Central Otago Wine Growing Region
Perhaps nowhere else on earth are wines as hard won as from this sometimes inhospitable but beautiful landscape. New Zealand winemakers have come together to turn this into an award-winning region which has earned worldwide notoriety for producing superb Pinot Noirs and not to mention an impressive selection of vivid whites.
The first grapes were planted were planted in the mid 1800s, and “Central”, as the locals call it, quickly became known for it’s amazing ‘Burgundy’. Nowdays you’ll be hard pressed to find a wine show where there isn’t a Central Otago Pinot Noir taking home the awards.
Where is the Central Otago region?
For those who may be unfamiliar with New Zealand, the Central Otago region is located in the lower South Island, close to the popular tourist destination Queenstown. The region’s wine growing towns include Gibbston, Bannockburn, Alexandra, Bendigo and Cromwell and the area has always has a rich heritage from the gold rush of the mid-1800s to the current gold of the area; grapes!
One of the reasons it is so tricky to grow grapes in the Central Otago region is the cold climate. At 46° South, Central Otago is the world’s southernmost wine growing region and has relatively short but hot summers with temperatures averaging 24° celsius during the summer months around January and February, and often reaching the high 30’s. In the winter months, the temperature can fall well below 0°, even down to the coldest temperature recorded in Ranfurly -25.6°.
During bud burst in early October and when getting close to harvest in March our vineyards in Central have to be on high alert for frosts. Frosts can have a devistating effect on vintages and we’ll talk more about this in an upcoming article.
Why are the wines so good from the Central Otago?
Given all the hurdles wine makers face in the Central Otago, it’s a miracle that grapes grow at all, never mind the quality and variety that our expert co-operative of wine makers manage to produce.
So how do they do it?
Well, it’s a combination of the soil, climate, passion and sheer determination; grapes love free-draining soils and thankfully, the Central Otago has plenty of it. McArthur Ridge, one of the vineyards that make up the New Zealand Wine Co-Op has around 900 metres of alluvial gravels as well as ‘brassknocker’ soil, from which they have named one of their wines after, is perfect for growing grapes. The glacially deposited soil is loaded with schist and quartz minerals that help to reflect heat during the day and retain heat during the cooler nights. If anyone has seen the movie ‘A Good Year’, you will remember a similar technique deployed in a French vineyard to yield the same results.
Some stats about the region
Here are just a few of the latest stats about the Central Otago region when it comes to our wines (data from 2014):
- 1932 total producing hectares in 2014
- 1,484 hectares of Pinot Noir
- 330 hectares of aromatics including Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewurztraminer
- 52 hectares of Chardonnay
- 45 hectares of Sauvignon Blanc
- Central Otago wines made up only 2.4% of New Zealand’s total wine production
- The Central Otago region receives an average of 1,973 hours of sunshine every year
- It also receives 322mm of annual rainfall
As you can see, the Central Otago region is a relatively small region in New Zealand when it comes to total wine production but that is one of the things that makes it so great and makes our co-op so special. There is a real wine growing community down here in the Central Otago and everyone has the same passion for wine growing and producing the best possible Pinot Noirs, Gewurztraminer and more.
Now you know a bit more about the Central Otago region, we hope you will give one of our famous ‘Central’ wines a try.
Feel free to get involved and ask any questions you might have about the region or our cooperative in the comments below.
Thanks for reading!