Located on the South Island of New Zealand, Central Otago has the distinction of being the southernmost wine region in the world. Central Otago’s latitude, when combined with New Zealand’s isolated landmass and cold surrounding waters would normally prevent grapes from ripening sufficiently for quality wine. However, Central Otago is protected by surrounding mountains that create a natural amphitheater, creating the only truly continental climate in all of New Zealand. Though summers can get quite warm, vineyards are planted at high elevation (700-1,400 feet/200-450m) above sea level, which cools down the nighttime temperature, preventing the grapes from ripening too quickly.
Within the Central Otago, there are varied terroirs throughout due to the contours of the mountainsides, differences in soil from erosion or sedimentary deposits, and elevation. There are six subregions that may one day become their own autonomous regions:
Bannockburn – warmest area on average
Bendigo – influenced by Clutha River and Lake Dunston
Gibbston –coolest and highest altitude
Wanaka – on the banks of Lake Wanaka
Alexandra Basin – often records hottest peak temperatures in summer
Cromwell Basin – highest concentration of vines
While most of the rest if New Zealand’s fame is tied to the success of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir is king in Central Otago, covering 70% of vineyards and used for red wine and rosé. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and Pinot Gris are the other varieties that are favored in this region contributing the production of white and sparkling wines that are also made here.