Allocate a full day to the 8km Four Barrels Wine Trail, which is both a delightful walk and an oenophile's dream, writes Patricia Moore
The Four Barrels Wine Trail is a walk with everything; beautiful Central Otago scenery, boutique wineries with fascinating backstories, interesting people and some of the world's best wines.
The morning air was cool when my husband, Gerard and I stepped into the tasting room at Misha's Winery. Across Lake Dunstan, their vineyard was lost in the mist. Gold miners once chased their dreams on those rocky slopes. Now they yield some of the world's best pinot noirs. These seemed a good starting point, so from the 2015 vintage, we selected Cantata and High Note. The musical names reflect Misha's childhood, watching from the wings as her mother sang opera on the Australian stage. The wine list was a mouth-watering read and for novices like me, a helpful guide to colours, aromas and notes. Next, we moved to the Dress Circle Pinot Gris (white florals, musk, apples and walnuts) then finished with the Limelight Riesling (aromas of lemon-lime sorbet with notes of apple and cinnamon). We redeemed our $10 tasting fee against a case of this.
The mist lifted to reveal bright sunshine as we meandered beside the lake. A rustic path led us past vineyards and farmyards to Aurum Wines.
Tony and Joan Lawrence established Aurum in 1997. In 2004, their son Brook and his wife Lucie joined them. The couple's two daughters, Mathilde and Madeleine, complete the Aurum family. Brook, who trained as a winemaker in South Australia and worked on vineyards in Aotearoa, Australia and France, manages Aurum's viticulture. Lucie, a Dijon University-trained oenologist, from a family of French winemakers, runs the winery. The couple met as trainees at Domaine d' Arlot in Nuit St Georges in Burgundy. Organics is the defining philosophy of Aurum. Both the vineyard and winery use certified organic practices.
Lucie greeted us in Aurum's tasting room which is housed in the original farm cottage. It's set in an old-world country garden, shaded by a grandfather walnut tree and bordered by natives. The sun was high in the sky. It felt like lunchtime. We ordered a cheeseboard, with breads, fruits and Aurum chutney, olives, olive oil and walnuts to accompany the Madeleine and the Mathilde pinot noirs and the deliciously different, "bone dry, rippled with tannins and minerals", amber wine. Sadly, there was little time to linger on the sunny veranda overlooking the olive grove.
Across State Highway 6, Scott Base sits on the summit of a steep hill. The view from the top, like the climb up between the vines, is breathtaking. Cromwell and Lake Dunstan lie below. The Dunstan Mountains stand against the sky and the Pisa ranges stretch along the horizon.
Scott Base is part of the Allan Scott Family Winemakers' empire. In deference to the original Scott Base, wines and a percentage of their sales are donated to the Antarctic Heritage Trust. This is a family-friendly place. There's a playground, a sandpit, and tables for picnics. If hauling a hamper up the hill seems too hard, Scott Base offers both a kids' and an adults' menu.
The tasting room, Space at the Base, is a small wooden building, with a hint of the humble Kiwi shed. You're spoilt for choice with the Scott Base drinks' list. In the end I settled on the Emperor Methode Traditionelle and there I stayed, entrusting the task of tasting rosé, chardonnay, pinot gris and pinot noir to Gerard.
The shadows were lengthening as we re-crossed Highway 6 and wound around the vineyards to Wooing Tree Winery.
At the bar in the light spacious room, looking out over the garden to the vineyard, we listened as Jane Bews lined up the Beetlejuice and the Sandstorm pinot noirs, and the Blondie Blanc de Noir (Reece Witherspoon's favourite) and told us Wooing Tree's story.
The winery takes its name from a local landmark, where generations of Cromwell suitors have "popped the question". It's a family-owned business, run by Jane and her husband Geoff, her brother Stephen Farquharson and his wife Thea. The Wooing Tree's story began in 2002, when Steve and Thea bought the land. Both couples were working in the UK at the time, so viticulturist Robin Dicey planted and managed the first vines.
Meanwhile, Steve and Jane studied viticulture, winemaking and the wine trade at Plumpton College, in England. They all returned to Cromwell in 2004, in time for their first vintage in 2005.
The old wooing tree still stands and remains a popular place for proposals.
We gave a full day to this eight-kilometre walk. Next time we'll stay over in Aurum's cottage or luxurious lodge. We'll take more time exploring estates, touring wineries, chatting with sommeliers and tasting more wines, bien sur.
Check alert level restrictions and Ministry of Health advice before travel. covid19.govt.nz