No trip to New Zealand (Central Otago in particular) is complete without a tour around some of the many incredible vineyards and wineries in the region. After spending a few days of quality time with my sister, my good friend Ashlea flew in and joined me for the remainder of the trip. This wasn’t only Ash’s first time visiting the Land of the Long White Cloud, but also her first trip overseas! I couldn’t wait to show her around and make it a trip to remember!
Being in our mid 20’s, we’re pretty well acquainted with alcohol and over the years subsequently began a strong love affair with good wine (after moving past $5 bottles for a cheap party option and learning to appreciate a good drop). We now consider ourselves to be minor league connoisseurs and we couldn’t wait to wet our pallets 😉 ! We booked a tour with Funny French Car Wine Tours, as we heard nothing but great things about the guide Julie, and because, who doesn’t want to whiz between stops in a tiny vintage French car?!
After lining our bellies with an amazing breakfast at Kai Whakapai Cafe, we made our way to the meeting point. It certainly wasn’t hard to spot Julie and her car!
After introductions and a little time spent getting to know each other, Julie asked if either of us had visited any of the vineyards in the area before. I have been to a few in the past (Wooing Tree and Mt Difficulty, which both have the most superb wines. The Mt Difficulty Riesling is a personal favourite of mine). She then let us know a brief itinerary of where we would be headed that day, including where were would stop for lunch. But first things first; our thirst needed quenching.
The owners of this beautiful little vineyard, John and Marilyn, were so welcoming, despite being very busy that day tending to their vines and their books. Marilyn made sure we were comfortable and asked about the type of wines we love. She had out a few of their best drops, including a wonderful Pinot Noir. The stand out for us, however, was a unique blend of their own – Gold Digger Frizzante: a sparkling Pinot Gris that is so light, utterly refreshing and so clean on the palette we wanted to take away an entire case to get us through summer back home.
Next it was back in the car, our list of wines tasted in our hands, a small box of Gold Digger under our arms, and we were off to the next tasting. It was blowing an absolute gale this day, and Julie did an amazing job keeping that tiny little car on the road. While we steered on, the scenery out the windows doing a good job itself of blowing us away.
The Wooing Tree sits right in the heart of Cromwell, and it’s not hard to spot it’s namesake when there. When the land was originally purchased by the family who run the vineyard there were a number of trees that needed to be removed. One that did stay however was a large Wooing Tree – this tree had long been a place for locals to ‘woo’ their lovers under, with stories of people even being conceived under it! It had a lot of history with the locals and held a special place in their hearts so the family decided it should stay.
Arriving at Wild Earth, you’re immediately treated to a rather grand entrance, with a walk over the Kawarau Gorge, the stunningly bright river flowing far beneath you. On this day in particular, I’m surprised we weren’t blown off the bridge and into the glistening waters below. This part of the region used to be a small gold mining town. Despite the old buildings no longer standing, the Goldfields Mining Centre is still in place today and visitors can try their luck at panning for gold.
As you cross over the gorge, a beautiful, quaint cottage garden welcomes you on the other side. Finding shelter indoors, we felt the fuzzy warmth from freestanding heaters and rubbed our hands together, huge smiles on our faces. Here we were in for a real treat! I can’t even put into words how we felt when our wine and paired food tastings were set down in front of us. I only wish our faces had been caught on film! This spread was seriously impressive. Amazingly, they catered very last minute to my vegetarian request, a large portion of their dishes already being gluten free. As you make your way through each divine drop of wine, paired perfectly with a selection of tapas plates along the Oak Stave your taste buds dance and you wish you had more time to savour each mouthful.
The cooking style they use for all of these mouth-watering dish is pretty unique – each one is smoked inside large oak wine barrels, giving each element a unique and distinct flavour. Wild Earth now also sell the barrels they use to restaurants around the world to use.
Despite the large (and incredibly delicious) meal lining our bellies, we were now at least at 11 wines tasted down and so flushed cheeks and giggles were starting to set it.
This time we were visiting quite a small vineyard – Remarkable Wines– run by one man with a strong passion for wine.
Richard knows his stuff. He’s a walking, talking Encyclopaedia on wine. His tasting room is a bit of a bachelor’s pad, a little unkempt but homey, and his little companion Jessie is incredibly playful and affectionate, making for a fun little distraction in between glasses.
PISA RANGE ESTATE
On our way to the last stop for the day, Julie took our little car off road to show us some more of the beautiful scenery. Arriving at Pisa Range Estate, the sun was starting to sink beyond the distant mountains – the strong winds remaining quite persistent, having blown away much of the cloud that had set in earlier in the day.
Jenny and her partner have one of the oldest, longest standing vineyards in the region. Being one of about two that started up around 20 years ago and that now produces some of the most incredible bottles of wine out of only three or four blends. The tasting room (and her home) used to house sheep way back when and it has a real charm to it, as warm and inviting as Jenny is herself.
Their Black Poplar Block Pinot Noir is their hero drop, having won a number of awards including a gold medal at the San Francisco International Wine Competition this year and a double gold medal at the Six Nations Wine Challenge in Sydney.
We had an absolute blast this day, and I would highly recommend this tour to fellow wine lovers.