After enjoying the fruits of the north end of the south island, we struck out for the two-day (we are taking it leisurely, after all) drive down to Central Otago, the hottest new wine area in New Zealand.
Our first stop was at Northburn Station, a newer property just north of Cromwell. At their cellar door, Kelly led us through a tasting of six of their wines, the highlights of which were their medal-winning 2008 Riesling and their Northburn Station 2008 Pinot Noir. They are relatively small, currently only producing 2500 cases and selling the rest of their grapes, but are looking to expand and export more product, according to Tom Pinckney, their winemaker.
After a quick lunch, we made our way out to Bannockburn, just south of Cromwell, to meet with the folks from Akarua, the largest privately owned single estate vineyard in Central Otago. Thanks to Dwayne and Jim from Appellation, Matt Connell, the head winemaker and his assistant, Andrew, were waiting to show us around their vineyards and winery. Colleen was in her glory as Matt drove us up to the topmost point of their property, which overlooked Lake Dunstan and the entire valley. He and Andrew gave us a very thorough explanation of the climate, variations in terroir and the factors that determine where the various varietals and clones will be planted. They rely to a great extent on the expertise of their viticulturalist, Gillian Wilson, who has been with Akarua for over 10 years and has an extensive knowledge of the area and what grows best where. After our tour of the vineyards, we returned to the winery for a tour of their large, modern production facility. They lay claim to having the largest stainless steel tank in Central Otago. As might be expected, we ended our tour in the tasting room, sampling 7 of their wines, including their three different pinot noirs as well as their chardonnay, riesling, pinot gris and pinot noir rose. All of their wines showed well, with the chardonnay and pinot noir reserve being my two favourites. The chardonnay is lightly oaked, and presents very much like a chablis – great minerality and subtle green apple flavours. All three of their pinot noirs have been recent award winners, with their Reserve Pinot Noir garnering a pure gold medal in the 2010 Air New Zealand Wine Awards.
Our final stop for the day was Mt. Difficulty, which has an equally spectacular view on the other side of the valley. Emma led our tasting there with their pinot gris being the strongest of a good selection of wines.