Gibbston Valley Winery: My Pinot Tales

Google New Zealand wine and you get an abundance of hits. New Zealand has become one of the prime sources of “New World” wines. And rightfully so.

Most of New Zealand wine comes from one of two regions. Napier in southern North Island. And Blenheim/Marlborough in northern South Island.

Yet, the one winery I feel in love with is in neither region. It is in central Otega, Queenstown area. I came upon it by accident, on my first trip when I was in the area to ski. While I was not in the prime area, I had a few wineries in the area and decided to sample them as well as eat in their respective restaurants for my dinners.

Gibbston Valley is my favourite. To be honest, when reading up, it wasn’t even the winery or the tour that got my attention. It was the Cheesery. In living in Asia, one of the foods I miss is good cheese. Especially good sharp hard cheeses. And a Cheesery? I am so all over it.

The winery was a lovely place, feature sustainable agriculture, and a cave. A cave has been created by blasting into a rock wall and is used to storing the wine. The cave is also where the wine tasting portion of the tour takes place.

I had the first Pinot Noir I actually liked here at Gibbston. Deep bodied, strong intense flavour, and smooth. Oh, smooth. To this day, I still only drink Pinots from them. I bought three bottles on my first trip, splurge on one reserve to open with some girlfriends come to visit me as a collective 30th celebration for us.

I was so livid. Those girlfriends whined and barely drank the wine. “We wanted to order cocktails.” “I prefer Bordeaux” “It’s OK.” “We could have just ordered a bottle at the restaurant.” It was the end of a long day sightseeing and we had gotten to dinner late. They were cranky. I could have served them vinegar to drink for all they cared. I had wasted a fabulous bottle of wine.

Fast forward a year later, I went back for a roadtrip, making sure to stop through Gibbston again. I wanted to purchase the same bottle my unappreciative friends didn’t have the courtesy to taste carefully or at least recognise my gesture. That simple plan went out the window as soon as I walked into the tasting counter. I was so overwhelmed by the abundance of choices.  I knew it was going to be a long time before I would have the opportunity to physically revisit. I ended up impulsively purchasing not one, or two, but a case of the 2008 Reserve Pinot Noir, the exact same bottle I felt was wasted on my first go around.

I barely made it to the winery before closing and was there well after the official closing hour. The staff was so accommodating, trying their best to help me figure out how I could possibly get a case back home. They didn’t ship to Thailand. They didn’t ship to the couple states in the USA where I could ask someone to hold for me. They offered to crate the case for me to check in as luggage, knowing I was leaving on an early flight that morning. Eventually, I came up with the idea to ship the case to my brother’s address. A non-wine drinker should be able to safe-keep my now expensive wine purchase. I cannot begin to rave about how the winery bend over backwards to help me figure out how to make the purchase and shipment possible.

I let my brother help himself to a couple bottles as a thank you for receiving the case. I also offered to exchange each bottle back for multiple cases of beer as he is not a wine drinker. A couple months later, I got the following email:

Broke out a bottle of the pinot you sent for a nice smaller dinner with some friends. Steak, corn on the cob with mushrooms and onion. Your wine is a HUGE hit. Thank you. I might be lobbying for another bottle or two out of the case.

Damn. I ruined him. I introduced him with the expensive stuff from the beginning. On top of that, he would have asked for a quarter of my whole case!

To trace the life of the case:
– 2010 December: Purchased
– 2010 December: Held at Gibbston until after the holidays for shipment
– 2011 January: Starts slow journey to southern USA
– 2011 February: Arrives in brother’s house, southern USA
– 2011 July: Alarmed me drives to brother’s to rescue my wine from brother
– 2011 July: Case driven up to Northeastern USA, 3 bottles lost before my first sip
– 2011 July: Grieve the loss by drinking a bottle to oblivion (sorta). Keep second
– 2011 August: Remainder of case gets packaged with my household effects
– 2011 September: Starts slow journey to Europe
– 2011 October: Arrives in current home in Europe, 7 bottles left and intact

To this day I am still annoyed at the friends who whined their way through my first bottle. I have long since shared the wine with many other friends, all resulting with rave reviews. Not everyone would spend the money and effort I put into getting this bottle but so far all have appreciated the quality. Each person’s palate is different, but when good pinot noirs are hard to come by, this one is easy and smooth with so much character that seems to sit well on most of my fellow wine drinkers. And that is an indication of a truly successful wine.

Today, I have three bottles left. I no longer require friends to share a bottle of wine. This is the tail end of the recommended aging period.. the prime was around 2010-2011. Part of me is reluctant to finish the last of a wonderful thing. The wine now brings a smile to my face whenever I drink it. It reminds me of the beautiful country. The bright sun, clear skies. It makes me think of the wonderful locals exemplified by the superb winery staff. It reminds me of my girlfriends who were too tired and grumpy and I was too focused on showcasing the wine to realise that. It brings back images of my hikes and a couple of close-call fiascoes. Very simply, it makes me think of my wonderful experiences in New Zealand.

Above the sky

One of my many wish list items is to ski in New Zealand. I forget where and who I heard about it from, but it has been a long desired activity, one that I pursued this past NZ winter. And I have absolutely no regrets.

Most of my trip was overcast to rainy. Until I went to the slopes. Despite the mountains being much smaller in scale than the ones in North America, the view was just as spectacular. Perhaps better in the sense that while I was cold, I wasn’t freezing my butt off to the point of chattering teeth. The climate was milder and the slopes proportionally gentler as well. Being above the clouds, though, I couldn’t help but pretend that I was flying above the clouds as I swoshed my way downhill.

The one time in my life I truly really really screamed

Just to remind you all that, while I tend to be a more serious and reserved person, I do have a sense of adventure and a healthy dose of spunk.

My philosophy in travel lately has been to do things instead of regretting that I didn’t do them later. When I found myself in the birthplace of the bungy (note, Americans, it’s spelt “bungy” not “bungee”) in Queenstown, New Zealand, I knew I had to do the jump even though just before ever going to NZ I had been adamant that any sort of jumping- off a bridge, out of a plane, off a ski ramp- is something I would never get myself into. My verdict? Outrageously expensive for an extremely short split second, but, damn, it sure comes with some awesome bragging rights. And I will never ever ever do it again.