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Location: South Island, New Zealand

Principal Grapes: Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay

Climate: Continental

Subzones: Bannockburn, Wanaka, Cromwell Basin, Alexandria, Gibbston

It is incredibly difficult to describe the stunning landscape of the South Island of New Zealand. Otherworldly beautiful, if I could make one up. I guess the reason The Lord of the Rings Trilogy was filmed here is pretty obvious. The desolate, dramatic terrain is as untouched as anywhere else wine is grown. It was until very recently, the southernmost wine growing region in the world (Patagonia just took that crown last year). It sees abundant sunshine and warmth in the summer, but is quite cold and snowy in the winter months. Queenstown, to my knowledge is the only wine town in the world that is a top ski destination as well. This is all due to the Southern Alps, a mountain range that forms the spine of the South Island and stretches along its west coast. The rain shadow it produces endures a steady and dry climate in the summer months. Pinot Noir is king here, and in my opinion is New Zealand’s strongest quality bottling.

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The wild and rugged landscape just outside of Wanaka. In the ground are Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir vines. This area receives less than 10 inches of rain per year, in effect a desert.

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Harvest in the Southern Hemisphere starts in February in some spots and goes all the way through April. Central Otago is the last region in the Southern Hemisphere to start harvest, sometimes as late as mid April. The cool and extended growing season is perfect for grapes like Pinot Noir and Riesling that need extra time to reach both physiological and phenolic maturity.

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Biodynamic practices at Burn Cottage in Central Otago. This project is overseen by American winemaking rockstar Ted Lemon from Littorai Vineyards in Sonoma. The winery is in the process of harvesting their third year of wine production.

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Notice the yellowing of the leaves here, just down the road on the other side of a ridge, most vines are still bright green. This just goes to show how different the sub regions of Wanaka (above) and Cromwell Basin (below) can be.

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Walking through the vines at Wishing Tree in Cromwell Basin. Wine maker Steve Farquharson walks with us to discuss the award winning winery’s approach to theeir vineyard.

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The number one hazard to viticulture in New Zealand: birds! There are no native mammal species on the island, infact it was known as the island of the birds to early British explorers. Most vineyards on the island put up protective netting as soon as the grapes go through veraison, or start to turn a different color.

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The name Wooing Tree is derived from the picturesque large tree in the center of the property. When Steve and his wife Thea purchased the property in 1991, the decision was made to cut down a number of trees in order to plant the vineyard. There was a public outcry of disapproval from the area residents. The tree holds an iconic status in the community. Many letters were received from couples who got engaged under its branches, from people who had their first kiss under its shadows, even some that were conceived on the ground beneath it. The message was heard, and undoubtedly the unnamed winery had its namesake. Above is Steve along with the next generation of Wooing Tree.

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Terra Sancta sits on the site of Bannockburn’s oldest vineyards, planted in 1990. The winery was purchased by a husband and wife team from Auckland. Mark and Sarah quickly made the decision to pursue a style closer to the flavor profile of Burgundy. The wines are incredibly lean and rocky, but with a great fruit profile typical of Central Otago.

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Truly one of the most beautiful vineyards anywhere on the planet. Above is the Jackson vineyard. Below is the Shingle Beach vineyard overlooking the Kawarau River.

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Jake, Sarah, and I in front of Terra Sancta at the end of our visit.

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Reeds Wine List:

2012. Terra Sancta, “Mysterious DIggings”. Pinot Noir-Central Otago. $43, $29 to go