The Central Otago region is famous for its wine country – but you really only understand why when you go out and visit the wineries.
Sure, Central Otago wines are internationally-renowned for their varieties and characteristic flavours, but add to that spectacular scenery and friendly, hospitable people, and you have a truly award-winning combination.
I’m not a wine writer and know little about wines, but I do enjoy learning about them while drinking. So a half-day boutique wine tour with Wanaka Wine Tours was a perfect way to get acquainted with the Central Otago’s wines.
A wine tour is the perfect activity when you’re after some downtime during an action-packed holiday, or a great winter activity instead of going skiing or snowboarding in Queenstown or Wanaka.
Owner Scott West picked us up in the brand new Ford Transit Tourneo six-seat van and explained the order of the day: Swallows Crossing, near Tarras, followed by Wooing Tree in Cromwell, then Wild Earth near Queenstown and finally Aurum Wines, in Cromwell, before heading back to Wanaka.
“We tailor our tours to the season, our guests and the day of the week,” Scott explains. “We try to give our guests a good cross-section of what Wanaka, Queenstown and Central Otago have to offer in regard to its wines, plus we always make sure our guests are fed great local food.”
Swallows Crossing create organic pinot noir, rose, pinot gris, Riesling and the “G-Spot” (an aromatic blend) using no sulphites during the winemaking process. Winery co-owner Julie Asher tells us that their wine maker, Matt Dicey – who also makes wine for Mt Difficulty in Bannockburn – says Swallows Crossing grapes have a savoury character and herbaciousness that they can’t replicate in Bannockburn, which is why some Swallows Crossing grapes are supplied to Mt Difficulty.
Wooing Tree – known also for its distinct tree in the middle of the family-owned vineyard – create pinot noir, chardonnay, rose and “Blondie”, (blanc noir). Their cellar door is located in spectacular surroundings and caters well to children, with a dedicated outdoor play area.
Driving through the Kawarau Gorge towards a historic gold mining area where Wild Earth is situated, Scott tells us about our next stop, Wild Earth. Chefs cook all the food served in custom-built wine barrel cookers, and each cooker is crafted from Wild Earth’s retired French oak pinot noir barrels. This allows them to create a unique grilled, steamed and smoked food dining experience.
The food was divine – and all expertly paired with three wines. The locally-sourced wild hare was paired with Wild Earth pinot gris, rose with the salmon and pinot noir with the venison.
Heading back home, we stopped at boutique family-owned Aurum Wines. Aurum produces pinot noir, mathilde reserve pinot noir, madeleine pinot noir, pinot gris, Riesling, chardonnay and method traditionelle blanc de blanc. Aurum’s tasting room is situated in the charming original farm cottage.
The tour lasted four hours – during which time we were comfortably transported while enjoying incredible mountain and lake views and fantastic, informative company. We came away much more knowledgeable about Central Otago wines and would thoroughly recommend Wanaka Wine Tours.
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