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The Central Otago Wine Region

Ringed by mountains interlaced with lakes and deep river gorges Central Otago is one of New Zealand’s most spectacular settings for vineyards.  This unique terroir is also world renowned for producing premium quality wines.


The parts of the land where grapes are grown lie mainly within the semi-arid inland basins of the region and typically experience hot summers, cold winters and long dry autumns. These inland basins are part of a succession of mountains and valley floors, of old river terraces, scarps and fans. Seven terrace levels with associated scarps and fans can be seen increasing in age from the lowest on the flood plain to the highest at the foot of the mountains. Those qualities of landscape, soil, climate and aspect combine to form a unique Central topoclimate. Its horticulture potential has been proved over the last century and now a new generation of viticulture activity is extending this.


Central Otago has a distinctive semi-continental climate, found nowhere else in New Zealand. It is one of the hottest, coldest and driest regions in New Zealand. The highest recorded maximum temperature is 38.7 degrees Celsius and the lowest –21.6 degrees, however winter minima seldom exceed –10 degrees. Frost is possible on any day of the year with late November being a critical time. The diurnal temperature range is 11 to 15 degrees in most of the wine growing valleys of the Clutha and Kawarau rivers.


Alexandra has recorded the lowest annual and twelve consecutive month rainfalls of 211mm and 167 mm respectively in New Zealand. Rainfall is spread fairly evenly during the year with a winter minimum and a summer maximum. High evapotranspiration largely negates this and severe soil moisture deficits develop during the October to April growing season.  Humidity is low being about 65% in the morning falling to 30% in the afternoon.


Wind in the valley floors is strongly influenced by the surrounding mountains and tends to be northeast or southwest. Winters are calm and spring and early summer are windy. The most damaging is the Fohn wind which although infrequent can be very strong and destructive. The other damaging but infrequent wind is a downhill or katabatic wind which can develop in spring when skies are clear and mountains have a heavy snow cover. This is usually very cold and impossible to moderate by frost fighting methods.


Central Otago soils are moderately old (often windblown loess) formed over successive ice ages as the glaciers ground schist rocks to a fine flour. Layers of loess at various depths are interspersed with river gravels with the addition of sandier soils formed by water erosion. Soils are therefore free draining even when heavy in texture. The low rainfall keeps leaching effects low so there is a good level of minerality present but low levels of organic matter. The result is a soil low in vigour but high in mineral richness with the ability to use irrigation to keep vines at the desired degree of controlled stress so as to provide optimum fruit quality. All of these attributes have combined to result in Central Otago standing on the world stage as a unique winegrowing terroir, from which premium quality boutique wines are made.


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