With vines first planted in 2001, it’s a relatively new wine region but the complex limestone/greywacke/schist soils have attracted the passions of a handful of adventurous and focused producers.
This unique terroir enjoys hot, dry summers, cold winters and long dry autumns.
Pinot Noir is the predominant variety planted, alongside aromatic whites Pinot Gris and Riesling.
This is winegrowing on the edge - there is little margin for error. However Waitaki Valley wines have excited those lucky enough to find them, and it is clearly a region to watch as its potential unfolds.
Local Maori call the river Te Waitaki o Aoraki – the tears of their ancestor Aoraki.
Waitaki Valley region
The Waitaki Valley essentially forms a geographical link between Central Otago and the South Island’s eastern coast, the legacy of a long, braided river system snaking
down from the Southern Alps to the sea.
A defining feature of the region is its limestone, courtesy of an ancient geological fault line pushing a 38 million year old seabed up alongside the river, leaving a limestone-rich north-facing slope where keen-eyed viticulturists and winemakers recognized its present day potential.
The region’s bedrock soils have been subjected to the ebb and flows of both glaciers and rivers across the millennia and the vineyards in the Waitaki Valley are typically planted on wither the weathered limestone slopes, or the free-draining greywacke/schist/limestone river gravels of former riverbeds.
These very stony soils have an important heat retaining capacity, and reflect back not only heat but also sunlight, important in a cool winegrowing region that does not have especially high sunshine hours.
While Waitaki Valley has a distinctly cool climate, its relatively warm summers and long, dry autumns help extend the region’s growing season. Frost is an ever-present risk at either end of the growing season, but being tucked within the Southern Alp’s rain shadow means the very dry climate reduces disease pressure and allows production of a wide range of styles.
Winestyles and planting information
The most planted variety in the Waitaki Valley producing aromatically intense, finebodied, varietally pure wines rich in red cherry, raspberry, strawberry, wild herbs and
spice, with fresh acidity and fine-grained tannins.
Pinot Gris is well suited to Waitaki Valley’s long, cool growing season, with fresh varietal intensity, with perfumed aromatics and pear/apple, stonefruit, citrus, gingerbread and spice notes.
Rieslings are delicately structured, expressive wines with intense citrus, floral and mineral character and crunchy natural acidity.
Waitaki Valley Chardonnay cuts a stylish swathe. Crisp green apple, citrus and honeydew melon alongside biscuit, flint and white flowers are typical.