they’d have achieved it, but NZ is littered with cheap and ugly architecture, just a shame so many of the ugly buildings have blotted the landscape in town.
Whilst in Wanaka, before it’s ruined, try the local hotspots. For a small town, it has two cinemas, plenty of cafés making great coffee and food, though I do recommend Ritual Espresso Café just off the main street. If you don’t like Ritual, or it’s too crowded, try Tango on the waterfront, next to Racers Edge.
Wanaka hosts a number of good restaurants. Two restaurants, that I’d personally recommend, are The Cow and Botswana Butchery. Both restaurants are tucked down a little alleyway just off of the main street. The Cow is a pizza and pasta joint, but fresh ingredients and fresh prices, but worth it. The only draw back is that it’s like entering a Monteiths theme bar!
Botswana Butchery, suited here more than Auckland, is, as the name suggests, all about the meat. Well proportioned portions, good wine list and cosy. The food is great and the surroundings relaxed, just what you need after a days skiing or wine tasting.
The skiing in this area is incredible. It’s definitely not North American or European, but the scenery is simply stunning. The snow literally starts two thirds of the way up the mountain. The mountains are bare, no trees, and not much wildlife. Skiing here has a charm all of itself. The runs are wide, the snow is consistent and usually of good quality.
For the skiing head for Treble Cone, for nothing else but the drive alone, if you’re looking for a less crowded mountain. For a more generic, and if you have kids under 3, then head for Cardrona.
The wine scene in Wanaka is less noticeable than most other towns in the region. The 2 vineyards that I can’t recommend highly enough are Rippon and Mount Maude. Rippon sits on the Wanaka to Mount Aspiring road. Nestled in the rolling hills on the lakes edge.
Rippon are fully organic and follow biodynamic principles, and Nick Mills, proprietor, alongside James Millton, is one of New Zealand’s greatest proponents of this style of winemaking viticulture.
Mount Maude wines are relatively unknown to most New Zealanders, let alone internationally. Mount Maude is a small vineyard owned by Dawn and Terry Wilson in the beautiful Maungawera Valley near Wanaka, on the road between Wanaka and lake Hawea. The more common Maude wines have taken precedence and are making their wines these days.