Noth­ing short of spec­tac­u­lar

Go Travel New Zealand - - Contents - by Caro­line Fon­tein

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.

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