Thursday, April 8, 2010

Gibbston Valley & Chard Farms – Amazing Wine Tourist Destinations

(Feb. 13, 2010) On our last morning, we slept in until 8:30 and then had a long, lazy breakfast drinking coffee and eating omelets at our table in our suite overlooking the lake and a beautiful sunny day. It was hard to check out of such a lovely resort and leave such a relaxing and beautiful room. Upon our departure, we drove the few blocks into town and found they were having a farmer’s/artist’s market, so we immediately parked. Wandering around the booths set along the lake, we found many charming souvenirs, and I was able to buy small pottery, glass, copper, and silver pieces from different artists. My favorite was a flattened wine bottle made into a clock with an inset of the local mother of pearl shaped like NZ. It now hangs proudly on my kitchen wall at home, and gives found memories of our trip to Central Otago.

Later we took a walk along the lake and found the beautiful Queenstown Gardens with colorful flowers and ancient trees. From there we decided to drive back along Highway 6 to Gibbston Valley and Chard Farms wineries and be tourists for the afternoon. They are only about a 15 minute drive from Queenstown with amazing scenery along deep river canyons. We stopped at Gibbston Valley first and sampled some of the lovely cheeses at their Cheesery. Of course, we brought some to take home on the plane. The winery is a wonderful tourist stop with a big tasting room filled with fun wine merchandise and flights of wine to taste, starting at around $10NZ. They also have a nice restaurant surrounded with flowers. The roses were in full bloom, and it not only looked beautiful, but smelled lovely. Though we didn’t taste the wines, we found it to be a nice place to visit.

Just down the road is Chard Farms Winery, which is not that easy to access, as you must drive along the steep canyon wall on a tiny one-lane gravel road with the raging river far below in the canyon. I can honestly say it is the most amazing and spine-tingling access to any winery I have visited in the world. What a place to plant a vineyard and build a winery – yet it is one of the oldest in Central Otago, and started out as a fruit farm. The winery building itself is a very attractive pink stone structure with sweeping green lawns and a great statue of a bicyclist which is made of grape vines – quite clever.

We tasted through all of their wines and found they were making some delightful riesling and pinot gris. (In fact, due to this trip, I have now found that I enjoy NZ pinot gris; generally I find pinot gris boring and flaccid; these are fresh, floral, and have exquisite acid). Chard Farms also provided a very nice review of their different levels of pinot noir. I was impressed with this visit and the service. The tasting was free, but they asked that you make a donation if you didn’t purchase any wine. Very tasteful!

After Chard Farms, we couldn’t help but stop at the bungee jumping center across the road, and were mesmerized by watching people jump from a high bridge to the river below. You have the option of being dunked in the icy cold water or not! Next door was a restaurant encouraging you to stop, eat, and taste some local wine after your jump. Wow – only in Central Otago!

Reluctantly we headed back towards the airport to catch our 3pm flight to Auckland. There we had a short layover before catching the 7pm non-stop flight back to San Francisco – which was non-eventful and landed a few minutes early. The end of a truly amazing trip to New Zealand….

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