Queenstown is a destination that refuses to be pigeonholed. It’s an adrenaline-charged escape – home to everything from ski fields to jet boats and bungee ropes, while at the same time a sleepy lakeside hideaway best suited to indulging in fine food and perfect pinot noir.
Yes, there’s a reason pinot noir is singled out amid the roll call of wines out there – Queenstown is the gateway to Central Otago wine region, from which pinot noirs have charted a rapid rise to fame thanks to its style melding sublime quality with straight out deliciousness.
Present a bottle when you’re next gathering, request one from the sommelier at any fine restaurant, or indeed pluck one from the shelves of your trusty wine merchant and you are guaranteed a nod of approval from all comers.
The region’s climate is partly to thank – snow ski-cold in winter and waterski-warm in summer, while autumns are long and dry, with the intensity of ultraviolet light in this part of the world bringing a scintillating vibrancy to pinots made here. Yet it’s more than just goldilocks territory.
Central Otago winemakers are particularly collaborative and there’s a collective push for quality methods of farming and winemaking. Organic and biodynamic farming is commonplace for the region’s top producers, driving the high quality of the wines they make.
Where to go and what to taste
As a place to visit and go wine touring, this really has it all and the things that attract wine lovers are what has also attracted a dynamic group of winemakers plying their craft here: the scenery is jaw-dropping, the landscape has striking presence, and everything you want to see or do is within a one-hour drive.
The Kawarau River rumbles below these steep mountains, through sections with names like ‘Roaring Meg’, eventually opening out to Cromwell Basin where cellars such as Quartz Reef, Misha’s Vineyard, Rockburn and Burn Cottage are all right in town.
Just to the south, Bannockburn sub-region is home to a number of the most famous vineyards and wineries, and is really a focal point of the region with Felton Road, Carrick and Domain Road to name a few.
The Bannockburn Hotel is a good lunch or dinner stop with a Spanish influence to the menu and a huge wine list featuring local wines and more. Expect to rub shoulders with some thirsty winemakers here.
A step further south to the Alexandra sub-region you’ll find the home of Two Paddocks, Black Quail Estate, Grasshopper Rock and Shaky Bridge Wines. This is rugged country, and that frontier goldrush feel still lingers in the air in this more remote and southerly part of the region.
A day trip with a difference
With some 200-odd wineries on offer, you can design a very easy day run out and back to do plenty of tasting.
You might also consider stopping a night or two in the lakeside town of Wanaka, home to New Zealand’s most Instagrammed vineyard and cellar door, Rippon, where the wines are every bit as breathtaking as the view.
Also make sure you stop in and see the family at Maude Wines, who are making some of the smartest wines in the whole region.
The drive up and over the Crown Range to Wanaka is a spectacular one. Wanaka is smaller than Queenstown but has a high concentration of good eating and drinking. As Queenstown has grown, many locals have migrated to this smaller lakeside hamlet. Tourists and locals alike enjoy the good life here.
Main image: Perky’s Floating Bar, Queenstown.