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Kingsley Wood on Tour - Central Otago – Part One

They say timing is important in life – well how about choosing a suitable week to visit the wineries in Central Otago, in February, and you get a cyclone and snow.  Like a good Auckland resident, you travel with shorts and then the high for the day is forecast to be 6 degrees.  The shops in Wanaka have no long-sleeved shirts on the racks, unless you want to buy something for the mountains which costs $400 – and will probably last a lifetime.  I am envious of the 25 degrees forecast for the North Shore!

However, we didn’t need fine weather when my plan was to visit as many winery cellar doors as I could over two days.  Day one was around Cromwell and Bannockburn and the Gibbston/Arrowtown area the next day.  Sadly, there was not time to get down to Alexandra. 

My plan was to visit the Cellar Doors that were open – not intending to taste at most, it was just a chance to see what was new, what the wineries were offering – and charging.  We found out that many wineries did not charge for a tasting, supposedly because they did not provide any food.  What did surprise me, since my last visit about three years ago, was the incredible increase in vineyard plantings, mainly across the Lowburn/Dunstan plains, but even in Bannockburn and the famous Felton Road.

While scaffolding companies are ‘creaming it’ in Auckland, netting companies must be doing very well in Central Otago.  With the vintage still expected to be early, there are hundreds of hectares of vineyards covered in nets – it’s a great sight for the tourists.

These are the wineries I visited and this is what they offer:

Wanaka based Maude Wines now has a retail presence in town.  They share the facilities with French themed restaurant Bistro Gentil – Maude has the day, the restaurant the evenings.  They are right across from the Wanaka golf course – tourists could walk there.  Maude offers a sit down hosted tasting of five wines for $15.  We had a talk with the charming winemaker Sarah-Kate Dineen, in fact all of the staff were hospitable and knowledgeable. 

There must be no winery in New Zealand more photographed, or visited, than Rippon and because they don’t provide food, the tastings are free.  There were at least 50 people there when we called – they should work out how to charge people – few would complain.

Our first call in Bannockburn was to Mt Difficulty.  This winery is probably going to be sold to the Foley Family Group – another string to their bow – Vavasour, Grove Mill, Goldwater, Te Kairanga, Martinborough Vineyards etc.  Mt Difficulty charges $2 for five wines and you can pay $5 for tastings of their limited release pinots, served from the enomatic pourer. And of course, they have their popular restaurant with the amazing view – a must visit.

Felton Road’s actual winery can only be visited by appointment now.  We called, but winemaker Blair Walter was away this week.

Terra Sancta had a sign on the gate “Visits by Appointment Only”.

We were surprised to find a new tasting facility on the hill right next door to Felton Rd.  Domain Rd has 14 acres of vineyards planted there now and their tasting room is made from shipping containers – its new and stylish but apparently the severe heat after Christmas really gave visitors a stressful visit.  No such problem when we called.  They do not charge for the tasting.  Open 11am – 5pm, 7 days.  Check it out.

Just a few hundred metres from Domain Rd, also in Felton Rd, is a sign for Gate 20 Two.  They have a Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, grown on site and made by Mt D. The tasting is conducted in the foyer of the owner’s house – we recommend no more than two people to call at a time.

The other wineries in Bannockburn are located around the Southern end of Lake Dunstan, but still only a couple of kilometres from Felton Rd.  Akarua was proud to tell us about yet another gold medal for their Pinot Noir and I was delighted to see just three Trophy certificates on the walls of the Akarua tasting room – all from the NZ International Wine Show.  There is no charge for the 4 or 5 tasting wines at Akarua.

Bannock Brae was closed so we travelled another few hundred metres to Carrick which has a popular restaurant – almost booked out for lunch.  I’m not a big fan of tastings in stemless glasses and while we decided we would taste the Carrick EBM Chardonnay 2016, the tasting sample was so tiny it really didn’t tell us much.  They charge $10 for 5 wines, but we did notice everyone was getting extremely small servings.

Bald Hills was unfortunately closed but up the hill at Ceres it was all action and delight after the news had filtered through about another gold medal for their Black Rabbit Riesling in the Royal Easter Wine Show Awards.  James Dicey is a compelling figure who will be at First Glass on Wednesday 2nd May. 

Wild Earth now have their wines on for tasting at the Goldfields complex several kilometres along the road to Queenstown and we were hopeful of lunch.  But the presence of a bus and several vans told us the place was pretty full, so it was just a whistle stop to see what they offer.  They have a $10 tasting of 5 wines which is rebated off a wine purchase.

Wooing Tree right on the outskirts of Cromwell was busy and they are open all week, 10 – 5pm.  They have a full food menu available and a good family set-up.  Excellent Pinots and glorious Rosés.

The visit to the new Misha’s Vineyard tasting room was a highlight.  Their “cellar door” is located on the main road between the Shotover River bridge and the Cromwell township.  Misha was on deck to present her wines and it’s a place you should visit.  $10 for five wines of your choice.  The Limelight Riesling 2014 is delicious!  This is a very hospitable visit. 

At Quartz Reef we did run into the inimitable Rudi Bauer who was supervising the arrival of the first grapes from the vintage, 3 weeks early.  Quartz Reef sparklings are great wines.

The Scott Base tasting room has a great view over Cromwell and Lake Dunstan. They charge $5 or $10 for a range of Alan Scott wines or Moa beer.  Aurum Vineyard is a few kilometres along the Wanaka road and there is no charge for the tasting.  The Lazy Dog past Lowburn was closed as was Archangel at Queensbury (closed Tuesday) but it looked impressive from the gate so we visited again the next day.

The decision to charge or not to charge for Cellar Door tastings seems to be a decision made by the respective winery licence and whether they serve any food or not.  There were some mixed messages from some wineries.

Part two will include a trip over the Crown Range, in snow, and the Winery Cellar Doors around Lake Hayes and in the Gibbston Valley.

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