Food and Wine Walking Tour: A Taste of Cromwell
A cornucopia is an abundant supply of good things of a specific kind. Cromwell has always been known as the fruit bowl of Central Otago and has gained a reputation as one of the world’s leading pinot noir wine growing areas. In 2015, the Lonely Planet even named Central Otago in the top 10 list for the most intriguing places to drink wine. Calling the Cromwell Basin a cornucopia for stone fruit and fine wine definitely seems appropriate and one of the benefits of walking, is you can burn off your indulgent calories along the way.
As with any walk in Central Otago, you need to dress for the weather. In summer sturdy shoes, a sun hat, sunscreen and lots of water are a must. And, a backpack to carry home any goodies that you decide to purchase along the way.
Please Note: as part of this walk you will be required to cross two State Highways, please take extra care and obey the New Zealand road rules at all times.
Start: The Giant Fruit Carpark off Murray Terrace: 0 metres
Look for the carpark next to the Cromwell Mini Golf & Entertainment Centre, secure your vehicle and take the obligatory “I Was Here” shot. Built in 1989, you’ll find yourself standing under an apricot, apple, pear and nectarine that stand nearly eight metres high. The fruit sculpture was designed and built thanks to Cromwell Rotary and was officially presented to the town on the 3rd of February 1990.
Wooing Tree via Shortcut Road: 750 metres
Walk towards the Golden Gate Lodge, cross Barry Avenue (the main road through town that bisects “Old” and “New” Cromwell) and look for the concrete path that will lead you to a specially designated point to cross over the State Highway 6B. Head down Shortcut Road towards Lake Dunstan and you will find the Wooing Tree on your left.
Wooing Tree Vineyard
Named after a majestic tree where sweethearts have wooed their lovers for generations, this vineyard is both north facing and relatively flat, which is ideal for growing juicy grapes. The Wooing Tree is owned by Stephen and Thea Farquharson, and Stephen's sister and brother-in-law, Jane and Geoff Bews. The expertise of viticulturist Robin Dicey originally helped develop the land and in 2010, Peter Bartle took over as Chief Winemaker.
The first vines were planted in 2002, with the first vintage being produced in 2005. They have been winning awards ever since, including the Cathay Pacific HKIWS Trophy awarded to the Wooing Tree Pinot Noir 2013. On a hot day, you can’t go wrong with a glass of their Pinot Noir or ‘Blondie’. Although, for those who are in the know, when it comes to fine wines, the Pinot Gris, BeetleJuice and Sandstorm Reserve are also coveted. If you don’t want to sample the wine, a coffee or soft drinks are also on offer.
The Cellar Door is open 7 days from 10 am to 5 pm. You can even enjoy a platter with your wine tasting and the site is child-friendly with a fully fenced grassy area to run around on, sandpit and slide for young adventurers.
Wooing Tree to Lake Dunstan Boat Club: 1.3 km
Follow the footpath down Shortcut Road, which becomes Partridge Road until you see the Cromwell College Aquatic Centre. From here you can follow wooden posts with yellow tops around McNulty’s Inlet to the Lake Dunstan Boat Club.
From the Boat Club you can take panoramic photos of Lake Dunstan looking towards Bendigo and Tarras. The Boat Club is busy all year round and both yachties and power boat enthusiasts are welcome to say hello and use the facilities. There are public toilets on the edge of the Inlet if you need a pit stop along the way.
Lake Dunstan Boat Club to Aurum Winery & Vineyard: 750 m
Walk past the Boat Club, along the lake shore under the willow trees until you come to the carpark at State Highway 6. On a hot day, this is a favourite swimming spot amongst the locals and the yellow buoys mark out an area for swimmers only. Turn left, and walk along the State Highway back towards Cromwell, and you will quickly see an olive grove and the entrance to Aurum Wines on your left.
