Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Wine Tasting Down Under - Part 2

Wine Tasting Down Under -Part 2
In the "Heart of the Desert" Central Otago, New Zealand By Mark Gapinski

Wine Guy Mark Gapinski and his family traveled to New Zealand and Australia this past summer and wrote about the experience for the newsletter..... read Mark's profile here:
Mark Gapinski

Our family vacation this summer took us to Australia and New Zealand. In Part 1, I related our food and wine experiences in the narrow valleys of southwestern New Zealand. In Part 2, I’ll describe some additional tasting and dining we enjoyed a little farther to the east in the less mountainous area near Cromwell, New Zealand. The area around Cromwell and Bannockburn in Central Otago is referred to locally as the “heart of the desert”. Miners first used this name in the mid-19th century. No, there aren’t cactuses or vast sand dunes, but rainfall here averages only about four and a half inches a year with summer highs reaching 100 degrees plus. By New Zealand standards, that’s a desert!


In order to explore the Cromwell Basin, we stayed at the Moorings Resort just north of Cromwell. The Moorings is a group of newly built condominiums situated around a small lake. Our unit was very spacious with comfortable, contemporary furnishings and a great view.   

Through a friend of a friend, I was introduced to Claire Mulholland, the winemaker at Burn Cottage Winery. Burn Cottage is fully committed to biodynamic winemaking. Biodynamic winemaking is based on ideas put forward by Austrian philosopher, Rudolf Steiner. This approach advocates that no fertilizer or pesticides should be used in the vineyard and that planting, pruning and harvest should be based on astronomical alignments such as moon phase. During the winemaking process, minimal technology is applied. This approach is fairly widely practiced and has been adopted by top-flight producers such as France’s Chapoutier, California’s Littorai and Oregon’s Bergstrom.  

The approach Claire and Burn Cottage are taking produces outstanding wines. We began our tasting with a Gruner Veltliner/Riesling blend.  After pressing, the juices were combined and co-fermented in stainless steel. The blend saw 11 months aging in neutral oak barrels. The result was a bright and fresh wine with hints of lime, peach and apricot and a refreshing acidity.

We tasted two Pinot Noirs. The first was the 2015 Central Otago Pinot Noir created by a careful selection of grapes from five different vineyard blocks. About 30% whole clusters were used in the fermentation. The resulting wine showed ripe cherry and berry flavors with floral touches. The texture and balance of this wine was outstanding with the whole clusters contributing and old-world-like earthiness. I think this wine will have a great future.

The second Pinot Noir was made from fruit Burn Cottage had secured in an annual grape swap that they do with Grant Taylor at Valli Vineyards. Taylor’s Gibbston vineyards are immaculately tended and produce exquisite Pinot Noir. The 2015 Pinot Noir was elegant with ripe red fruit immediately evident with more savory spice flavors emerging later. Excellent acidity and fine tannins produced a long and smooth finish. 

Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy was based on a world-view put forward by Goethe. The Burn Cottage label features an intricate drawing inspired by a Goethe fairytale. I’m sure that label has been the subject of many Pinot Noir fueled discussions!

The next stop on the wine trail was Felton Road Winery. This was one of the few New Zealand Pinot Noir producers with which I was familiar before our visit. Felton Road produces outstanding Chardonnay, Riesling and, of course, Pinot Noir. Like Burn Cottage, Felton Road Winery also practices biodynamic winemaking. In the winery, this means fermentation using only wild yeasts, minimal racking, and no filtering or fining.

Felton Road’s Chardonnay emphasizes varietal flavors with minimal use of oak. The Pinot Noirs here were exceptional, especially the Block 3. Fruit for this wine is sourced in Bannockburn just along Felton Road. This winery is a terrific visit, just call ahead for an appointment.  

We had several wonderful meals in this part of Central Otago, but the dinner at the Bannockburn Hotel was a standout. The menu here has a Spanish/Basque accent with small plates designed for sharing. We shared a plate of boquerones (Spanish white anchovies) in local olive oil, followed by a huge platter of chimichurri steak with a side of truffle and Parmesan fries. All were deemed excellent.

The wine list here is amazing. It features a vast selection of Central Otago Pinot Noirs including multiple vintages of Felton Road Block 3 and Block 5. Wines of Spain, France, Germany and Italy are also well represented. I asked the somm to recommend a local Pinot Noir from an up and coming local producer who I might be reading about in a few years. He suggested a 2016 Rendition Pinot Noir produced by Matt Connell Wines. It was a great suggestion indeed.

The four days we spent in Central Otago delivered some of the most spectacular scenery I have experienced. A photo opportunity presents itself at almost every turn of the mountain roads. This area was used extensively in the filming of the “Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit” trilogies. It is possible to visit many areas where filming occurred.


As an avid LOTR fan, it did not take much of a leap of imagination to envision the horsemen of Rohan galloping over the next rise!  

I highly recommend a tasting visit to Central Otago for any wine lover planning a trip to New Zealand. The stunning scenery, welcoming cellar doors and great dining make Central Otago a perfect destination to enjoy wine. Who knows, you might even have a go at bungee jumping!  
Stay tuned for Part 3 of the Wine Tasting Down Under Series: Ancient Vine Shiraz in the Barossa and the Largest Bottle of Wine I’ve Ever Seen.

Part I, Part III, Part IV