April 14, 2020

Central Otago - Region Spotlight

The wine region of Central Otago sits on the 45th parallel near the bottom of the South Island. This southerly location means all farming and those who live there are subject to a semi-continental/continental climate. 

Winters can be harsh and cold, while Summers can be quite warm and very sunny. Most vineyards are at elevation meaning well above sea-level starting at around 120 metres. Average rainfall is low, and many vineyards require irrigation. Frost remains the biggest threat to viticulture.

From what seems like an unforgiving landscape and climate the overall quality of wine produced in this region is in fact very high. Care and attention in the vineyards and wineries speak a lot to the successes of the region.

The landscape is dramatic, with the southern alps towering above, giant shards of schist punch through the valley floor around the Gibbston Valley, Bannockburn and Bendigo; pink and white quartz, pebbles, loams and loose schist litter the landscape, and glacial activity over several millennia have carved out valleys and exposed a variety of soils.

Central Otago is perhaps best known for Pinot Noir then Riesling. Sadly, not enough Chardonnay is planted, it is an exciting variety for the region. Site and soil play a big role with sub-regional differences noticeable in the glass. Flavors of dark cherry and plum, undergrowth, schist and mineral dominate, with a distinctive dried herb feature (Central Otago landscape has a lot of wild thyme growing).

Some of the best Riesling in New Zealand can be is produced in Central Otago, with dry to off-dry expressions often of very high quality. Pinot Gris is also very successful with over 200 hectares planted. Gamay and Chenin Blanc are varieties to watch out for. Orange wine, Natural wine and Certified Bio-gro sites are on the increase. The whole region is evolving and maturing.

Wines tasted this month reflect this sense of focus and maturity as well as highlighting the importance of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to the region.