This vineyard is definitely a sustainable family operation. Joan and Tony Lawrence planted their first vines at Pisa Flats in 1997. Since then they have developed Te Wairere Vineyard and their son Brook and daughter-in-law Lucie joined them as winemakers in their winery that was built in 2006.
Brook and Lucie have both worked in Australia, France and around New Zealand before returning to Cromwell. Today, Lucie is the Chief Winemaker and Brook keeps his hands in the dirt with the viticultural side of the vineyard.
Beyond producing exceptional wines, Aurum’s key claim to fame is that from its inception in 1997 their operation has been committed to environmentally sustainable grape growing and wine making. Their dedication to treading lightly on the environment has been officially rewarded as they have achieved Biogro Organic NZ certification.
Two of their Pinot Noirs have been named after Brook and Lucie’s daughters Mathilde and Madeleine and you can also sample their Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris Rosé or Blanc de Blancs. For something else a little different their Port Molyneux is a liquid experience in a class of its own.
Aurum Wines to Jackson Orchard: 750 m
On leaving Aurum Wines, turn left and again head towards Cromwell and you'll find Jackson’s Orchard roadside stall is only a short walk away. If you cross State Highway 6 by Burn Cottage Road you can walk down the grass verge beside the apricot trees. You may even find the sprinkler system provides light relief in the summer heat.
The story of Kevin Jackson and his Orchard is quintessentially Cromwell, as his original orchard in the Cromwell Gorge is now under Lake Dunstan. The Jackson Orchard of today was once a sheep station that was the first settled by William (Barry) Jackson in 1866. Set on a gentle slope, the key benefit of this land is that it is less affected by frosts, unlike other orchards on the valley floor.
It’s hard to miss the white and bright pink building that houses Jackson’s roadside stall. Here you can indulge in a real fruit ice cream and purchase some of the juiciest cherries in town. If you have the time an orchard tour is well worth doing – you can learn about how an orchard this size operates and pick your own fruit. After your ice cream or orchard tour you can make use of the toilets on the Wanaka side of the main building.
Jackson’s Orchard to Webb & Sons Orchard: 500 m
Continue down State Highway 6 toward Cromwell and you will soon see Webb’s Orchard and roadside stall.
Founded in 1914, Webb’s Orchard is now home to the fifth generation of Webb fruit growers as Simon and Trudi Webb’s children: Cameron, Brooke and Ariana all take part in the summer harvest. Webb’s is one of the few large orchards in the area that don’t grow cherries; instead they focus on producing apricots, peaches, apples, plums and pears. With over 26,000 trees on the 32 hectares of orchard they produce a lot of fruit! You will find large bags of stone fruit ready to go into your backpack at their brand new roadside stall.
Webb’s Orchard to Space @ The Base (Scott Base Tasting Room) 600m
Walk along State Highway 6 and turn right into McNab Road. Walk up the gravel road until you see the Scott Base, ‘Space @ The Base’ sign framed by the Pisa Range. The short slog up the hill to the cellar door is worth it; especially when you can have your wine tasting at a long table overlooking Cromwell.
Scott Base & Space @ The Base
Allan Scott has spent over forty years in the winemaking business and he has worked for both Montana and Corbans. He and his wife Cathy purchased land in Marlborough in 1975 and became contract growers before launching their own label in 1990.
Scott Base Central Otago was named in honour of Captain Robert Falcon Scott who, apart from being passionate about Antarctica also had a longstanding love for Central Otago. The team at Scott Base focus on producing single vineyard wines that fully express the Central Otago regional characteristics. You can also sample wines from Allan Scott’s Marlborough vineyards including the Prestige Range and Methode Traditionnelle bubbles.
Space @ The Base is open Wednesday – Saturday 10 am - 4 pm and like the Wooing Tree is child-friendly. There is a leafy tree with child-sized chairs and a table under it and a sandpit for young adventurers to play in while the older members of the group enjoy their wine samples.
