Backpacking Pensioners travel blog

The cellar door of van Asch winery

Another day's wine tasting


Central Otago is rapidly developing as a wine growing region with over 178 vineyards, and an international reputation for Pinot Noir. In 2004 Pinot Noir comprised 85% of the total vineyard plantings, with Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling accounting for about 5% each.

John Desire Feraud was attracted to the area during the gold rush in 1862. Coming from a French wine making family he quickly recognised the potential for grape growing, planting the first wine grapes in Central Otago in 1864. Over the next 20 years he made a variety of wines, some winning prizes in Sydney wine competitions. His stone built winery Monte Christo survives today, and 2 of his original wine bottles can be seen in the Clyde museum. Commercial wine making ceased following his departure from the area and did not recommence until the early 1980's with experimental grape plantings around Queenstown, Wanaka and Alexandra. The first modern commercial wines were produced in1987.

At 45° south this is the world's southernmost winemaking region. The region is mountainous, rising to over 200m with the vines planted amongst spectacular alpine scenery. The vineyards are also the highest in the country, located between 200 and 450 metres above sea level.

I had had a glass of local wine on my visit to the cinema in Arrowtown so was pleased to find myself at the cellar door on the same site as the A.J. Hackett bungy jump, so just had to call in. The winery is owned by Henry van Asch one of the original founders of the Kawarau Bridge Bungy Jump. To me this seems a strange combination developing bungy jumps and wine. Did the wine come first? Was he full of wine when he decided to throw himself off a high bridge with a heavy duty piece of elastic tied around his legs? Perhaps staff at the cellar door would answer these questions. I was informed that the wine came after the bungy.

The cellar door had 15 varieties of wine to try produced under two different labels. The VA or van Asch label is made from grapes grown in the Central Otago; Freefall has a mixture of grapes grown in Central Otago and Marlborough. The wine that had attracted us to the cellar door was the Pinot Gris. It had an aroma of honey, citrus fruits and a taste that gave a lovely fruity flavour with a nice citrus after taste. A few bottles were purchased for our wine cellar.

We tried the Riesling next and again tasted another fresh fruity wine with very strong citrus flavours. The three Chardonnay's all had distinct tastes, this year vintage was a non oaked wine, and had a light fresh taste that would make a nice summer day drink on its own. There were two that had varying degrees of oakiness but neither to the extent of the heavily oaked Chardonnays' we seem to get back in the U.K. Our next testing was the Pinot Noir Rose a nice fruity wine that was light to drink

As the region grows mainly Pinot Noir we tried a number of the different styles and ages of this wine. Some had very distinct tastes which when I first tried I was not sure about, but as the glass went down I was beginning to acquire the taste. However we did settle for the Freefall Pinot Noir 2006 a wine with a rich plum spicy aroma and a taste of black fruits, liquorice and chocolate.

They are now beginning to supply the British market so these wines are ones to look out for. You could buy yourself a bottle, sit out on a nice summer day and whist sipping it imagine yourself doing a bungy jump. That is probably the closet most of will come to so much excitement.



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