Apropos of Matt's excellent discussion, I'll some notes from visits to Central Otago and Canterbury:
An hour north of Christchurch lies the Waipara Valley, a cool climate growing region located hard on the E coast of the South Island. We stopped at two wineries there: Mud House/Waipara Valley and Pegasus Bay. The former is single tasting room representing two winery operations (Mud House in Marlborough and Waipara Valley in, naturally enough, Waipara). Each operation makes a variety of wines, each with its own winemaker. The wines were generally well made, with the standout examples being the sweeter of the Waipara Rieslings, a Spätlese-weight wine of vivid acidity, and the Mud House Pinot Noirs from Marlborough. Pegasus Bay has, in addition to the wine sales, a fine restaurant attached amidst lovely grounds. There the 2009 Riesling (off-dry) and the 2009 Pinot Noir were both very good. It seems that the wines of Waipara, as fits with the cool climate, tend to be lighter and more structured than in some other regions.
The arrival of some friends from France with whom I'd toured NZ wine country a decade earlier precipitated a visit to Central Otago, a region I'd had to pass up on our earlier visit (though they didn't). Our visits spanned two days and focused on the Gibbston Valley (near Queenstown) and Cromwell/Bannockburn. The higher elevation region of Wanaka, home to Rippon, I didn't get a chance to visit. The Gibbston Valley has some "big name" Central Otago wineries (Chard Farm, Gibbston Valley, Peregrine) but none were overly exciting. Most interesting was the recently opened restaurant of Wild Earth, located outside of Cromwell toward the Gibbston Valley, which also served the Wild Earth wines. This operation is managed by a Californian ex-pat who has a passion for food/wine matches. I got the food/wine lunch, which consisted of 5 dishes prepared in his smoker (using oak from old barrels) and 5 Wild Earth wines. The standout there was the Deep Cove Pinot Noir, which had depth and structure, but a lightness of touch that kept it in the raspberry/black cherry spectrum of fruit. Also worth mention was their Pinot Noir rosé, which not only had cut and minerality, but also paired phenomenally well with his hot-smoked salmon. We also got a taste of the Earth and Sky Pinot Noir, which was more structured and deeper than the Deep Cove, but which would require a decade I'd guess before being approachable.
Cromwell/Bannockburn was a much more interesting experience. First of all, the area itself is semi-desert, getting only 40 cm of rain per year, with huge diurnal temperature shifts. The wineries we visited all practiced drip irrigation but kept it very low. As the vines are mostly 10-15 years old, we wondered if perhaps they'll shift to dry farming as the vines get older and more established. Soils were largely schist and loess. Wineries visited here were Felton Road, Mt Difficulty, Quartz Reef and Amisfield. With all but Mt Difficulty, we met with assistant winemakers, and with that one exception had very good experiences. Felton Road is biodynamic with self-rooted vines (fully insured, as phylloxera is making its way toward them) mostly planted to Dijon clones. One exception is their Cornish Point vineyard, which is planted to the "Abel" clone, a DRC cutting miraculously saved from destruction in quarrantine by a sympathetic customs officer and amateur winemaker named Abel. Because they'd sold out their current offerings, we had to make do with barrel samples of their upcoming releases (insert emoticon of choice here. We tasted five different Pinot Noirs, their Bannockburn blend, Cornish Point, Calvert, Block 3 and Block 5 (these last two refer to two blocks in the home vineyard that differ only in soil type). All five were quite distinct from one another, with the Cornish Point and Block 5 being most to my taste. Even their blend, which is culled from declassified fruit from the other bottlings, was a well-made and interesting wine. Mt Difficulty was a waste of time. Quartz Reef, run by an Austrian named Rudi, makes an excellent Methode Traditionelle sparkling wine. The NV is a perfectly reasonable "everyday" kind of wine, but the 2007 Reserve was a thing of beauty. The former is a 60/40 blends of PN and Chardonnay and the latter an 80/20 C/PN. No Pinot Meunier in evidence anywhere. They also make a NV Brut Rosé which was interesting, too. Their still Pinot Noirs were less interesting, but still decent wines. Our final visit was at Amisfield, which has a relatively new winemaker, and is making some very fine wines. The story here, as everywhere we went, was partial destemming, partial whole cluster fermentation, 30-35% new oak (4-5 year barrel rotation) and fermentation temperatures of 28-32°C. This, of course, applies to their Pinot Noir and not their whites. Again, we got mostly barrel samples and since we were prior to assemblage of their '11 Pinot Noir, the names used were quite idiosyncratic. Of particular interest was tasting the same lot (a mix of block 2 and block 7, both Dijon 667 clones), one in neutral oak and the other in NFO. Remarkably the new oak barrel showed little if any overt oakiness, but was distinguished by its mouthfeel, being far more structured in comparison to the light and delicate sample out of neutral oak. The barrels got medium toast, no less. The real treat there was tasting the '07 "Rocky Knoll" Pinot Noir, a late release, which just leapt out of the glass with sappy, tart raspberry aromas and was juicy, bright and bouncy, yet structured for the long haul (for the low MSRP of NZD 90).