Discover the Central Otago Wine Region of New Zealand

There is no wine region more southerly located than New Zealand’s Central Otago, and few so beautiful. This mountainous part of the South Island produces just 3% of New Zealand’s wines. What it lacks in quantity, it more than makes up for in quality: many of the country’s best producers are located here.

Central Otago Terroir

Central Otago is New Zealand’s only continental wine region. Its summers are short, and vines vulnerable to frost – and even snow – early in the season. This can disrupt flowering, which is needed for the vines to make grapes later on.

Intense sunlight and long summer days help the grapes to ripen, while cool nights keeps the acidity high and resulting wines fresh. In some parts of the region, lakes help to moderate the extreme temperatures.

Many producers choose to plant on slopes to intensify the sunlight further and reduce the risk of frost.

Central Otago’s Grape Varieties & Wine Styles

Around 80% of Central Otago’s plantings are for Pinot Noir. It thrives here. Examples are typically bright, fruity, and well-structured with relatively high alcohol. The vast majority of vines are young, having been planted in the last decade or two. Many followers of the region are interested to see how the wines change as the vines age.

The next most-planted variety is Pinot Gris, followed by Riesling. These both make intensely concentrated wines with zippy acidity (quite unlike Pinot Grigio from much of Italy).

Small amounts of Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer are also planted.

Sub-Regions Within Central Otago

Central Otago contains a number of sub-regions. From north to south, these are: Wanaka, Bendigo, Cromwell (including Lowburn and Pisa), Gibbston, Bannockburn and Alexandra.

Although close together, the sub-regions see varying temperatures, sunlight and rainfall depending on their proximity to the large lakes and positioning among the mountains in the area.

The Cromwell area, which is moderated by the large and beautiful Lake Dunston, contains many of the most well-regarded producers. It is also famous – locally, at least – for being home to the “Cromwell Fruit”, a giant four-piece statue of a pear, peach, apple, and nectarine, that pays homage to the area’s high potential for growing quality fruit (and its sense of humor).

Wineries To Visit in Central Otago

Central Otago has an abundance of quality-minded producers. Felton Road is perhaps the best known. Its wines are widely loved, and its owner, Nigel Greening, is a vocal advocate of sustainable viticulture and the merits of bio-dynamics.

Prophet’s Rock is making several classy Pinot Noirs, and a very small quantity of Riesling and Pinot Gris. Its Cuvee Aux Antipodes Pinot Noir is a joint effort between Prophet’s Rock winemaker Paul Pujol and Francois Millet of Comtes de Vogue in Burgundy.

Wooing Tree produces Reese Witherspoon’s favorite rose, as she shared on Instagram.

Other producers to look out for include Burn Cottage, Rippon, Two Paddocks, Mt. Difficulty and Peregrine.

Other Things To Do in Central Otago

As well as growing grapes, Central Otago is home New Zealand’s adventure capital, Queenstown. Visitors come here for bungee jumping, skydiving and other adventure sports. The nightlife is fun too, especially for backpackers. During the winter, ski resorts are open around Queenstown and neighboring Wanaka. Both towns also offer a number of hiking trails.

Arrowtown was an important centre during the New Zealand gold mining era. You can still walk around some of the tiny cottages used by miners.

Cromwell, close to Queenstown, is overlooked by many visitors. This small, historic town is worth visiting for lunch or an afternoon drink if you have a car. It’s peaceful, and the views over the lake will have you reaching for your camera.

Written By Sarah Phillips

Sarah Phillips is a Miami-based marketer and wine educator. After spending nearly five years working in the London wine trade, she relocated to Miami in January 2019. Sarah has her WSET Diploma (Level 4 Certified) and teaches classes with a focus on the wines of France, Spain, Portugal and Italy at the Florida Wine Academy.

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