No trip to New Zealand’s breathtaking South Island would be complete without a visit to some of the most incredible vineyards.
We’d booked in* with Altitude Tours who had a very swanky website and an itinerary to match. I first clocked “Fleet of luxury Mercedes vehicles” along with “Sample 18 delicious wines” 18? Yes please thank you mam. We were off on the wine sampler tour in the Gibbston Valley (Central Otago’s famous wine producing area), just outside of Queenstown. Not our usual backpacker style, but hey we’re living in Auckland (we fancy now!) we gotta try and live the lifestyle right?
The morning of the wine tour we woke up in our cramped camper van whacking our heads on the roof as we struggled to get out. We were used to this by now, but it doesn’t mean it got any easier… Today was the wine tour and boyyyyyy were we excited! We’d decided to arrange to meet downtown by the Central Station where we were met by Andy and the oh so flashy Mercedes van at exactly 9:59am. Prompt. I like it. Turns out Andy was an absolute legend and he gives us ALLL the knowledge about grapes first being introduced into the area by a mad Irishman and the famous gold mining that took place in Queenstown for many many years. (If you don’t know anything about it, google it, it’s fascinating!)
So if you’ve been to Queenstown you’ll know that Queenstown = views. Well to be honest all of South Island = views. I mean it’s ridiculous actually, the views are some of the best I’ve ever seen. So you just know a wine tour will not disappoint.
So we get on the road, the first stop is in fact only a 10 minutes drive! Great news, I’m thirsty. We arrive at Gibbston Valley Wines, where we are lead into this super cool underground wine cave (Actually the largest in New Zealand). This is actually the place that produced Central Otago’s first commercial vintage in 1987!
I’ve been in similar wine caves and set ups in other parts of the world and it’s always such a wicked experience and so different to your typical wine tasting day. Here we sampled four different award winning Valley Wines and learnt all about Pinot Noir which is the specialty in this Otago region. I’ve never really had much Pinot Noir before. I know what I’m drinking from now on.
So who knew that wine barrels had be purchased all the way from France and brought over to New Zealand for thousands of dollars still to this day? I naively thought they could produce these everywhere these days.
So we ventured out of the cave to find the adorable cheese shop on site offering samplers and a range of other tasty stuff. It would be a fantastic spot to buy gifts to take home.
The next stop was one of my favourites, Kinross Wines. This place was adorable, with a somewhat modern twist. With vines lining the buildings, an adorable out door wine garden and fires and views to die for. We had a very informative session here and tasted a selection of award winning Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling, Rose and Sauvignon Blanc. The Pinot Noir again was truly fantastic! Kinross even have a ‘Liquid Gold’ wine on offer (i see what they did there…) which i’m going to have to try soon!
Imagine how overjoyed we were after this when we found out this was the spot we would be stopping for lunch! Kinross had set out a divine out door set up. Jack and I ordered the cheese platter and a glass of Coal Pit red each. Because hey who doesn’t love red and cheese? (If you don’t you’re weird) We really enjoyed the group set up and getting to know the other 8 on the tour and listen to their stories. People that end up in Queenstown are from EVERYWHERE.
Third stop was Mt Rosa wines which had a very different vibe. This wasn’t a traditonally sleek set up but a more homely and comfy vineyard feel. We learnt that Mt Rosa was actually the original ram paddock for Kawarau Station back in the day. Some of the earlier vines were planted at Mt Rosa in the 1970s and the rabbits and sheep actually ate them all! (typical!) The recent vineyard planting didn’t go ahead until the early 2000s.
So here we were all feeling a little tipsy by this point, but hey that’s what it’s all about right? We sampled a Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, followed by another Pinot Gris and two Pinot Noirs. We also got to try a mulled wine made using this delicious syrup! Reminded me of home in Winter. The staff were very relaxed and super friendly. If we weren’t cheap skates who flew with carry on baggage only we would have purchased some wine by the point for sure…
The final stop was literally best ’til last. No disrespect to the other wineries but Altitude Tours sure did set this up well. The final showstopper was at Stoneridge Estate on Lake Hayes and by God it was a literal fairytale. We found out that Stoneridge Lodge is the ‘dream child’ of owner Wayne Gore. When Wayne moved to Lake Hayes with his mother, artist Da Vella Gore, the pair began what has turned into a lifelong passion, reclaiming historic structures and incorporating them into new buildings such as The Chapel by the Lake and Stoneridge Lodge that can be seen in the photos below. The buildings are crafted from re-cycled timbers and stone, bespoke hand-forged iron work and giant hardwood beams. A photographer’s paradise. We all tucked into our last wine tastings of the day – a series of Pinot Niors and aromatic whites from Blad Hills and Stoneridge Estate’s own boutique vineyards.
After the tasting was done we were invited to wander around the magnificent sprawling gardens and tranquil water features. I’ve heard they hold weddings here and wowie what a sight that would be. Maybe abit far from home for us, but i can only dream…
So there we have it, The Altitude Wine Sampler Tour is solid mix of outstanding views, knowledge, delicious wines and value for money. A truly fantastic experience to throw into the mix while visiting the oh-so-hectic-and- adventure-capital-of-the-world-Queenstown. A huge shoutout to Andy for being a world class driver and tour leader!
*This experience was gifted by Altitude Wine Tours.
For more photos and videos, head over to my Instagram highlight!