Space @ The Base to the Big Fruit Sculpture: 1 km
Walk back down the hill and past the main turn off so you only have to cross State Highway 6 once to get back to the Big Fruit car park. During your Cromwell Walking Tour you will have travelled just over five kilometres and enjoyed a small sample of all the good things the Cromwell Basin has to offer.
If you are feeling hungry you could always visit one of the nearby café’s or bars to celebrate your adventure. The following eateries are either in the Cromwell Mall or a short walk away.
Dress in a Loud Shirt and Meet the Central Otago Winegrowing Community: Central Otago Wine Association
Cynics in the early 1970’s said that commercial grade wine could never be grown in Central Otago. Much like the little red hen that baked bread, a group of passionate wine enthusiasts decided to ignore the critics and prove that theory wrong, and they succeeded. The pioneering honours board in the Central Otago wine region include Burgesses of Blackridge, Hays Brothers from Chard Farm, Mills family who are based at Rippon, Ann Pinckney of Taramea Wines, and of course, Alan Brady of Gibbston Valley Wines. Together they have all produced award winning wines.
Today, the Central Otago Wine Association (COWA) represents over a hundred successful businesses that are a part of the close-knit Central Otago wine growing community. The membership list has grown beyond the viticulturists and winemakers and now includes bottling, packaging, engineering firms and even netting operations that can be found in Cromwell, Alexandra, Queenstown and Wanaka.
For those new to the industry, a viticulturist has their hands in the soil and tends the vines to grow rotund grapes. The winemakers take the fruit into the wineries and perform their alchemy to create an award winning beverage. Depending on who you talk to, there is a great debate over who is more important; however, it’s fair to say that it is a symbiotic relationship involving a lot of science, a good dose of artistry and a bit of luck.
As the region’s genesis did not involve any of the more well-known New Zealand wine labels (and their international funding), the smaller operations have had to abide by a spirit of co-operation. As soon as Alan Brady of Gibbston Valley Wines had his first commercial release of wine in 1987, COWA was formed. It quickly became a cohesive industry group where everyone would regularly get together to develop grape growing strategies for the region, ideas on how to optimise yields from the wineries and market their product around the world.
COWA’s key functions are national advocacy and hosting educational events for members. These events could focus on anything from vine root management or health and safety, through to discussing weather forecasting and climate change. The association produces the region’s Wine Map and has developed a plan for roadside signage. It supports both the Young Viticulturist and Young Winemaker of the Year Awards and thanks to the Mills family connections in France there is even a wine industry exchange to Burgundy.
With the inaugural Down to Earth Celebration, wine tourism has also become an area for future development. The main aim is to create personalised experiential activities that allow visitors to understand the narrative behind a wine label. The COWA member’s dinners are also worth mentioning as they appear to be a cross between a biblical “last supper” worshipping the latest vintage and a university loud shirt party.
Other recent newsworthy highlights include Glenys Coughlan moving from Venue Management for Absolutely Positively Wellington to be appointed in the CEO role for COWA and as of the 1st November 2015 Central Otago Pinot Noir Ltd (the Region’s marketing organisation) and COWA are now operating under a unified Board of Governance.
For more information on wine-related tours and activities in the region go to www.cromwell.org.nz, and to learn more about the Central Otago Wine Association visit www.cowa.org.nz.
Getting Down to Earth: Centre of the Central Otago Wine World
With over 60% of Otago’s vineyards found in the Cromwell Basin, Cromwell can legitimately claim to be the centre of the Central Otago wine world and producer of award-winning wines. With this in mind, wine industry leaders from Queenstown, Alexandra, Wanaka and Cromwell came together to create the “Down to Earth Wine Celebration”, to showcase the entire vine growing region.
The 2015 inaugural event is running over ten days from the 24th of October to the 4th of November and includes a top shelf line-up of wineries, vineyards and restaurants. As a general rule, wine connoisseurs are known to have a thirst for knowledge, yet few get beyond the cellar door. The Down to Earth events were designed with the endgame of people getting as hands-on as possible and allowing the general public to gain a “hands in the dirt” understanding of what it takes to create their favourite drop of vino.
