A Mad Dash Through Central Otago

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This was outside the building where we picked up our rental car. A bit of Kiwi humor perhaps, as driving to any of these places is pretty much out of the question.

One of our main objectives to visiting New Zealand, apart from enjoying the wild splendor of the south island, was to visit the heart of Central Otago and learn as much as we could in the little time we had. So, I polled some social media connections in the States, Australia, and New Zealand, and came up with four very different wineries for us to visit on the one day we had.

The drive from Queenstown to Cromwell is only 30 miles, but the winding secondary road (there are no interstates in this part of New Zealand) makes it nearly an hour’s drive. Our first port of call was at Quartz Reef, in the town of Cromwell itself. In all my excitement at visiting our first NZ winery, I must have left my journalism skills at home, as I failed to take any decent pictures while there. Happily, I was a bit better, not much but a bit, during our other stops. Without further adieu, our day in Central Otago.

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A glimpse of what might have been. Okay, that’s a lie. There was no way that Mary and I were going to throw ourselves off a bridge attached to life by only a giant rubberband. That being said, we weren’t oppposed to watching others put themselves in harm’s way.

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Watching this couple go hurtling through space was more than enough adventure for the early morning.

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The town of Cromwell takes great pride in being the one of the agricultural linchpins of Central Otago.

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The stark simplicity of the tasting room at Quartz Reef lies in complete opposition to the elegance and complexity of the wines poured there. We tasted through the entire lineup and came away as very big fans.

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Our second stop of the day was at Northburn Station, where, following our tasting, we enjoyed a wonderful lunch, al fresco, in the shade of the patio. Our roasted lamb dishes were superb, and having a glass of their wonderful ’09 reserve pinot noir, which we did not see during our tasting, certainly didn’t hurt.

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Following lunch we headed back down past Cromwell to Bannockburn for a stop at Felton Road. Several people in the wine business encouraged us to visit here, but their encouragement was unnecessary. We had already tasted Felton Road wines. We knew it was a must-see producer. I’m still thinking about joining their wine club.

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We enjoyed many fine wines during our time in the Queenstown area, but these two that we tasted at the winery might have been the best.

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The walls of the bathroom at Felton Road are covered in wine boxes from some of the top chateaux in Bordeaux. An editorial comment on French wine, perhaps?

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Our final stop of the day was Brennan’s. One interesting component of our tasting was comparing the two different styles of pinot gris/grigio that they make. The pinot gris is in the New Zealand style, while the pinot grigio is more akin to the wines you’d find in northern Italy. We would have enjoyed our time more had the fellow pouring for us, who we later found out is the winery’s marketing manager, not insisted on parading his ignorant dislike for all things Napa Valley. His boorish remarks came after he found out that the two couples he was entertaining were Americans who knew Napa well and had some favorite producers there. I won’t be looking for Brennan wines anytime soon.

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Next up, we take two days to drive the length of the south island, stopping along the way at Hanmer Springs, before finishing our trek in Nelson on the north shore. 

About Tom Riley

My passion for wine has led me to my third career. First, many years in public relations and publications for colleges and universities in New York and New England. Then, as my children grew, a career as a high school teacher so I could be home with them after school. Now that they are away at college, I enjoy working in the field I have come to love. In 2010 I earned the WSET (Wine and Spirits Education Trust, UK) Advanced Certificate, "with merit." I am now a candidate for the WSET's Diploma, expecting to finish in early 2015. In the mean time, I'll continue to share my views as I examine all things related to wine.
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2 Responses to A Mad Dash Through Central Otago

  1. dlriley1@aol.com says:

    Tom,

    Excellent article! Enjoyed reading it very much – the wine sounds very good, as well.

    Den

    • Tom Riley says:

      Den, thanks for reading. NZ was indeed an amazing adventure. Hope to get back there someday. Just wish it was closer. I’ve got two or there more of these travelogues and then I’m getting back to grapes and wine! Heading out this morning for four days in Napa at the Symposium for Professional Wine Writers. Robert Parker is the keynoter and plenty of other bigwigs from the wine world will be in attendance. Could be one for the record books. I’ll be tweeting (I know you don’t do Twitter) and sending notes to my FB page. Parker recently ranted publicly about the uselessness and amateurism of wine bloggers and many freelancers. Well, he’s stepping into the lion’s den. Should be a blast!

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