Region and History

Jancis Robinson (MW) named Central Otago in 2005 as one of the top five New World wine producing regions. One of the most dramatic and picturesque wine growing settings in the world, it is also the most southerly and the highest in New Zealand ranging from 200-400 meters above sea level on the floor of glacial valleys.  Surrounded by mountains, lakes and deep river gorges, pastoral sheep farming especially for fine merino wool, has long been the foundation of the economy.  It is also acclaimed for its stone-fruit: cherries, apricots, nectarines, peaches and plums.

The first wine-grapes in Central Otago were planted in 1864 at Monte Christo near Clyde.  Monte Christo was sold in 1882 and wine-grapes were not commercially grown again in Central Otago for a century.  Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka made experimental plantings in 1976 and in 1981 Alan Brady made his first plantings at Gibston Valley in the Kawarau Gorge. By the year 2000, New Zealand’s newest producing area was in a stage of rapid expansion.

Central Otago’s cold dry winters and hot dry summers were found to give the wine particularly intense flavours and the area had gained a reputation for consistently producing high quality boutique style wines.  The climate also decreased the incidences of some of the major grape diseases providing advantages from an environmental and health perspective with reduced pesticide use.

Central Otago lies is the rain shadow of the Southern Alps.  The climate can be described as “semi-continental” being characterised by hot, dry summers, long settled autumns and cold dry winters with a large diurnal temperature range.  Because rainfall is low, and particularly because of the free-draining rocky soils on which the grapes are grown, the availability of water for irrigation is crucial to successful production.  Heavy frosts are common during winter and can occur any time between March and November.  At Latitude 45 degrees South, Central Otago is of similar latitude to both Oregan (USA) and to Bordeaux (France) in the Northern Hemisphere.  While the climate and soils of Central Otago present challenges to grape growers  as illustrated by the title of David Cull’s book aptly named “Vineyards on the Edge’ (2001),  they also create unique opportunities for the production of high quality wines which are increasingly sought after and equal the best in the world.

Figures in 2008 show that Central Otago has been the country’s fastest expanding wine region over the past decade with 1526 ha of producing vines and ranked as New Zealand’s fourth-largest wine-growing region.   Its vineyards are spread over a wide area.  Mount Maude vineyard in Wanaka lies 100 kilometers north of Black Ridge at Alexandra.  Another 75 km divide the most westerly plantings at Lake Hayes near Queenstown, from Alexandra in the south east. The area of Central Otago which Serendipity Vineyard is located in is Cromwell basin which is bounded by the Kawarau River, Lake Dunstan and Pisa Mountain ranges and over two thirds of the regions plantings are clustered here.

The combination of climate, terroir and determined winemaking have been a winning recipe for Pinot Noir especially and more than 80% of the region is now planted in Pinot Noir Grapes which produce elegant wines with great aging potential.  The rest is in white varieties especially Pinot Gris, Riesling and Chardonnay.