Ultimate Guide to the Central Otago Wine Region

The Central Otago wine region is relatively new to New Zealand’s winemaking industry. See our collection of wine pictures. ­
The Central Otago wine region is relatively new to New Zealand’s winemaking industry. See our collection of wine pictures. ­
iStockphoto/Linda & Colin McKie

­The beautiful islands of New Zealand are filled with treasures of antiquity, but they ­are also home to some of the world's notable wine regions. The Central Otago wine region is located in the south-central part of New Zealand's South Island. Cut off from the oceans, the area's wine growers are free from the distraction of warm, sunny beaches. They can get down to business -- wine business, that is.

Central Otago is relatively new to the winemaking industry in New Zealand, but being a novice hasn't stopped the region from becoming a top wine producer [source: New Zealand Wine, Otagowine]. Other regions from the country are more famous and have longer, richer histories of winemaking, but Central Otago is quickly rising to fame and becoming an important producer in terms of output. For example, the Wairarapa wine region is prominent and nationally and globally recognized in the wine world. Central Otago has recently produced significantly more acres of grapes for wine production than Wairarapa [source: New Zealand Wine, Otagowine]. That's not too bad for a newcomer.


­Many countries around the world use Appellations of Origin to stake their claims on foods and beverages. New Zealand does not use such a system, but the country does maintain strict rules and regulations about how New Zealand w­ines can be exported and sold locally [source: New Zealand Wine]. Even though its wine bottles do not include a familiar AO label, rest assured that New Zealand's wines are not substandard. In fact, due to New Zealand's extensive research and attention to detail in winemaking, New Zealand winemakers are fierce competitors and are dedicated to producing high quality wines.

In this article, we'll look at the history and culture of the Central Otago wine region. Then we'll explore the agriculture and famous wines of the region. Read on to learn about the history of this hidden treasure.


Central Otago Region Wine History and Culture

New Zealand is one country with two islands and has been home to the indigenous Maori people for centuries. It was extensively mapped by Dutch explorer Abel Tasman in 1642 and British Captain James Cook in the 1760s [source: New Zealand History]. Even though they knew the land was there, it took quite a while for European explorers to make their way to the islands' inner regions, such as Central Otago [source: New Zealand History, Britannica.com].

Missionaries were a key part of establishing early settlements and European dominance throughout New Zealand. In the mid-1800s, a growing population of British settlers led to the need for established trade routes through uncharted territory of the interiors of the islands [source: New Zealand History, Britannica.com].


Central Otago was just a dot on the map until an important mineral resource was discovered there in the 1860s -- gold [source: New Zealand History, Otagowine History]. At this time New Zealand was part of the British Empire, and many people rushed to the area to seek their fortunes. The flood of prospectors helped create new trails and passages through central New Zealand.

During the gold rush, someone took time to plant the first grapevines in Central Otago in 1864. Even though the area served the grapevines well, wine grapes weren't taken seriously until more than 100 years after that first planting [source: Central Otago Pinot Noir, Otagowine History]. In 1972, the country's Department of Science and Industrial Research (DSIR) sent people to the area to determine if the land could be cultivated for wine production. They planted crops and were pleased with the results. In 1987, the Central Otago wine region released its first Pinot Noir [source: Central Otago Pinot Noir, Otagowine History].

What makes this part of New Zealand so unique? Read on to learn about the Central Otago wine region's agriculture.


Central Otago Wine Region Agriculture

The Central Otago wine region of New Zealand has some serious records regarding climate. It is one of the hottest, driest and coldest places. It experiences these extremes because it's cut off from the rest of South Island by mountains [source: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand].

Central Otago is divided into six sub-regions:


Each sub-region is subject to its own weather, enabling the Central Otago wine region to produce a wide variety of whites and reds. As a whole, Central Otago is the most southern wine region in the world [source: New Zealand Wine]. The area is comprised of schist (flakey rock) and loess. Loess is the true gem of Central Otago because it greatly contributes to the successful cultivation of Pinot Noir grapes [source: Central Otago Pinot Noir]. The low rainfall and high mineral content add to the richness of the region's soil.

Wine growers and winemakers of New Zealand can seek advice and find the latest research via many professional resources and organizations including:

  • Central Otago Winegrowers Association (COWA)
  • New Zealand Grapevine Improvement Group (NZVIG)
  • Wine Institute of New Zealand (WINZ)
  • New Zealand Grape Growers Council (NZGGC) [source: COWA]

Together, the wine growers of Central Otago are dedicated to producing excellent wines. Want to try some of the region's specialties? Read on to learn about some of the famous wines of the Central Otago wine region.


Famous Wines of the Central Otago Wine Region

Wine from Central Otago is predominantly made from Pinot Noir, but the region also grows Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Riesling. Wine varieties from Central Otago took in dozens of awards at the 200­8 Air New Zealand Wine Awards. Some winners to choose from include:

  • Rockburn Pinot Noir 2007
  • Brennan Pinot Noir 2007
  • Judge Rock Pinot Noir 2007
  • Desert Heart Riesling 2007
  • Elephant Hill Rosé 2008
  • Lamont Pinot Gris 2008
  • Misha's Vineyard "The Gallery" Gewurztraminer 2008
  • Bannock Brae Estate Barrel Selection Pinot Noir 2006 [source: Air New Zealand Wine Awards]

In addition to these award winners, Central Otago is home to many wineries, including Arrow River Wine Company, Bald Hills Vineyard, Black Ridge Winery, Carrick Wines, Dry Gully Vineyard, Greylands Ridge, Hakataramea Valley Wines, Kaufman Vineyard, Mondillo Vineyards, Olssen's Garden Vineyard, Tarras Vineyards, Wooing Tree Vineyard Ltd., Zebra NZ Vineyards Ltd. And for a comprehensive list of Central Otago wineries, check out this page New Zealand Wine.


In the years to come, the Central Otago wine region is sure to continue to produce new and exciting varieties of wine, especially for those who adore Pinot Noir.

Now that you are more familiar with the region's wines, you can thoroughly enjoy many bottles from this beautiful place of extraordinary extremes. Drink up!

To learn more, visit the links on the following page.


Lots More Information

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

  • Air New Zealand Wine Awards. "Award Winners: Otago." (Accessed 02/18/09)http://www.airnzwineawards.co.nz/search.do?endorsement=&varietal=&region=26&vintage=&lowerPrice=&upperPrice=&awardYear=3383&availability=&q=&results=true&x=43&y=15
  • Arnold, Eric. "Great Wines Under Cork And Screw Cap." Forbes. 01/29/09. (Accessed 02/19/09)http://www.forbes.com/2009/01/29/great-wines-cork-lifestyle-wine_0129_wines_cork_screw_cap.html
  • Britannica online, "New Zealand - History." (Accessed 02/21/09)http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/412636/New-Zealand
  • Central Otago Pinot Noir. "Our Unique Climate & Soils." (Accessed 02/19/09)http://www.centralotagopinot.co.nz/?pi_pageid=26
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  • China Wines Information Website. "Uncorking Opportunities for New Zealand Wine Producers in Hong Kong." (Accessed 02/19/09)http://www.wines-info.com/Newshtml/200902/1892009021810554181.html
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  • Hawaii .com. "Captain Cook Monument." (Accessed 02/21/09)http://www.hawaii.com/hawaiian-information/bigisland/attractions/uniquetothebigisland/articles/801/captain_cook_monument.php
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