WORDS JOELLE THOMSON
French investment, organic winemaking and new cantilevered container wineries are all the rage in the world’s southernmost wine region. Central Otago is evocative not only for being the southernmost of all winemaking areas in the world, but also for the eclectic personalities who make the wine there, and particularly from grapes grown in the buzz region, Bannockburn. This arid, rocky landscape is home to a golden mile of wine brands as well as old gold fields, whose sluicings have left their iconic mark on the landscape. The French company Edmond de Rothschild Heritage Wines purchased 52 hectares of land in Bannockburn in October 2022, of which 34.5 hectares are planted with vines. The purchase includes the well-known Akarua Estate vineyard, founded in 1996 by former Dunedin mayor Sir Cli ord Skeggs, a wine-lover whose son, David, now runs the Skeggs Group and will continue to produce wines under the Rua brand from 90 hectares of established vineyards in Bannockburn and Pisa. The Rothschild company will take over the existing Akarua brand and aims to make over 60,000 bottles of organically certified wine for both national and international markets, which will grow the volume of certified organic wine made in Central Otago – the country’s leading region for organic wines, with approximately 25 per cent of wine production now certified with Bio-Gro and Demeter (biodynamic). Growth and change is afoot at other wineries and vineyards in Bannockburn, too. The Carrick Winery & Restaurant has a new food truck on site, overlooking Lake Dunstan and ideally situated for thirsty cyclists coming o the newish Lake Dunstan Trail Great Ride, a 55-kilometre cycle trail from Cromwell to Clyde, engineered along the precarious rocky shores of the Kawarau River with majestic views of the Cairnmuir Mountains. Climate change is also alive and well in Bannockburn, Central Otago, where vintages are warmer, harvests are earlier and the wines are undoubtedly better as a result, says winemaker Blair Walter, who celebrated 25 years of winemaking at Felton Road Wines last year. Will the future be too warm for pinot noir and chardonnay in the world’s southernmost wine region? It was a hot topic, if you’ll excuse the pun, at Felton Road’s 25th anniversary tasting, where Walter unveiled powerful new Pinot Noirs, such as the MacMuir – named after a nearby vineyard down the road from the winery. Felton Road is the royal mile of wine in Bannockburn and it is soon to be joined not only by the Rothschild family but also by other planned new wineries in the area. Watch this space.