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Great Kiwi Summer Wine Tour - Central Otago

Ever wondered how Champagne and Methode Traditionelle is made? We snuck into the Quartz Reef winery for a peak…

Here legendary winemaker Rudi Bauer has bottled a still wine (62% Pinot Noir and 38% Chardonnay), before adding additional yeast and sugar sealing it with a crown cap. The yeast then ferments the sugar into alcohol which is what gives off the carbon dioxide (aka bubbles!).

The (now sparkling) wine then ages on the dead yeast, called lees, which does some great things to the flavour – adding that classic brioche and textural richness you might associate with a good Methode and that we enjoy in this Quartz Reef example.

Even more labour ensues with a process called “riddling” with each bottle being frequently turned and repositioned at different angles (on a rack like in our photo)

until all the sediment sits in the neck. Finally the wine is disgorged by snap freezing the bottle necks, and when the cap is taken off the sediment pops out the top. A small amount of sugar and wine (known as Dosage) is added before the cork finally goes on.

Is that all? No, this sparkling beauty is also Certified Biogro Organic and Demeter Biodynamic, which means a whole heap of care and love has gone into the vines too and no nasty sprays!

Long story short – a lot goes into a Methode Traditionelle. This is the same classic technique used to make Champagne and the flavour and texture cannot be replicated simply by carbonating a still wine. Rudi has spent many years perfecting the technique and combined with the purity of fruit grown in the Central Otago landscape the result is a fresh, modern style of wine that is truly moreish…

And that is what makes this a wine worth every cent.

If you’re cruising through Cromwell, don’t miss a stop at Rockburn. David at the cellar door really knows his stuff and it’s a seriously cool little hideaway nestled just off Coal Pit Road. You’ll find it tucked alongside the uber awesome Gibbston Tavern (craft beers, wood fired pizzas, an almost cliche Central Otago setting where you could happily lose an afternoon without blinking).

Rockburn’s Pinot Noirs have long been 5 Star territory for reviewers and winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis shows some serious skill in both The Chosen 2018 (single vineyard) and the Rockburn Pinot Noir 2019 that we headed off with. If earthy, velvety, elegant Pinots that scream Central Otago are your thing, then get them both and make a night of it.

The oh so textural Fume Blanc slipped into our basket and provided a great aperitif a few nights later (Sauvignon Blanc wild fermented in French oak, making it super interesting and safe to try out on non-Sauv drinkers).

While you’re there a bottle of the gorgeous Stolen Kiss (rosé) will keep your summer drop-ins more than satisfied “that one just sells itself”

Take the SH6 that connects Queenstown to Wanaka along the Western shore of Lake Dunstan and you’ll be rewarded not just with spectacular views, but also find yourself pinot deep in wine country. There’s history in the hills surrounding Cromwell and it’s a pleasurable stop off at Domain Thomson to learn all about it.

Not the finest day when we visited, but it’s majestic all the same. A touch of bad weather in Central Otago is not a bad thing – it awakens imagined memories of times past when goldminers, settlers and Maori before them carved out a survival in this rugged landscape with many less comforts than we have today, and survived. One of this winery owner’s great, great, grandfather John Turnbull Thomson knew all about it. He gave the mountain towering above us, Mt Pisa, it’s name. He also named Lewis Pass and surveyed large tracts of the South Island in the 1850’s. The tradition continues all these years later, with David Hall-Jones naming his winery after the famous Surveyer. Organic, Biodynamic steeped in natural beauty, perhaps the only thing that has changed around here is the number of vines (and the addition of tar seal roads, the magnificent new cellar door that carries his name and the oh so photogenic Highland Cow).

The wine? Pinot. Really good Pinot. While it could be argued that all New Zealand wine has one foot in Aotearoa and the other in French wine-making traditions, at the Domaine Thompson tasting room you’ll not only sample wines made from Central Otago Pinot Noir, but also French wines from the proprietors’ vineyards in Burgundy.

The Crémant de Bourgogne is a winning way to start out with beautiful citrus aromas and delicate almost creamy length from this Blanc de Blancs, Chardonnay-filled sparkling made using Methode Traditionelle.

However, it was the Surveyor Thomson 2015 Pinot Noir that stole our hearts (and many notable judges prior to us too). They say you can taste the terroir in a good wine, and there’s certainly an essence of the land, history and climate in this drop with bold complexity and a subtle power. One for the cellar… if it makes it that far!  


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