An Eco-Friendly Wine Tour of New Zealand’s South Island

Clos Henri Vineyard (left), Cowhorns at Quartz Reef (right)
Clos Henri Vineyard (left), Cowhorns at Quartz Reef (right) / Photo by Mickey Ross

Ever since a certain hobbit was captured on the big screen, tourism in New Zealand has been steadily on the rise. So, too, has the world’s consumption of its wines, where 98% of the vineyards are certified sustainable.

It makes sense, then, to discover that the country’s eno- and eco-tourism offerings are also numerous. Many of New Zealand’s most extolled wineries are farmed not just sustainably, but organically and/or biodynamically as well. And many other local businesses and purveyors take an equally holistic, eco-conscious approach.

Just don’t expect them to shout about it. Like the Kiwis themselves, winery visits are often humble, usually entailing a stroll through the vineyards with the winemaker.

Because of this, New Zealand still offers visitors an authenticity that’s rare and refreshing in modern global travel. Here’s your green guide to three of the country’s best wine destinations.

Throwing biodynamic preperation 500 at Burn Cottage Vineyard
Throwing biodynamic preparation 500 at Burn Cottage Vineyard / Photo by Mickey Ross

Central Otago/Wanaka

Under an hour from Queenstown, Central Otago is home to some of the world’s best Pinot Noirs as well as a dramatic landscape of snow-capped mountains, arid hills and river gorges.

Once you’ve gotten a bungee jump or two out of the way (after all, this is the home of the Kawarau Gorge Suspension Bridge, the world’s first permanent commercial bungee-jumping site), make an appointment to visit Felton Road, one of New Zealand’s most acclaimed and eco-friendly wineries. It boasts lightweight bottles and more than 15 years in biodynamic farming.

A 10-minute drive north is Quartz Reef Wines. Rudi Bauer, the founder and chief winemaker, believes the complexity and longevity of his world-class Pinot Noirs and Champagne method sparklers has much to do with his biodynamic farming methods. Later, sneak a peak at the hulking Highland cows that graze beside Burn Cottage Vineyard’s beautiful, biodynamically farmed vineyards, open by appointment only.

Forty minutes north of Burn Cottage, at the edge of Lake Wanaka, you’ll find Rippon Winery, which has been farmed by the Mills family for five generations and operated as a winery for the last three of them. It was one of the first wine estates in the South Island to implement biodynamic farming techniques, and it’s blessed with some of the most spectacular views in the wine world.

Thankfully, the family shares its stunning property and soulful wines with the world. The winery offers special events throughout the year and is open to visitors (call ahead to confirm availability). Time it right, and you can snag a seat at a pop-up dinner at The Rippon Hall or catch an outdoor concert.

A Highland Cow (left) and a view from Rippon Winery (right)
A Highland Cow (left) and a view from Rippon Winery (right) / Photos by Mickey Ross

Where to Stay

When it comes to eco-accommodations, you’re spoiled for choice. Base yourself in Queenstown at Sherwood Queenstown, nestle down for the night at Oasis Yurt Lodge or unleash your inner yogi at the stunning wellness retreat Aro Hā.

More to Explore

Bike the Otago Central Rail Trail, take in Laka Wanaka’s gorgeous landscape or plant a tree on one of its islands alongside a local guide with Eco Wanaka Adventures. If you feel especially daring, soar through the treetops with Queenstown zipline company Ziptrek Ecotours.

Looking out on North Canterbury, New Zealand
Looking out on North Canterbury, New Zealand / Photo by Mickey Ross

North Canterbury

There’s a sleepy charm about this windswept winegrowing region in the lowlands of the Southern Alps, just 35 miles north of Christchurch. But don’t let its relatively subdued character fool you—North Canterbury is one of New Zealand’s most exciting wine regions. And it’s infused with a small but growing number of eco-minded winemakers that craft wonderful cool climate wines.

Take a tour of the organically farmed Greystone Wines and learn about the fascinating experiments that ferment in its vineyard. Just down the road, Black Estate Wines is not to miss. It makes top-notch wines from organically or biodynamically farmed grapes as naturally as possible, like a Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc. It also boasts an award-winning restaurant and events like “Waipara Valley Truffle Day Out,” forage walks, yoga and ceramics classes.

