New Zealand’s secret wine region

New Zealand may be celebrating 200 years of winemaking on 25 September, but it’s one of its newest wine regions that’s making waves with oenophiles.

While Central Otago has long been known as New Zealand’s premier pinot noir wine growing region, a three-hour drive north will land you in Waitaki – the nation’s newest wine region that’s already beginning to make a name for itself as a fine wine destination helped by the favourable soil and natural aspect.

Image: Valli Wines

“The Waitaki Valley is one of New Zealand’s smallest wine regions, producing world-class pinot noir, aromatic whites and a handful of truly special chardonnays,” says Jen Parr, winemaker at Valli Vineyards whose Waitaki vineyard produces incredible pinot noir.

Jen came to New Zealand from the US to work with a man who is widely considered one of the godfathers of pinot noir in New Zealand – Valli’s owner Grant Taylor.

Image: Valli Wines

Cutting through the valley is the Waitaki River or Te Waitaki o Aoraki, referencing the tears of local Maori ancestor Aoraki/Mt Cook, who watches over from afar. The silts from the river and the unique make-up of the soil sets the region apart from anywhere else in New Zealand. Add to this, the challenging weather and you have a formula for small quantities at harvest but an exceptional quality result.

Image: Tourism Waitaki

Not far from Valli’s Waitaki vineyard is Karen and Murray Turner’s vineyard and cellar door, River-T Estate, where visitors can try many of the wines being made in Waitaki Valley and enjoy a platter while overlooking the vineyard.

“I love giving the visitors an experience,” says Karen. “They are free to walk through our vineyard, sample local produce and River-T’s cellar door not only stocks River-T wine but also nearly all the other producers. We have the largest selection of Waitaki Valley wine in the world for sale.”

River-T, like most of the wineries in Waitaki, is the last to harvest each year in New Zealand, around the end of April and sometimes well into May. Because the grapes are allowed to stay on the vine longer, the flavour develops more than its Central Otago cousin. The result is higher acidity levels, which provide freshness and balance alongside minerality and earthy notes with delicate fruit flavours. In layman’s terms – complex and delicious.

Image: supplied

Don’t miss: Pasquale Wine’s cellar door, where visitors are welcome to try their wines while enjoying some great food. Ostler Wine’s tasting room, The Vintner’s Drop, can be found in the small town of Kurow in the heart of the Waitaki Valley.

Waitaki Wine Tours
The best way to get around the Waitaki Valley and visit some of the wineries is with Oamaru local Sue Mansworth, who runs Waitaki Wine Tours. Sue warmly welcomes her guests and takes them on an intimate tour of the Waitaki wine region. Departing from Oamaru, the tour will take a maximum of six guests to some of the region’s best wineries. The boutique vineyards are a fantastic opportunity to get up close with the people behind the labels and share their passion and stories.

“I love showcasing and sharing our region’s scenery, history and wine with international visitors as it’s unique and stunning,” Sue says. “It’s my pleasure to provide a memorable day out during their stay in the Waitaki district.”

Travel Tips
Waitaki Valley is just over three hours’ drive from Queenstown or two hours from Dunedin. The small town of Oamaru is a great place to base yourself for your visit. Renowned for its Victorian architecture, two penguin colonies and steampunk culture, Oamaru is a quirky spot with an interesting history. Don’t forget to visit the Oamaru Blue Penguins, Steampunk HQ and Whitestone City.

Edited from information supplied by Tourism New Zealand.

Have you been to Waitaki? Which is your favourite New Zealand wine region?

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Written by Leon Della Bosca

Leon Della Bosca has worked in publishing and media in one form or another for around 25 years. He's a voracious reader, word spinner and art, writing, design, painting, drawing, travel and photography enthusiast. You'll often find him roaming through galleries or exploring the streets of his beloved Melbourne and surrounding suburbs, sketchpad or notebook in hand, smiling.
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