Nothing short of spectacular
It’s not every day when you get to bike through stunning scenery, taste award-winning wines and eat incredible food. But that was exactly what my friend and I did one Saturday in April at Gibbston Valley Winery, as part of our grand tour of the South Island.
There are several wineries in the area, but after learning that Gibbston Valley offered a biking facility along with wine tasting, a restaurant and wine cave tours, we made that our destination of choice. I’ve done plenty of wine tasting tours before where you board a bus in the morning and spend the day getting escorted to different wineries for tastings and lunch. Those are a lot of fun, but with the option to add biking into the experience, I thought it would be nice to do something a little different while in the Queenstown area. The winery is about a 25-minute drive from town. We contemplated renting a car for the day and driving there. Then someone at our hotel mentioned the winery has a shuttle service. The thought of being able to relax during the ride, instead of having to worry about figuring out directions and driving on the other side of the road (I’m from the U.S.) was all I needed to abandon that idea. With the transportation schedule easily found on the winery’s website, the next morning we made our way to the pick-up location in town to board the 10am shuttle to Gibbston. The drive alone was stunning. After leaving town, the road winds through beautiful farmlands, along Lake Hayes and past the turn off to the historic township of Arrowtown, and then beyond the iconic Kawarau Bungy Bridge into wine country. I’m sure it’s beautiful any time of year, but visiting in fall was absolutely breathtaking. Bright orange, deep crimson and gold dotted the landscape, creating a picture - perfect view in every direction. It’s the kind of scenery that makes everyone want to be a photographer. Once we arrived at Gibbston Valley, we made our way to the bike centre. The winery is located next to a bike park called Rabbit Ridge that offers diverse terrain for anyone seeking some downhill thrills, but that wasn’t us. Instead, we decided on the bike, wine and dining experience package for two people. At $195, I thought the price sounded reasonable for bike hire, a wine cave tour and tasting, Harvest Platter for two in the winery restaurant and return transport. The staff at the bike centre were really helpful with fitting us both for a bike and helmet and giving us directions. We decided to take the Gibbston River Trail which takes you along the Kawarau River and to nearby wineries. We hopped on our bikes and off we went. From the winery you ride along their Home Block vineyard and cross the street to access the Gibbston River Trail. Flanked by a gorge on one side and green pastures on the other, the views are incredible. I almost fell off my bike a few times while admiring the bright turquoise water of the Kawarau River below. The gravel path was easy to ride. There are some changes in gradient, but nothing switching gears on the bike can’t handle. We were so taken by the scenery that we decided not to stop at any of the other nearby wineries and instead soak up as much of the Alpine mountain air and
Central Otago landscape as we could. The bike rental was for two hours, and we used almost all of that time. Once back at Gibbston Valley, we were ready for some wine. We dropped off our bikes and made our way to the meeting point for the 1 p.m. wine cave tour. There were about 10 of us on the tour, and our friendly guide led us to the Home Block vineyard (this time we were on the other side of where the bike trail takes you) and gave us a brief history of Gibbston Valley as the region’s founding winery. She explained that fruit from Home Block produced the region’s first commercial vintage, Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir released in 1987. Then we made our way into the wine cave, the largest in New Zealand. Before entering you can already smell the more than 300 barrels of aging wine lining the walls of the cave. I found it fascinating to learn that while the cave is a popular tourist attraction, it’s also a working part of the winery. Within the year, the contents of many of those barrels will be bottled and served at restaurants, family dinners and occasions with friends. I found it thrilling to be able to experience that part of the winemaking process. After making our way down the cave’s long hallway, everyone gathered around a table for wine tasting. Our guide led us through a tasting of new releases both white varietals and their trademark Pinot Noir. After the tasting, we headed to the Cellar Door and restaurant for our Harvest Platter. The cave tour experience was about 30 minutes which was just long enough for me to realise how hungry I was after the almost two hours of biking. With the sun shining, we took a seat in the restaurant’s outdoor courtyard area and each ordered a glass of Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir. The Harvest Platter was a wine lover’s fantasy. It included an assortment of cheese (the aged gouda and French goats cheeses were my favourite), charcuterie, housemade hummus, hot-smoked Aoraki salmon, a feta and rosemary frittata, olives, chutney and bread. Every bite was a delicious pairing with wine. In fact, every aspect of the day seemed to be a perfect complement to the other. From soaking up the stunning scenery on the ride there, to biking, learning about Gibbston Valley’s pioneering history, tasting their incredible wines and reflecting on it all with a lunch and more Pinot Noir in the winery restaurant, I would say the Gibbston Valley experience is nothing short of spectacular. Of course the delicious wines always help. After one more glass, we decided it was time to leave Pinot paradise for the day. I’ll definitely be back on my next trip to Queenstown.