By Floris Heijdenrijk, of Scenic Cellars & The Merchant of Taupo, sister store of Regional Wines
After a stunning flight over the Southern Alps I arrived in Queenstown one Wednesday morning in early May this year, along with 11 other privileged people from the wine trade for this year's Central Crush event. It was a great insight into Central Otago's dynamic winemaking scene.
Floris, author of this story
We made our way out of Queenstown and our first stop was at Mount Edward estate in the Gibbston Valley. Our host was Duncan Forsyth, winemaker and one of the owners of Mt Edward. This was a great introduction to hands-on wine making. We enjoyed a beautiful lunch here matched with the Mt Edward 2011 Gruner Veltliner and 2018 Chenin Blanc. The 2011 Gruner was one of the best white wines we tasted during the visit.
Duncan at Mount Edward shows a Pinot ferment
After lunch we had a small tasting of 2015 Pinot Noirs. My personal highlight was the Amisfield RKV Pinot, unfortunately unavailable for off-premise but a stunning wine. The Mt Edward and Valli Gibbston Pinot Noir were also excellent stand outs. We then visited the gold mining centre on the way to Cromwell where we hopped on a jet boat that took us all the way down the river to Cromwell. It was an adrenalin pumping and face freezing ride, followed by our arrival in old Cromwell and dinner with many local wine makers at Antonio’s. we ate great platter food and enjoyed an amazing selection of wines. These events are a great chance to socialise with wine makers and I was fortunate enough to sit between representatives of Rippon (Nick Mills), Three Miners (Paul Wright), Amisfield and Valli. After too much food and too much wine I clocked out around midnight.
Vin-Pro in Cromwell
I had a slight hangover in the morning but as a seasoned industry professional this was not going to stop me. We had breakfast in between the barrels at Vin-Pro in Cromwell. This is a large wine making facility that makes the wines for Wooing Tree, Three Miners, Providore and many more. It was great to see how winery owners can remain hands-on with the making of the wines while enjoying the professional expertise of trained winemakers at Vin-Pro, who can produce wine to the specifications of the brand owner.
We tried several Providore barrel and tank samples, hosted by Clementine, national sales manager for Providore. In my opinion, Providore is one of the most exciting new wine brands in New Zealand, founded, owned and produced by winemaker Pete Bartle, of Vin-Pro. The wines offer amazing value for money and are well packaged. The label features augmented reality and comes to life via the Providore app.
After the Vin-Pro tour and breakfast we were welcomed by industry legend Rudi Bauer, pictured here.
Rudi was Austrian-born and trained in viticulture and winemaking. He was the first trained viticulturist and winemaker to work in Central Otago where he fell in love with a Kiwi (Sue-Ellen) and later founded Quartz Reef Wines.
He took us on a tiki tour through the region from Cromwell to Bendigo (where his biodynamically farmed vineyards are), highlighting regional differences, plateaus left by glaciers in the basins around lLake Dunstan. He dropped us off at the Prophet's Rock winery where we had an amazing tasting masterclass on wine making and sub regional differences.
The Prophet's Rock wines were stunning and I regard the Pinot Gris as the best in New Zealand. Another highlight was the 2015 Rippon Emma’s Block - the best Pinot Noir during the trip for me. The New Te Kano wines are also worth a look at and it was great to see the Three Miners wines from Alexandra back to their best.
Back to Quartz Reef
After a sandwich lunch and a couple of glasses of various rosés, we headed back to get our hands dirty at the biodynamic vineyard of Quartz Reef. Rudi gave us a first hand experience of biodynamic wine making, which included making a layered compost pile, including cow manure, grape pressings, hay and the pile was finished with “meatballs” - a Rudi special, including dried herbs and other weird and wonderful things. Crazy but interesting. It gave us all a deeper understanding of the thoughts behind biodynamic wine making. We were all in need of a shower and break after this so had an hour to kill in our hotel room before enjoying another great meal, this time at the Bannockburn Hotel. We began with Amisfield sparkling (a great drop) and followed by countless glasses of wine. Once again, we had too much food, too much wine and amazing company.
We clocked out at 1am.
I felt surprisingly fresh the next morning when we were collected from the hotel at 8.15am by Graeme from Domain Road. We made our way to Bannockburn and had a lovely breakfast at Domain Road winery. The vineyards are behind Felton Road in possibly the best sub-sub-region in Otago. All Domain Road wines are well made wines and worth a spot on the shelf.
Here all 13 representing wineries were showcasing three of their wines. It was a great chance to try all the wines and talk with the winemaker/representative of each winery. Here there were a lot of older Pinot Noirs, all still tasting beautiful. The savoury characters were more to the forefront and the wines show a wonderful burgundian character in an Otago jacket.
There were too many to name but Quartz Reef Vintage Blanc de Blanc (amazing), Quartz Reef Pinot Noir, Amisfield Breakneck Pinot Noir and Prophets Rock Retrospect Pinot Noir (not cheap) were all amazing. Great value for money came from Three Miners and Providore wines. Aurum and Doctors Flat Pinot Noirs were incredibly consistent. And then there was the great Gruner Veltliner from Mount Edward - the best dry still white wine on the trip. A quick but delicious lunch followed at Wooing Tree and then it was time to head back to Taupo.
The hospitality was second to none, which was amazing, given many winemakers were still completing this year's harvest. I'm looking forward to my next visit. Thank you for the great eye opener to the world's southernmost wine region.