Central Otago is the most southerly wine region in the world and is responsible for five-point-five percent of a href=/region-3-new-zealand>New Zealand's vines (1,253 hectares in 2006). Central Otago was first identified as a site of serious Pinot potential in 1895 by Italian viticulturalist Romeo Bragato, drafted in by the government to treat the Phylloxera louse, subsequently recommending grafted rootstocks as a remedy in 1901. It had been thought to be worth even more during the Gold Rush days of the 1860s, before being turned over to merino sheep and later fruit orchards until the 1970s. In 1976, Gibbston Valley's alluvial gravel soils were the first to be planted in the area.
It's a measure of the success of the Central Otago ‘brand’, and the appeal of its full-bodied Pinot Noirs, that the region has experienced a 350 percent increase in the vines planted there, and a 125 percent increase in the number of new wineries over the same period (up to 89, or 16 percent of the country's total); as per b>Marlborough's relationship with a href=/grape-sb-sauvignon-blanc>Sauvignon Blanc, b>Pinot Noir now represents approximately 75 percent of the Central Otago vineyards. That the region's capital, Queenstown, annually plays host to the country's Pinot Noir forum is further proof of the region's significance. More controversially, the recent rush to secure vineyards within this now fashionable viticultural zone has led to a rash of criticism over the quality of some of the newcomers.
Located at the foot of South Island, the region may be on the 45th parallel south, but its site among the Bannockburn Hills of the Southern Alps (at approximately 200 metres above sea level) ensures a continental climate, if one dogged by frosts and marked by significant swings in temperature (up to 40 degrees Celsius at times). Soil profiles vary between the deep silt loams of the Bannockburn sub-region, while the wider Cromwell Basin displays both sandy loam over calcium deposits as well as alluvial loess over schist. Vinification typically involves French-oak barrel ageing of between 10 to 18 months.
Stylistically, the Gibbston Valley wines (such as those of Peregrine Wines) show a sweet, soft red raspberry and strawberry fruitiness, while the warmer Bannockburn/Loburn areas produce more powerful, tannic styles with black cherry and thyme notes b>Felton Road's range is a prime example. Fine Riesling is also produced amongst the schistous soils.
Recommended producers: Amisfield Estate, a href=/producer-3606-felton-road>Felton Road, Peregrine Wines, Ostler Vineyard.