Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Wineries of Central Otago - Gibbston Valley

Chard Farm's Driveway
After quickly settling in to the Queenstown scene, we were ready to pick up our hire car and start exploring the nearby wine regions. There could not have been a more spectacular start to the trip than driving up the windy, precarious road to Chard Farm, whilst overlooking the Kawarau River and the world famous AJ Hackett bungy jump.

Chard Farm

Due to a fortunate wine industry connection, we were able to arrange a private tour of the Chard Farm facility with Matt Groves, the sales manager. The winery is modern and practical in its design, but down in the barrel hall their is already history being generated - dusty back vintages are racked up against the far wall and there are even a few ice wines of dubious quality from a previously fated vintage.

John Wallace, chief winemaker, lead us through our tasting, which was very nice of him, considering he was still recovering from completing the Queenstown Marathon 2 days' prior. I found him to be very focussed upon texture and the layers of perception in the mouth. This was especially evident with his riesling, where he pointed out that he strives for broader acidity at the back of the palate, allowing the fruits to be showcased.

We tasted across their concise range, and I was suitably impressed.

2014 Closeburn Chardonnay 
Unoaked, but with extended lees extraction. As crisp as the local weather with nuances of nettles and mixed herbs.

2013 Judge and Jury Chardonnay 
Lightly oaked, with pineapple and ginger notes. Outstanding in its unique expression of the variety.

2014 Riesling
Dry in style (10g Residual Sugar). Citrus flavours, predominantly lime, contribute to the spine tingling acid.

2014 Viper's Vineyard Riesling 
A sweeter style (32g Residual Sugar) which has been beautifully crafted in its sugar-acid balance. John described the textural experience of the wine as initially sweet on the front palate, then acidity spreading right across the tongue (rather than just focussed at the back of the tongue, as with many Rieslings).

River Run Pinot Noir
Excellent for an entry level - floral/herbal nose with a similarly textural acid structure as the Riesling.

2013 Mata-Au
Chard Farm Winery
A blend of Chard Farm's two prized Lowburn vineyards (Tiger and Viper). Displayed vibrant fruit and light paprika type spices.

2012 The Viper
Single vineyard expression at the fore, I found this wine earthier and more brooding than the blend.   The acidity was tightly wound, suggesting patience would be rewarded. 

2012 MkII
Fruit from a higher vineyard results in raspy rose and red berry flavours. 

Gibbston Valley

This Certified Organic winery is well-placed off the highway in the middle of the valley. Being one of the founding wineries, the nod to pioneers of the wine industry in the area does not go unnoticed. Obviously Gibbston Valley has kept up with the times though, with a well-focussed marketing plan making this winery the epicentre of the Gibbston Valley tourist trail - mountain bike hire and tracks, a cheesery, a restaurant, etc. 

Gibbston Valley has an extensive range of wines, with a focus on varying quality levels of Pinot Noir (again, tourists of all levels of interest are catered for). I found it to be rather overpriced to taste and the service was definitely less intimate, but that tends to come with size. We purchased a bottle of the 2012 Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir, which displayed a good depth of dark fruits and soothing, earthy mushroom characters. This we enjoyed on our evening return to Queenstown by the lake, with a lip-smacking dose of slow-cooked lamb from Pedro's House of Lamb.


Another pre-arranged private appointment awaited us at Valli with proprietor and winemaker Grant Taylor. An icon in the valley, Grant was the first winemaker at Gibbston Valley. I discovered afterwards that he has won the Best Pinot Noir Trophy at the International Wine and Spirit Competition in London four times!

He welcomed us with a wealth of knowledge and insight into the subregions. For our tasting, he had opened four single vineyard Pinot Noirs, all from the 2014 vintage and all treated exactly the same from a winemaking perspective. There could be no better way to get a grasp on subregional variation in the area. 

Grant was so passionate and informative that I honestly didn't even think about taking tasting notes (sorry!) but I will give you a quick rundown of his four showcased subregions and what to expect from each. Needless to say though, we found all four wines to be of excellent quality. 

Courtesy of
Gibbston Region
This is the coolest region due to its elevation. Most vineyards face north, looking down upon the Kawau River. Wines tend to be lighter in body and more delicately feminine in style. Although floral and perfumed notes predominate, these wines must not be underestimated for their underlying intensity of flavour.

Bannockburn Region
Still in close proximity to the Kawarau River, vineyards in Bannockburn experience warmer and drier weather, resulting in darker fruit flavours. They are more tannic than Gibbston Valley wines and are known for their richness and balance.

Bendigo Region
This is the warmest Central Otago location, and the generally north facing plantings sit upon stony soils that reflect the heat. Altitude can be an advantage here to somewhat counteract the heat. The resulting wines are known for their power and luxurious, mouth-filling presence.

Waitaki Region
This new and exciting region is almost halfway between Gibbston and Waipara Valleys in North Otago. Much of the promise (or hype?) is due to its limestone soils which quickly draw comparison to Burgundy. Although the region is yet to prove itself, the wines are already presenting good complexity and bright young fruits.

Other subregions of Central Otago include Cromwell/Pisa, Alexandra and Wanaka, which will be covered later in this series. Fore more in-depth information on sub regional variation in the region, check out:


This vineyard was established in 1993, so still has some of the older vines in the valley. A stylish tasting room is well suited to tour groups, with the option to purchase by the glass and enjoy with a platter on the lawn or whilst playing bocci. 

My picks of their offerings were:
2014 Brennan Gibbston Chardonnay
Lively acidity with a subtle oak character and flavours of home baked lemon cake.

2010 and 2011 Brennan Gibbston Pinot Noir
The two vintages were tasted side by side and the wetter year of 2011 expressed itself as lighter and more uplifted with red fruits, bouquet garni herbs and good length. The 2010 was more masculine with purple fruits and dark chocolate.

Mount Edward

Another appointment only establishment housed at the far end of this tiny valley was worth the visit. The guided tasting was full of enthusiasm but again I was slightly side-tracked and did not manage to make any tasting notes. In general, we found the wines to be of high quality, particularly the Pinot Noir.


Outstanding for its impressive architecture and barrel room, the wines were a bit of a let down. I found them to be very phenolic and struggled to enjoy the other slightly masked characters. By far their best offering was the 2014 Chardonnay, whose 10 months in French oak contributed to a medium body and lemon biscuit flavour.

We finished off a wonderful and insightful day of wine tasting and touring with an afternoon stroll along the river before enjoying the scenic drive back to Queenstown.