It is every urbanite's idea of paradise: the opportunity to escape to the south and soak up Central Otago's postcard scenery. There, vineyards nestle in rugged valleys, find themselves juxtaposed with snow-capped peaks, and sublimely adjoin the region's pristine lakes and rivers, all of which shimmer a heady blue. But how much more enticing when, you can do this and, simultaneously, set your palate alight with some of the region's best varietals — special mention, of course, to the famed pinot noir.
As luck would have it, Alpine Wine Tours (AWT) promises such an encounter of visual and gustatory pleasures. Formed earlier this year by Emma Chisholm and Lee Saunders, AWT is, vis-à-vis Central Otago's ever-expanding vineyard ventures, the new kid on the block. But do not let the company's fresh-faced appearance deter you. For what we are talking about here is a precocious, erudite kind of kid. One attuned to its surroundings, and eager to introduce you to the local hot spots. To this end, AWT boasts a small but passionate team of tour guides, who pride themselves on knowing everything there is to know about wine, and perhaps more importantly, demonstrate an enthusiasm for sharing this knowledge with their guests.
On a daily basis, AWT offers two standard group trails (one around lunchtime, one mid-afternoon); a combined, full-day trip through local vineyards and the Cardrona Distillery, where you can complement your knowledge of viticulture with an insider's guide to the spirit-making process; and lastly, private tours are available on request. With its tours operating all year round, AWT seems poised to become a must-do for visitors to Queenstown, especially for those less-adventurous souls possessed of neither the stomach nor the inclination to swing out into a canyon (although there is, of course, nothing to stop one partaking in both activities).
AWT guarantees small group numbers (no more than 11 people to a tour, and an average of 7-9). Further, its trails are strictly adults only, so as to secure the serenity of its guests (unless you choose to book a private tour, and, be it on your own head, bring the wee ones along). AWT also prides itself on focalising quality rather than quantity. Thus, should you embark on a standard tour, you will spend an unhurried period of three to four and a half hours at three vineyards.
As opposed to the more typical rushing from vineyard to vineyard, drinking-as-much-as-you-can, as quickly as possible sort of thing, AWT aims to get you back to your accommodation tipsy but not tanked. Over the course of a tour, you will discover how the terroir, temperature, climate, and soils of Central Otago change from one valley or slope to another, and how these coalesce to give each wine its distinctive flavour, as well as learning about the rich and diverse history of the Gibbston Valley area.
Details such as complimentary water, cheese tastings, pick-up and drop-off from your accommodation in the Queenstown area, non-English speaking guides, and a visit to New Zealand's largest wine cave, ensure your comfort and satisfaction.