Baby, you can drive my car! While listening to the Beatles’ Drive My Car, I suddenly think of the perfect place for wine cruising. With landscape as breathtaking as this, any extras are a bonus. Throw in some of the world’s best pinot noirs, a fail-safe itinerary full of surprises and you have a wine-lovers drive that can’t be beat. Its dramatic mountains, gorges and lakes—and now, its stunning Pinot Noirs—make New Zealand’s Central Otago one of the most dazzling spots on the planet.
Unlike Napa Valley or the Médoc of Bordeaux, Central Otago, on New Zealand’s South Island, lured travelers (mainly skiers, hikers and other outdoor enthusiasts) long before it became famous for wine. With its deep woods and vast moors, snowy peaks and savage gorges, Central Otago easily wins my vote as the most beautiful wine region in the world.
It is also one of the fastest growing, with 30 new wineries opened in the past three years. The speed, with which these wineries have gained renown, most notably for their Pinot Noirs, is also remarkable, considering the region’s wine industry is less than 25 years old.
A great day loop starting in Wanaka, driving through to Cromwell and Bannockburn, and continuing on to Queenstown, offers plenty of wine to titivate your taste buds and amazing scenery to boot. You will need your own transport for this wine circuit; however there are plenty of organized trips on offer if you find yourself in New Zealand without private transport (try funny French Cars in Wanaka).
246 Mt Aspiring Rd, Wanaka 9381, New Zealand
+64 3 443 8084
With a view to die for, Rippon Vineyard is the perfect place to begin your day. Located on Mt Aspiring Road, just out of Wanaka, Rippon overlooks Lake Wanaka and the stunning mountain ranges in the distance. Grab a cheese platter, sit on a bench outside and enjoy the sun, whilst sampling their tasty Pinot Noir wines.
The Lazy Dog Vineyard and Cellar Door
2 Gladsmuir Road, Queensberry, Cromwell RD3, New Zealand
+64 3 445 3211
Swing by The Lazy Dog on your way to Cromwell and try their Chenin Blanc and a number of other delicious wines from neighboring vineyards. Pick up some preserves and relishes from their Farm-gate shop, and maybe even some of their freshly smoked salmon for tomorrow morning’s eggs benny!
The Cider House Café
State Highway 8B, Cromwell, New Zealand
+64 3 445 3470
Stop here for a wee break from wine and try some of the excellent cider on offer at the Cider House Café. Once you are refreshed then take a wee stroll around Old Cromwell before cruising up to Bannockburn.
73 Felton Road Cromwell 9384, New Zealand
+64 3-445 3445
Located on a hill in Bannockburn overlooking the Cromwell Basin, Mt Difficulty is not to be missed. Set amongst rugged, other-worldly terrain, this is a great place to relax, enjoy the view and take in some lunch from their superb menu. Cardrona merino lamb, wild venison, and slow roasted duck are just a few of the tasty morsels on offer. Pair your meal with one of their excellent Pinot Noir or Pinot Gris wines and you will have an ideal lunch.
2127 Kawarau Gorge Road, Gibbston RD1, Queenstown 9371, New Zealand
+64 3 442 4000
Gibbston Valley is home to a number of vineyards and Peregrine is definitely one that you don’t want to miss. The building itself represents the wing of a Peregrine in flight and has won awards for architecture both nationally and internationally. The Pinot Noir is once again at the forefront of the wines produced here; however you will also be able to taste excellent Reisling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
10 Lake Hayes Road, RD1 9371, New Zealand
+64 3 442 0556
Amisfield is the closest winery to Queenstown itself and is situated next to one of New Zealand’s most picturesque lakes – Lake Hayes. After sampling some of their fine wines, wander through to their sun-drenched courtyard for the famous “Trust the Chef’ menu which is a selection of dishes prepared from the finest and freshest local ingredients. Their bistro was a finalist for the Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the Year and is the perfect place to end your day.
Felton Road WineryFelton Rd, Cromwell 9384, New Zealand
+64 3 445 0885
One of the world’s finest Pinot Noirs, full stop. Difficult to describe as the mere mention evokes daydreams and love poetry. Directly responsible for more than one person (we know!) quitting their lives to become a winemaker. That kind of place! This Central Otago icon produces stunning biodynamic wines year after year. With a perfect microclimate and an expressive terroir, these guys really know their stuff. People notice – in 2010 Felton Road was designated a Grand Cru winery of New Zealand, given the title “Tipuraganga Teitei o Aotearoa”. This Grand Cru status, currently only held by two other wineries (including Ata Rangi), recognizes the premier producers of Pinot Noir in New Zealand.
8 Hughes Crescent, Cromwell 9310, New Zealand
+64 3 445 3084
After Felton Road, we stopped at the Quartz Reef winery, which is situated in the surroundings of Cromwell, a small town right on the shore of the stunning Lake Dunstan. Quartz Reef has been producing wine in Central Otago since 1998, focusing on Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Méthode Traditionnelle. The estate makes three bottlings of Méthode Traditionnelle, a regular bottling of Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir, and a single vineyard Pinot Noir selection called Bendigo Estate. The Quartz Reef vineyards are located in the beautiful subregion of Bendigo, and the vineyards are situated on top of a quartz deposit — hence the name and the wines’ minerality.
After so much good food and wine you will most likely find yourself feeling rather full! If it is summer there should be plenty of light left to take a brisk stroll around Lake Hayes before driving through to Queenstown. Stop for a hot spa at Onsen overlooking the Shotover River before driving back to Wanaka over the Crown Range. If you still have energy left then check out the famous Cardrona pub on the Crown Range road. This is a New Zealand institution and one that you should definitely visit at some stage of your stay in Wanaka. By the time you return to Wanaka you will be ready for sleep, completely sated from your perfect day in Central Otago. Cheerio!