Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand

Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand

Central Otago, South Island, New Zealand

Terroir meets Middle Earth in Central Otago. The pre-eminent new region for Pinot Noir, Central Otago has also starred as a setting for the Lord of the Rings trilogy and the upcoming The Hobbit films. As the southernmost wine-growing region in the world, the district lies at latitude 45° South—comparable to Oregon’s Willamette Valley and France’s Rhône Valley in the Northern Hemisphere. Although wine grapes were grown during the 1860s gold rush, contemporary vineyards began burgeoning in the 1980s on former sheep stations. Pack your adrenaline along with your wine acumen: The Queenstown area is known for madcap pursuits ranging from bungee jumping to jet-boating.

Where to Dine:

”Think global, cook local” is the approach at Saffron in Arrowtown. Chef-Owner Peter Gawron uses homegrown
ingredients in venison curry and lamb with braised cabbage. The perfect wine country lunch awaits at Carrick Vineyards in Bannockburn, so locavore that even the olive oil is pressed from the estate’s trees. Perched lakeside in Queenstown, the Wakatipu Grill puts an innovative spin on Kiwi specialties, including Mount Cook salmon, Cardrona lamb and Bluff oysters. The wine list features 650 choices.

Where to Stay:

Posh pampering awaits at Millbrook Resort in Arrowtown, with a spa and 27-hole golf course. On the lake in Queenstown, Novotel Gardens delivers good value. Built around a 1920s store, The Dairy bed-and-breakfast, named after the original 1920s corner store located here, emphasizes service and  luxury amenities.

Local in-the-know:

Dave Comer, location scout for the Lord of the Rings films, says: “Don’t miss a helicopter trip to Milford Sound with stops along the way, including the Earnslaw Burn, a secret alpine valley. Another favorite is the Poolburn Dam—an almost surreal landscape, and the fishing’s not bad, either. For wineries, I recommend Peregrine in the Gibbston Valley.” 

Other Activities:

Work up an appetite by bungee jumping 140 feet off Kawarau Bridge, where the sport originally took off. Another Kiwi invention, the Shotover jet boats roar at 50 mph through narrow river canyons. The snow-capped Southern Alps flank vineyards—go skiing/boarding at The Remarkables, Coronet Peak and Treble Cone. For Tolkien fans, guided tours visit film locations.

Budget Tip:

Amble through Arrowtown, once a gold-mining settlement. The Lakes District Museum ($US 8) tracks the transition from mines to vines; you can also pan for gold in the Arrow River.

Where to Taste:

Wines that are grown, not made—that’s the philosophy at Amisfield Wine Company in Lake Hayes. All their wines are single vineyard. Built of schist and reclaimed timbers, the stunning facility overlooks the lake and surrounding mountains. Vineyards unfurl toward a blue lake and snow-clad mountains at Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka, which enjoys one of the region’s most moderate climates. Planted in 1982 by the Mills family, the vineyards rank among the oldest in Central Otago. At Quartz Reef in Cromwell, the no-frills cellar door (tasting room) opens onto a world of first-rate sparkling wines crafted by méthode traditionelle. Winemaker Rudi Bauer makes vintage, nonvintage and rosé sparklers as well as excellent Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris.

Prominient Wine Varieties:

Central Otago is first and foremost Pinot Noir country, with 85% of the region’s vineyards planted to the fickle Burgundian variety. A short growing season marked by warm days and chilly nights yields wines that deliver vibrant fruit, most often in the black-cherry range of Pinot Noir’s flavor spectrum. Almost all of the other 15% of Central Otago’s vineyards are planted to white varieties, with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling all proving successful.

When to Go:

As the seasons are reversed, visit during bud break in late September and harvest in late March/April.

Amisfield Wine Company: amisfield.co.nz
Arrowtown: arrowtown.com
Carrick Vineyards: carrick.co.nz
Central Otago Winegrowers Association (COWA): cowa.org.nz
Destination Queenstown: queenstown-nz.co.nz
Quartz Reef: quartzreef.co.nz
Rippon Vineyard: rippon.co.nz
Saffron: saffronrestaurant.co.nz
Tourism Central Otago: centralotagonz.com
Wakatipu Grill: queenstownhilton.com

On Location in Central Otago

In Central Otago, jaw-dropping scenery ranges from glacial-fed rivers to snow-capped peaks that loom 1,200 feet from the valley floor, making it a no-brainer location for major films over the years. Dave Comer, location scout for the Lord of the Rings and the upcoming The Hobbit films, discusses Central Otago a prime spot for shooting.

Wine Enthuasiast: Why does the scenery of Central Otago resonate with both filmmakers and audiences?
Dave Comer:
What sets this region apart is the diversity of dramatic landscapes within relatively short distances. We have the semi-arid, graphically simple open landscapes of Central Otago to the east, the glaciated mountains and temperate rainforest of Fiordland and Mt. Aspiring region to the west and north. Three very different coastlines lie within two hours to a half-day of travel.

WE: What are some don't-miss experiences in the area?
Take a helicopter trip from Queenstown to Milford Sound. If you can't afford a helicopter, a Cessna Caravan isn't a bad second best. I have worked all over the world in some of the most spectacular and sacred places, but flying through Fiordland still excites me more than anywhere else I've ever been. Take a picnic from Crisp & Vale Foodstone in Queenstown.

WE: Does Central Otago still have secret places not yet used in films?
Yes there are some, but not for much longer. I'm currently working on The Hobbit, with location filming underway in some great new locations, so can't say much more—confidentiality agreement. Look at thehobbitblog.com for the official word.

Published on December 27, 2011