A tasting trip to the southernmost vineyards in the world

They said Central Otago in New Zealand was too cold for growing grapes. Yet these vineyards, the southernmost in the world, are producing award-winning wines. Lucy Gillmore raises a glass

It was the end of a perfect day. The helicopter whirred across a bucolic landscape of smudged velvet hills, surging rivers and glacier-groaning crags before banking over row upon row of rich, dark vines. Sweeping down to land at Nevis Bluff, we were greeted by Tim Morrison-Deaker, the winery's viticulturalist, with a glass of chilled pinot gris, a light aromatic wine with, mmm, hints of apricot and brie.

But there was no time for more than a sniff, swill and swallow before we were off, soaring over the hills to Bannockburn and the Bald Hills winery. There, with Blair Hunt, we savoured the black fruits and forest-floor aromas of the 2002 pinot noir. We had three more stops to make: Shaky Bridge in the Alexandra basin and Pisa Moorings in Lowburn, before swooping down to Lake Wanaka and the Rippon Vineyard. To finish, Lois Mills invited us to try the citrus-scented 2003 Riesling.

And all from the comfort of our cinema seats. The Big Picture Wine Adventure, a tourist attraction in Cromwell, takes you on a virtual flight across South Island's Central Otago region - with, thankfully, five real glasses of the world-renowned local wines to sample along the way.

These wines are the delectable proof that so-called experts can get it wrong. It was too cold for the grapes, they said, and the soil was unsuitable. But then the people of the vertiginous south are not the type to accept anyone's say-so. They're, well, unusual, and just a little contrary. This is the place where you will find a barbed-wire fence strung with bras along the Cardrona Pass, a cinema stocked with old car seats in the little town of Wanaka, and the country's only insect reserve - a barren field of bugs. And a vineyard where you can play golf with tiny rugby balls (Rippon).

Today, Central Otago, the world's southernmost winemaking region, is recognised for its award-winning pinot noir. The first grapes were planted in the 19th century by a French gold-miner named John Desire Feraud. Wine production ceased after he left, but began again in the 1980s. Now there are more than 20 wineries. The winegrowers' association produces a map of the vineyards, many of which offer tastings, while each January there is a food and wine festival.

Before heading back to the lodge where I was staying in Wanaka, there was time for another sensory experience. The Big Picture Wine Adventure's Aroma Room, which is lined with silver stoppers coated in scents relating to different wines; the object was to identify each one. Prune and violet, as well as the more obvious berry fruits, can often be detected in pinot noir, I learnt, while walnut can be found in aged pinot noir.

Returning to the wine trail, I followed signs to Olssens. Up among the thyme-covered hills of Bannockburn, where the vines are rooted in the rocky, gold-bearing schist soils, the tasting room is in a cottage, its landscaped grounds scattered with modern sculptures. But the most photogenic vineyard is back in Wanaka, a small town on the verge of the big time. Rippon Vineyard, with rows of grapevines sloping down to a lake, is a photographer's dream.

The winery was the creation of the late Rolfe Mills, father of Lois. Wanaka Station, then a sheep farm sprawling beneath the Buchanan mountain range, had been in his family for four generations. Rolfe, however, had travelled in Portugal in the Douro valley and realised the terrain was very similar. He had also noticed that First World War Yugoslavian refugees had successfully planted figs and other Mediterranean crops. So in 1975, ignoring those who said he was crazy, he started growing vines. Today the winery has produced a gold-medal-winning pinot noir, alongside popular Gewurztraminers, Rieslings and sauvignon blancs.

Heading down a gravel road back to Riverrun Lodge - a vision of soaring timber and glass on a 500-acre farm - I contemplated another cosy dinner with the owners John Pawson and Meg Taylor. But first another glass of pinot noir in the outdoor cedar hot tub, surrounded by snow-capped mountains. Blackberry, liquorice and wood-smoke. The meeting of the pig-headed Central Otagan gene and the temperamental pinot grape had produced yet another good vintage.

The author travelled as a guest of New Zealand Tourism (newzealand.com)

1. Rippon Vineyard

WHAT IS IT?

A picturesque vineyard on the lake - with a crazy golf course played with rugby-shaped balls you hit into a goal...

WHERE IS IT?

Mt Aspiring Road, Lake Wanaka (00 64 3 443 8084; rippon. co.nz). Tastings Dec-April, 11am-5pm, daily; July-Nov 1.30pm-4.30pm, daily; closed May/June.

2. Minaret Lodge

WHAT IS IT?