Your Guide to Sustainable Wine Certifications

Although there are only two wineries in the Waikari subregion, located 15 miles west of Black Estate, their wines are among the country’s best. Just keep in mind that visits to both wineries are by appointment only.

Tucked into limestone hills beneath the Alps, Bell Hill Vineyard’s premium organic and biodynamic wines give Burgundy a run for its money. Nearby, in a sweeping natural amphitheater, Pyramid Valley Vineyards has been farmed meticulously and biodynamically by American expats Mike and Claudia Weersing. The winery recently changed hands and will expand, but the hope is that its wines will remain as complex and ethereal as ever.

The cellar at Bell Hill Vineyards (left) and Bell Hill Vineyard’s Brian Heslop and daughter (right)
The cellar at Bell Hill Vineyards (left) and Bell Hill Vineyard’s Brian Heslop and daughter (right) / Photos by Mickey Ross

Where to Stay

Stargaze over the Waipara Valley in a glass eco-cabin at Greystone Purepod, or stay at the Black Estate Winery B&B that overlooks the vineyards. In Christchurch, Eco Villa is essentially a high-class commune. It offers private and shared kitchens and dining areas, an edible garden and plenty of up-cycled, sustainably focused goodness.

Church and cellar door at Clos Henri Vineyard
Church and cellar door at Clos Henri Vineyard / Photo by Mickey Ross

More to Explore

Hike or bike one of the Hurunui Trails, which includes the Waipara Valley Vineyard Trail, or soak in a thermal pool at the family-friendly Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools & Spa, 50 miles from the wineries. End the day with a meal at Pegasus Bay Winery and Restaurant, one of the country’s top dining spots. Savor a 30-year-old house Riesling alongside homegrown and local fare on furniture made from recycled native evergreens.

Marlborough

Marlborough may be New Zealand’s most famous wine region, but with that fame comes a reputation for big brands and intensive farming.

Nevertheless, a focus on gentler winemaking techniques and organic/biodynamic farming is on the rise, particularly among small-scale producers. Te Whare Ra Vineyard & Winery owners Anna and Jason Flowerday possess some of the oldest vines in Marlborough, farmed organically and biodynamically for the last 15 years. Visitors are often greeted by the Flowerdays themselves, along with one of their two sets of twin daughters or many friendly pups.

For a taste of terroir, head to the French-owned Clos Henri Vineyard. From the hopelessly romantic chapel that presides over the biodynamically farmed vines to its Loire-born chief winemaker and general manager, Damien Yvon, you might think you landed in Northwest France. The winery is known for events like Nuits Romantiques, an outdoor French film screening, and a Bastille Day celebration. Clos Henri also happens to make some of the most ageworthy, site-reflective wines in the region.

A stone’s throw from both wineries is the Swiss-owned Fromm Winery. Winemaker Hatsch Kalberer crafts top-notch Pinot Noir, as well as plenty of other offerings from organically farmed grapes. Framingham Wines, Huia Vineyards, Seresin Estate and Churton Wines are other organic or biodynamic wineries worth a visit, but call ahead to confirm availability.

Food and wine at Fromm Winery
Food and wine at Fromm Winery / Photos by Mickey Ross

Where to Stay

Spend the night in Andahlane Cottage, a mud-brick retreat nestled in organic vineyards. At the excellent organic winery and restaurant, Hans Herzog Estate, have breakfast brought to your vineyard cottage—it may be delivered by the winemaker himself. Driftwood Retreat & Eco-Tours offers guided regional treks and accommodations that include a treehouse and a cottage near native wetlands.

More to Explore

Walk or bike the Wither Hills Farm Park or head 20 miles or so north to explore the Marlborough Sounds. Swim with dolphins, watch a whale migration or spot rare seabirds with E-Ko Tours.

Published on January 3, 2019
Topics: Travel
About the Author
Christina Pickard
Contributing Editor

Reviews wines from Australia and New Zealand

A native of New York who has spent years living abroad in London and Perth, Australia, Pickard’s work has previously appeared in publications such as Australia’s Gourmet Traveller Wine, James Halliday’s Wine Companion, Scoop Magazine, Decanter and Wine Enthusiast. She was the co-host of the popular podcast, The Crush, as well as a regular presenter on various TV shows. Pickard is excited to share her vast knowledge and great passion for the wines of both Australia and New Zealand.

Email: cpickard@wineenthusiast.net



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