If you’re visiting the southern portion of New Zealand’s South Island no trip is complete without a visit to the Central Otago wine region. The region is specifically known for their Pinot Noir but they grow a wide variety. The vineyards and wineries also offer incredible views of region.
Start your tour by leaving Queenstown. It is only a 15-20 minute drive into the area. You may want to stop in at the tiny Arrowtown village to have coffee or breakfast on your way. It’s going to be a long day. The best part of this region is how close all of the wineries are to each other.
Most vineyards charge about 10 $NZ for a tasting but if you buy a bottle you don’t have to pay the fee. Most have some wines that are in the $20-$35 range so for an extra $15 you walk away with a bottle (if you’re like me, it’s rare to go to a winery and not want to leave with at least one bottle…)
If you want to mix up the order use the map below to help develop your plan of attack!
1. Chard Farm
Make this your first stop of the day. Most importantly, the wines are incredible. The drive up to the winery is a little treacherous, a dirt road with a cliff on one side. But, the views make it worthwhile. We loved the River Run pinot noir, which was actually one of their cheaper varietals. That being said, we returned the next day with another friend to introduce them to the winery since we enjoyed it so much.
Chard Farm Website
2. Gibbston Valley Winery
This winery has more of a business-like feel than some of the others. They have a huge tasting room and a separate cheese shop so you may want to head over there for a late morning snack and taste some of their cheese (free) since you’re there anyway. None of the wines really stood out, so if you’re feeling crunched for time, skip this one.
Gibbston Valley Winery Website
3. Valli Vineyards
This is by appointment only so you’ll have to call ahead to get in. Their wines are incredible though so it may be worth while for you. If you’re not feeling like you really need to take that step to make a reservation, head to the next on the list where you can also taste some of the Valli wines.
Valli Vineyards Website
4. Kinross Cottages
These cottages are in a great location, in the middle of Central Otago. If you want to take your time in wine country, you can consider staying here for the night. The tasting room has a few options for different menus or you can just order pick from the menu and create your own flight to do the tasting on your own, at your own pace at one of outdoor picnic tables. If you skipped Valli be sure to taste at least one of them while you’re here.
Kinross Cottages Website
5. Aurum Wines
A quaint little, family run vineyard that has been expanding by popular demand. The proprietors serve you at the tasting and give a great history lesson while helping you understand their organic farming and how each wine was built. They also make olive oil which you can taste (and, if like me, you’ll also buy).
Aurum Wines Website
6. Quartz Reef
The Quartz Reef ‘tasting room’ is a bit odd in comparison with the other wineries you’ll visit. It’s sort of an office attached to a large warehouse. The person who did the tasting for us seemed a bit bored so we sort of hurried through which may have impacted our opinion of the wines. That being said, their bubbles are quite well known and you’ll be sure to enjoy them. They also offer a few unique wines in comparison with what you’ll have been tasting at the other vineyards in Central Otago.
Quartz Reef Website
7. Mt Difficulty
Make a reservation for a late lunch or dinner here. The food is incredible (try the steak). The view is spectacular. The wine is delicious. When it’s windy the staff will force you inside so that your food doesn’t go flying but hopefully you’re there in good weather and can enjoy the vista. You can do tastings in the room attached to the restaurant before heading in for a meal or you can order a flight when seated. I tried the flight that included white, rose and red and was disappointed. They offer a Pinot Noir flight which is the direction I’d recommend. Their Roaring Meg wines are fantastic. You can also pick these up in most bottle shops for a reasonable price after you decide which is your favorite.
Mt Difficulty Website
8. Wet Jacket
This is the ultimate spot to relax at the end of the day. The tasting is comprised of a good variety in a chill setting. There is also a cheese shop on the premises where you can do a tasting (some of them are quite incredible). The Pinot Noir was again the winner here. After your tasting you can head out to the garden and grab a glass or bottle and slump down onto the bean bag chairs to relax. (WARNING: If you buy the bottle at the tasting you’re not allowed to open it on the premises. You must pay about $10-$15 more for a bottle if you’re going to drink it there.)
Wet Jacket Website
If you enjoy your wine tour of Central Otago, you definitely want to also visit Waiheke (The Island of Wine).