Some of the highlights so far have been vertical wine tasting tours, five-course degustation meals accompanied by jazz and a food and wine matching evening with Cameron Douglas: New Zealand’s only Master Sommelier. If you are interested, over the next week you could choose to get ‘Down and Dirty’ at Felton Road or ‘Earn your lunch’ at Misha’s Vineyard. There are also tastings and educational events at Akarua, Carrick Winery, Pisa Range Estate, Mt Difficulty, Aurum Winery, Ceres Winery, Quartz Reef, Remarkable Wines and Wild Earth.
For the uninitiated, a vertical wine tasting tour does not mean you will be scaling the side of a metal tank while sipping wine. Instead, you will sample the same style of wine from a number of different vintages, and yes, there is a certain snob value associated with sipping on a 2010 Pinot Noir that you simply can’t buy.
If wine isn’t really your thing, you could combine your world of wine experience with a helicopter ride over the vines or view art in a viticultural setting. There are even professionally guided wine tours that will allow you to gain a different perspective of Central Otago beyond the adrenaline rush of adventure tourism.
To discover why Lonely Planet named Central Otago wine and the viticulturists that produce it some of the best in the world, book your tickets to the next Down to Earth event www.downtoearthwinecelebration.co.nz.
Central Otago’s new twelve-day wine celebration promises to deliver the earth
Labour Weekend will mark the opening of the first annual ‘Down to Earth’ celebration of wine in New Zealand’s Central Otago region, set to run from Saturday 24 October to Wednesday 4 November 2015.
This inaugural hands-on Celebration will give wine enthusiasts the chance to be immersed in uniquely interactive experiences only on offer during these special twelve days; many of which guarantee one-on-one time with renowned winemakers.
Central Otago’s tapestry of soils is the backdrop for a range of ‘roll your sleeves up’ activities that will see yeast lees hand disgorged from Methode Traditionnelle bottles at Quartz Reef or learning how chickens, goats and compost is all part of Felton Road's biodynamic practices.
Many wine lovers will find a warm welcome inside the boutique Remarkable winery to see how wine is made, and others will be asked to literally ‘work for your lunch’ by joining gregarious Misha and her crew do shoot thinning, bud rubbing and lateral removal in the vineyard before dining on organically grown local produce al fresco.
More than 30 winegrowers are participating and there are scores of experiences, most have some form of wine tasting, and the reserves and great vintages are brought out alongside normal tastings. Visitors may be guided by Domaine-Thomson as they taste their very own Central Otago (Lowburn) and Burgundy (Gevrey-Chambertin) wines, or heli to the top of Ben Cruachan mountain in Gibbston valley to taste Brennan wines.
There will also be many food and wine experiences offered, including a long lunch at Wooing Tree, and food and wine being matched with the artwork at Carrick Wines. Queenstown restaurants will match their award-winning cuisine with special Central Otago wines.
Down to Earth is a Celebration for lovers of wine, who want more than a wine tour. This Celebration is aimed at visitors and locals with a desire to understand the nuances of wine making in the region and discover for themselves what’s earned Central Otago its world famous reputation.
“Bring your boots and raincoats, as well as your high heels and fur coats, and discover the vineyards, wineries and fine dining restaurants of the wider Central Otago region,” says Bruce McGechan, event director and wine enthusiast.
As the gateway to the Central Otago wine region, Queenstown Airport has daily direct flights from Australia’s East Coast and New Zealand’s main cities. From the airport, there’s easy access to the Central Otago wine subregions of Gibbston, Bannockburn, Bendigo, Lowburn, Pisa, Cromwell, Wanaka and Alexandra basin—all within 90 minutes of the alpine and lake resort Queenstown.
For more information on the all the events go to downtoearthwinecelebration.co.nz . Tickets are on sale now and most events have limited numbers.