A geographical stained glass window is the Central Otago region. Towering snow capped mountains footed by meandering turquoise coloured rivers and breathtaking lakes, Central Otago is arguably the worlds most spectacular setting for vineyards.
With New Zealand's only continental climate and the varied topography of the landscape, not only are the wines produced in this region vastly different from the rest of the country, but they are often vastly different from each other.
At the south western tip of Central Otago lies Queenstown. A powerful landscape of jagged snow capped mountains, New Zealand's longest lake and equal parts lush green forest and baron rocky gorge. Queenstown only produces a small amount of wine mostly from its Gibbston Valley sub-region. It is a cold, harsh and sometimes unforgiving area for growing grapes struggling most years to fully ripen its fruit, but on the years when the hard work and toil of the growers pays off this region can produce wines of qualities that rival the best in the world.
Queenstown's little brother Wanaka lies to the north-west of the region. With an outlook similar to Queenstown, it has its own towering mountains and great lake basin.
A couple degrees warmer than its big brother, Wanaka is slighly better at ripening its fruit and can produce flavours unlike anything else in the region.
At the southern-most tip of the Central Otago wine region is Alexandra, which consists of two very different sub-regions, the Earnscleugh Valley and the Alexandra Basin.
The Earnscleugh Valley, which sits on the western side of the Clutha River, is a somewhat barren landscape of open plains with protruding schist boulders which resembles a dark custard poured over a broken double chocolate cake.
The wines produced in this ex-gold mining sub-region are soft and elegant with a crisp minerality unique to this sub-region.
On the other side is the Alexandra basin, a more lush and fertile area ringed by towering pine forests and ripe green grass. This sub-region produces luscious, vibrant wines with depth and masculinity capable of ageing gracefully, and producing flavour after flavour year after year.
Nestled in the middle of the Central Otago wine region is Cromwell, proof that man-made things can be beautiful. Sliced down the middle by man-made Lake Dunstan this is a sub-region of difference at every corner.
There are the Cromwell Plains, in the middle of the region, with all day sun and the kiss of a cool breeze from Lake Dunstan.
There is the rugged landscape of Bannockburn, where gold miners cut away at the hills with water cannons in the 1860s, creating an area which resembles a sandcastle which has been half eaten by the tide. This North facing area produces warm succulent flavours which feel complete and whole.
Lowburn and Pisa are neighbors who share a vast mountain range with deep gullys and rolling hills, these two have been known to produce ripe fruit with a distinctive rose scented nose as a result of the wild Briars which have blanketed the area for over a hundred years.
The hottest area in this region is Bendigo. Bendigo is a wild landscape of gauze bushes and wild thyme, it produces beautifully ripe grapes which allow for greater flexibility for a viticulturist to acquire specific qualities in their fruit.
Given its flexibility, Bendigo grapes are often sourced by vineyards in colder areas for blending into their own wines.
Central Otago is one of the Southern-most grape growing regions in the world located at latitude 45º south. The first wine-grapes were planted in Central Otago back in 1864 and despite the district’s potential as a wine growing area being recognised by French and Australian viticulturists from the 1860’s onward, wine-grapes were not commercially grown again in Central Otago for more than a century.
Today Central Otago is best known for our its rich, mineral laden Pinot Noir and dramatic landscape but the true specialness of the region lies in its future.
Although at present the Central Otago wine region only produces around two and a half percent of New Zealand's wine, with its vastly untapped terroir and natural resources, Central Otago is positioned to become one of the World's most sought after wine brands.
Central Otago currently produces succulent Pinot Noir, sophisticated Chardonnay, mineral- rich Riesling and Gewurztraminer and more, but given the regions relative wine growing infancy, the sky is the limit for what will come next.