Visit to Gibbston Valley Winery, Central Otago

Please note that, because none of my photos turned out particularly well, none of the photos in this post are mine.

gibbston valley entrance

While it may have appeared from my cunningly pre-scheduled posts that I spent my Easter quietly at home pondering the profound mysteries of the crucifixion and resurrection and attending various Easter church services, the truth, for the first time in many years, was very different. In fact I was off gallivanting in and around New Zealand’s beautiful Queenstown. This came about due to a comic misunderstanding: way back in June my BFF sent me a text message which read ‘Want to go to Queenstown for easter next year.’ For some reason I interpreted this as meaning that she was planning a trip to Queenstown, possibly with her partner, and so replied ‘Nice! I’ve never been.’ And that is how I agreed, without really meaning to, to go away over Easter this year.

Not, mind you, that I’m complaining in the slightest. Queenstown is New Zealand’s playground, and we had a fantastic time riding the iconic Shotover Jet and taking a day-trip over to the beautiful Milford Sound. But the region in which Queenstown is situated, Central Otago, is also one of New Zealand’s prime wine-growing regions, particularly famous for its Pinot Noir, and while Becks isn’t a wine-drinker herself you may recall that she’s quite the enabler when it comes to indulging my interest in the subject, so we also took an afternoon trip up to Gibbston Valley Winery.

This convenient and moderately-priced ($33NZ) trip included a bus pick-up from the Station in central Queenstown (just down the road from where we were staying), a tour of their wine cave, and the opportunity to sample four of Gibbston Valley’s wines as well as local cheeses and chocolate, so it was pretty good value for money.

Gibbston Valley was established by Alan Brady in the early 1980s, and was the first vineyard in the region. At the time people thought Brady, who had no previous wine-growing experience, was nuts to be planting vines at such high altitude and so far south (latitude 45), but the soil and climate turned out to be particularly favourable to the usually temperamental Pinot Noir, and Brady quickly discovered that he was on to a winner. Our tour included a short walk up to some of the original vines, which at this time of year are close to harvest.

By the mid-1990s the success of Gibbston Valley was such that finding adequate storage space for all those barrels was becoming a problem, and Brady hit on another innovative (read: possibly slightly nuts) solution: to have a 1400 cubic metre wine cave blasted into the schist mountain onto which the winery backs. The resulting cave provides an optimal environment for the wine to mature and continues to be the largest wine-cave in New Zealand today. Well, not every wine-maker has a handy mountain in their back yard.

The wines themselves were not particularly stunning, mainly, I suspect, because they don’t break out the premium stuff for the $33 tour. I did, however, do rather well in terms of quantity because while Becks gamely sampled everything she then passed her unfinished glasses to me, so I effectively got a double serving. We sampled their Sauvignon Blanc – a rather unusual varietal this far south, and not one of my personal favourites – which had the distinct Sauvignon Blanc acidity and passionfruit notes.

You may recall in my recent post on Pinot Gris I mentioned that most New Zealanders prefer sweeter Pinot Gris, and that Pinot Gris usually isn’t aged in barrels but goes straight from the vat to the bottle. At Gibbston Valley they break with both of these practices, and the two Pinot Gris we sampled were both of a drier nature. The first, which had been oaked for a few months, had definite citrus and pear notes and a certain something which I can never define beyond ‘green’. The second, which was fully barrel-aged, was drawn as we watched from a rather clever barrel contraption with a glass side and lights which allowed us to see what it looked like within the barrel. It had a far more amber colour than most Pinot Gris and a definite yeasty aroma and flavour, which to me didn’t really do it any favours. Still, it was fascinating to see.

The final wine on offer was, of course, a Pinot Noir. Made to be aged for five to ten years, it was as a result not yet at its best with a rather harsh undertone to its plum, spice, oak and cherry notes. I can see how it will be good, but as I’m one of those people who buys wine when she intends to drink it I wasn’t really the ideal audience for this one – and poor Becks passed me her glass once again.

Overall, it was a lovely afternoon which took us to a fascinating and historically-significant place, but if I were to return to Gibbston Valley I’d probably pay the extra for a tasting session which included some of the premium and/or older wines on which their reputation is based. Should you ever find yourself in Queenstown, add Gibbston Valley to your to-do list – but only if you’re willing to pay for the good stuff.

Always drink responsibly. One standard drink of wine is approximately 100ml (3.3 fl oz). The New Zealand Ministry of Health recommends that women consume no more than 2 standard drinks a day, and no more than 10 standard drinks a week, and that men consume no more than 3 standard drinks a day and no more than 15 standard drinks a week (note that this is slightly lower than the limits recommended by the World Health Organisation). The World Health Organisation recommends that women abstain from alcohol during pregnancy. In New Zealand the legal drinking age is 18. Do not drink alcohol if you are under the legal age to do so in your country. It is illegal to drive while under the influence of alcohol.

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