A lodge with guest rooms in wood and stone chalets in the garden - one with a 'Lord of the Rings' theme.

WHERE IS IT?

Eely Point Road, Wanaka (00 64 3 443 1856; minaretlodge.co.nz). Doubles from NZ$395 (£145) including breakfast and early evening wine-tasting.

3. Paradiso Cinema

WHAT IS IT?

A quirky little arthouse cinema and café. Seats are sagging old sofas and armchairs, or you can sit in an old Morris Minor.

WHERE IS IT?

Ardmore Street, Wanaka (00 64 3 443 1505; paradiso.net.nz).

4. River Run

WHAT IS IT?

A stylish lodge with five cosy rooms and panoramic views over the mountains. There's an outdoor hot tub and signposted walks by the Clutha river.

WHERE IS IT?

Halliday Rd, Wanaka (00 69 03 443 9049; riverrun.co.nz). Doubles from NZ$320 (£117) including breakfast and appetisers.

5. Old Cromwell Town

WHAT IS IT?

A historic street of reconstructed shops, housing arts, crafts and gourmet foods. Touristy but pretty. The old town was submerged by Lake Dunstan when the Clyde Dam was built in the 1970s.

WHERE IS IT?

On the edge of Lake Dunstan.

6. The Big Picture Wine Adventure

WHAT IS IT?

A virtual flight, with winetasting, over the Central Otago region. There's also an Aroma Room where you can test your sense of smell and a café.

WHERE IS IT?

State Highway 6, Cromwell (00 64 3 445 4052; wineadventure.co.nz).

7. Mt Difficulty

WHAT IS IT?

A boutique winery with a stylishly designed café terrace, complete with canvas awnings, cacti on tables and water features.

WHERE IS IT?

Felton Road, Bannockburn (00 64 3 445 3445; mtdifficulty.co.nz). Tastings 10.30am-5pm.

8. Olssens

WHAT IS IT?

A picturesque vineyard and perfect lunchtime stop with big blue picnic umbrellas, jazz music floating out of the tasting room and a sculpture garden.

WHERE IS IT?

Felton Road, Bannockburn (00 64 3 445 1716; olssens.co.nz). Tastings 10am-5pm.

9. Arrowtown

WHAT IS IT?

A picture-perfect gold-rush town that is often crowdedbut worth a detour. The Avenue of the Trees is lined with wooden miners' cottages and trees planted in 1867.

WHERE IS IT?

23km north-west of Queenstown.

10. The Cardrona Hotel

WHAT IS IT?

A gold-rush era hotel dating back to 1863. It's just a mile or so along the road from the famous Cardrona bra fence - yes a fence strung with passing motorists' bras.

WHERE IS IT?

Crown Range Road, Wanaka (00 64 3 443 8153; cardronahotel.co.nz).

Life and Style
Steve Shaw shows Kate how to get wet behind the ears and how to align her neck
healthSteven Shaw - the 'Buddha of Breaststroke' - applies Alexander Technique to the watery sport
Sport
footballShirt then goes on sale on Gumtree
Voices
Terry Sue-Patt as Benny in the BBC children’s soap ‘Grange Hill’
voicesGrace Dent on Grange Hill and Terry Sue-Patt
Arts and Entertainment
The sight of a bucking bronco in the shape of a pink penis was too much for Hollywood actor and gay rights supporter Martin Sheen, prompting him to boycott a scene in the TV series Grace and Frankie
tv
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Guru Careers: Events Coordinator / Junior Events Planner

    £24K + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking an Events Coordinator ...

    Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: Chief Executive Officer

    Salary 42,000: Royal Yachting Association Cymru Wales: The CEO is responsible ...

    Guru Careers: Marketing Manager / Marketing Communications Manager

    £35-40k (DOE) + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Marketing Communicati...

    Ashdown Group: Technical IT Manager - North London - Growing business

    £40000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A growing business that has been ope...

    Day In a Page

    Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

    Abuse - and the hell that follows

    James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
    Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

    It's oh so quiet!

    The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
    'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

    'Timeless fashion'

    It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
    If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

    Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

    Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
    New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

    Evolution of swimwear

    From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
    Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

    Sun, sex and an anthropological study

    One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
    From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

    Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

    'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
    'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

    Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

    This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

    Songs from the bell jar

    Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
    How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

    One man's day in high heels

    ...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

    Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
    The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

    King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

    The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

    End of the Aussie brain drain

    More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
    Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

    Can meditation be bad for you?

    Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
    Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

    Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

    Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine