If you thought Queenstown was an alpine town that shuts down in the summer months, then think again! From award-wining vineyards to world-class restaurants and luxury lodges serving up the best of New Zealand cuisine, Queenstown never stops, no matter the season.
Text by Nicholas Walton | Photo courtesy of Queenstown Tourism Board
It’s nine in the morning and the sun is already climbing high into a cloudless South Island sky, a shade of blue so vivid it could have been captured from a child’s imagination. Outside, paddocks of rutted, emerald green pasture, sprinkled with fat, cotton-ball sheep, wash by as we head out of Queenstown and into the local wine country. My guide, a young, post-grad-looking tour leader named Phil Parker, runs Appellation Central Otago Wine Tours, and is trying to educate me on the rich, red gold planted on the slopes of Otago’s peaks – Pinot Noir – although I admit it’s taking a bit of effort to change my steadfast wine perceptions.
Before I came to Queenstown, I was sure that the difference between Australian and New Zealand wine greats was simply colour; Aussie reds were leaders and New Zealand whites were champions and that was that [also, let me admit my Kiwi heritage]. And yet, some of the world’s best pinots thrive in this incredibly variable climate, lapping up the sunshine like a Miami retiree, and dealing with the cool winds and night frosts like an ambivalent alpaca. Of course, I also thought Queenstown was a seasonal town, a place that was semi-snowbound half the year, filled with ski bunnies, and all but shut during the warmer months. Oh, contraire!
A summertime wine tour is a great way to explore the countryside beyond Queenstown and to delve into a stunning Lord of the Rings-like landscape that boasts world-class wine producers like Peregrine Estate, Gibbston Valley and Amisfield. Non-red drinkers will still have their fill of cooler-climate whites such as Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, and many of the 80-plus wineries now have restaurants and cafes where you can break up your tour with some of the region’s innovative cuisine, which captures the freshness and diversity of New Zealand produce, including green-lipped mussels, Bluff oysters, spring lamb and Kapati Coast cheeses.