When you’ve got platforms suspended in valleys to fling yourself off, gorges to speed through and food to try (and queues to wait in – hey, Fergburger), squeezing in wine tasting can sometimes fall to the bottom of the to-do list in Queenstown. Maybe it wasn’t even part of your plan, but wine tasting is reason alone to pay a visit to the adventure-loving capital.
In what should come as no surprise, the lush, fertile green landscapes of the South Island are home to some primo grape-growing plots. One of which sidles right up to Queenstown: Central Otago.
It’s the world’s southernmost wine region, producing acclaimed pinot noir among many varietals of equally impressive white wine. There are over 50 vineyards in the area, so it’s not hard to find good wine; it’s just hard narrowing down your list.
One, however, stands out for its blend of old and new. Wet Jacket Winery, one of the relative newbies of the region, comes highly recommended. After all, it came recommended to me by the film crew of the 48 Hour Destination, and I in turn passed it on to a fellow traveller headed to Queenstown – like a game of Chinese Whispers, expect no one muddled up this moniker.
Why Wet Jacket you wonder? The winery takes its name from a marine reserve in Fiordland National Park, so called due to the sodden jackets of Captain Cook’s crew endured from spending days in torrential weather. It’s a place Wet Jacket Winery owner Greg Hay has spent some 20 years exploring, as well as hunting and gathering local delicacies to create wild food dishes.
Of course, wine goes hand-in-hand with foodie interests, and his wine pioneering roots in Central Otago meant that naturally, the area was the perfect fit for his new label, Wet Jacket. After all, the wild landscape and heavy rainfall of Fiordland isn’t exactly made for grape growing.
Enter, the Woolshed, one of the oldest intact farming structures in the region, and Wet Jacket’s enigmatic cellar door. The corrugated iron outer shell hides an interior that acts as a living museum to early life in the region, as well as a cosy spot perfectly outfitted for wine tasting.
Cellar door host Matt White explains: “We have a total of eight wine varietals and a minimum of four wines being tasted at any one time. We usually have four main varieties (pinot gris, pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and riesling), with another four (rose, gewurtztraminer, chardonnay and sweet sav) moving in and out seasonally in smaller quantities.”
It’s a place you could easily spend hours in, chatting with your host while seated around a sturdy timber table or nestled on comfy couches. A crackling fireplace, if the weather calls for it, and rotating cheese tastings of the famous Whitestone Cheese (in a cheese aging room, no less!) complete the Wet Jacket Winery experience.
Of course, working at a cellar door does have its benefits, and in-the-know local Matt has a few tips on how to make the most of a visit to Wet Jacket Winery and surrounds.
On the perfect cheese and wine combo:
“It depends on the cheese! The pinot gris is great with more subtle cheeses, namely the Whitestone Lindis Pass Brie or Farmhouse [a soft cheese with lemongrass aroma]. The riesling brings out sweeter notes as well. The pinor noir is perfect for the more intense blues, such as the Whitestone Vintage Windsor [a soft, buttery blue].”
On must-do activities in the region:
“Wine tasting, naturally! Central Otago is a world-renowned wine region for a reason. There is a fantastic array of vine varietals to try from different wine makers. Then you have Queenstown, the adventure capital of the world. Take your pick of everything from bungee jumping to skydiving. Otherwise, you can't beat Mother Nature. Some of the most beautiful walks in the world with mountains, forests and lakes are all at your doorstep! Where else would you rather be, hey?”
On the best local restaurants:
“We’re spoilt for choice with food here! In nearby Arrowtown, you arguably have one of the best eateries in the region: La Rumbla, a slick yet cosy little Spanish tapas bar. Round the corner is the Fork and Tap, which serves great hearty food and local beers and wines.
“In Queenstown, you can’t miss Botswana Butchery, Rata or The Grille, all serving world-class food using regional New Zealand produce alongside beautiful views.”