Lauded as the most complex of mistresses and the greatest of all wines, Pinot Noir reaches it’s peak potential in a semi-arid climate with hot days and cold nights. Central Otago is just such a place, with temperature changes of 20+ degrees in a single day over the growing season. The hot days give plenty of heat for the vines to photosynthesise and respire, but the cool nights slow down the ripening allowing the grapes to develop complexity and depth. Low rainfall contributes to keeping the bunches small and berry weights down, meaning we get exceptional concentration in our Pinot Noir. Low fertility, free-draining soils encourage deep root growth and with our average vine age increasing we’re seeing incredible maturity and consistency with our vines. It’s these challenging growing conditions along with the dedication and passion of our vinerons that make our Pinot Noir irrefutably Central Otago.
Central Otago Varietals
Grapes planted as a proportion of total vineyard area
Besides Pinot Noir, many other cool-climate loving varieties are grown in Central Otago. Pinot Gris, the eponymous (and genetic) cousin of Pinot Noir is our most popular white variety. Riesling is another variety that excels in this environment and is considered by many viticulturalists and winemakers to enjoy Central Otago even more than Pinot Noir. Chardonnay has enjoyed growing popularity and the crisp and fruit-forward style from Central Otago is an especially tempting summer tipple. Small amounts of Sauvignon Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, Gwertztraminer, Gamay and Syrah are also produced in the region and are often exulted for their complexity and balance.
Situated at 45 degrees south, (a magical lattitude for Pinot Noir as both Burgundy and Oregon are 45-47 degrees) Central Otago experiences four full seasons. Winters are cold allowing the grapes to fully rest (reaching -10 degrees overnight), and heat accumulation is modest over summer, giving the grapes a long dry ripening period.
Spring brings some of our greatest challenges with frosts being a common threat to early growth on the vines. We are well prepared however and a combination of dedicated frost fighting régimes and careful site selection are key strategies to mitigating the risk.
Summer is often a slow development period when the vines can build their canopy and deepen their roots into the soil before producing small concentrated bunches of grapes. The summer is typically both hot and dry, which lowers disease pressure and keeps berry skin-to-juice ratios high.
The grapes come to maturity after the season has changed to autumn and the region begins to cool. This lingering tail of summer allows for extended hang-time, enhancing the complexity and concentration of flavours in the grapes. Low rainfall over this time ensures disease doesn’t spread and grapes maintain their integrity. By harvest, the clear nights drop temperatures back below freezing and the vines begin preparing for hibernation over winter. After a deep sleep (and a haircut) the vines are ready for the next season.
Seasonal Weather Statistics
Accumulated Heat (GDD)
Central Otago’s vineyard soils are often described as “semi-arid” due to the hot summers and dry climate, most vineyards get less than 400 mm rainfall a year (excluding Wānaka and Gibbston). Soils can be highly variable, even within a very short distance, depending on age of surface and the influence of recent management. Typically soils are formed from a mix of Schist and Greywacke parent materials that have been deposited by rivers and glaciers and are generally free-draining. Age of these surfaces can be anything from very recent (a few thousand years old) to older glacial deposited terraces in excess of 600,000 years old. Windblown silts (loess) have often been deposited over these surfaces, sometimes with a depth of more than 500mm.
Almost as important as the environment that the grapes are grown in, is how they are grown. The decisions made by grape growers and winemakers can have a significant impact on the final wine. Central Otago has a long history of collaboration, from our early pioneers disseminating their learnings to our top winemakers sharing their expertise with the community today.
“..there is a beautiful sense of uniqueness beginning to emerge. The energy of this region is very special…”. – Rudi Bauer, Quartz Reef founder, NZ Wine Fellow.
Central Otago is a relatively small region in the wine world, but our people share a commitment to producing the very best wines in the world. Imbued in that commitment is a shared sense of mutual progress, collegiality and alliance that underpins our culture. Through regular workshops, seminars, mentorships, international exchanges, guest-speakers, promotional events and social activities we connect, enrich and promote our region to be the envy of the wine world.