The drive between Wanaka and Queenstown is surrounded by wineries and vineyards. Although small, Central Otago is a rapidly developing wine region particularly known for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling. I claim to know nothing about wine, although the friendly atmosphere at the vineyards I visited has incrementally increased my knowledge beyond “hmm… I think I taste some grape undertones!” The drive between Wanaka, Cromwell, and Queenstown has so many vineyards it’s difficult to choose – my friends and I were looking for more whites than reds and tastings less than 10 dollars (or even free). If you’re keen on local viticulture, affordable delicious wines and beautiful hills you will definitely appreciate these charming and budget-friendly stops.
Mount Maude (Wanaka Region)
Tastings: 11am – 5pm
Price: 10NZD for 4 samples
Greeted by a friendly and knowledgeable staff member, we sat down in the enclosed terrace facing Lake Wanaka. The tasting offers 4 wines from about 15 choices of whites, rosés, and reds all made organically on the premise. I prefer white wines and my favorites were the ‘methode traditionelle’ and the rosé, all served in little beakers which you then transfer to a glass. The tasting room is charming, and staff are happy to answer questions about their approach to biodynamic viticulture and even gave us a map of other vineyards in the area. The vines weren’t visible from the tasting room but the view of Lake Wanaka more than made up for it.
Rippon Vineyard & Winery (Wanaka Region)
Tastings: 11am – 5pm
Price: Free for 5 samples
Located on a hill just outside Wanaka, Rippon is the most renowned and frequented winery in this region. As you drive up to the tasting room the cascading hills from the vineyard down to the lake are stunning. The tasting is free and pre-determined and is conducted in groups by a staff member. The origins and process of winemaking is explained for each variety (apparently the reds have a nutty, more mineral-y taste than those from Maude vineyard due to local rock and soil).
Akarua (Bannockburn Region)
Tastings: 10am – 5pm Mon-Fri, 11am – 4pm Sat/Sun
Price: 5NZD for 5 tastings
This was by far my favorite wine tasting experience – the price was perfect and the woman who conducted our tasting was a gem. Akarua, located just off the main route, is both a cafe and restaurant with a patio bar for tastings. My friends and I began talking with the woman conducting the tastings and she offered us two rosés from the back – 2 extra tastes, yes please! Such a fun experience and modern atmosphere with especially delicious Riesling, Chardonnay and Rosé (although they specialize in Pinot Noir). Perfect for wine tasting on a budget!
Peregrine (Queenstown Region)
Tastings: daily 10am – 5pm
Price: Free for 4 tastings (and crackers too)
Peregrine is located about 5km from Gibbston Valley Wines. The building itself is an award-winning architectural symbol representing the wing of a Peregrine in flight. The tasting room is set below ground with a glass wall showcasing their wine barrels. The Pinot Noir is at the forefront of the wines produced here, however you will also be able to taste excellent Reisling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
Gibbston Valley Wines (Queenstown Region)
Tastings: 10am – 5pm
Price: 10NZD for 4 tastings
Gibbston Valley Wines has many activities to experience: wine cave and vineyard tours, a cheese shop and cafe, and a rustic-style restaurant with cheeses, local meats, seafood and wine tastings. It was 10 dollars for 4 wines from a list of about 12 choices. The atmosphere is very warm, rustic and relaxing with large comfy chairs and couches. The Rosé was my favorite as well as the free cheese samples next door (black pepper smoked gouda… hmmm delish!)
These wineries were my favorites because of the affordable tastings, personable atmosphere and informative, helpful staff. And of course the unforgettable views of Wanaka alongside the quiet, rolling hills along this winding highway. I hope you enjoy!
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