The New Zealand wine trail

A memorable place

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With such a diverse landscape, New Zealand is a paradise for the outdoor enthusiast.

So after a hectic week of exploring Fiordland, hiking the trails around Mount Cook National Park, a bumpy, scenic plane ride over New Zealand's highest peak, and swimming with the dolphins, my husband and I felt it was time to slow the pace down a little and visit some wineries.

On the South Island, the intense sunlight and cool nighttime temperatures of the Central Otago region are perfect for producing spectacular pinot noirs, a light-body red wine. It sounded like a good starting point.

A quick stop at the visitor information center provided us with detailed winery trail maps, directions and tour hours. With so many to choose from, we didn't have to drive miles out of our way to find a place for lunch.

In some cases, there were several wineries right next to each other, all with well-marked entrances.

At one stop, we found ourselves dining at Gibbston Valley Winery's cafe outside in a large stone courtyard with a bubbling fountain.

Our table was right next to long, neat rows of vines that led our eyes to New Zealand's dramatic mountains. The vine-covered pergola protected us from the warm summer sun.

The winery experience is not limited to just tasting. Quite a few have vineyard lunch menus that complement their award-winning wines. No fish and chips here.

When possible, dishes are prepared using the vineyard's wines. New Zealand's signature green-lipped mussels are steamed in a white wine broth and salad greens are lightly coated with a chardonnay dressing.

Printed on the menu is the recommended wine pairing for each entree. The staff was very knowledgeable and more than happy to help with tasting selections.

After fortifying ourselves with lunch, we went on a quick, but organized, vineyard/cave tour. The rose bushes at the end of alternating rows were in summer bloom. It seemed like a strange combination with the grapevines. Was it just for looks? A guide informs us if diseases or pests appear on the rose bushes, this is a signal that the vines may be in danger of contracting the same.

As harvest time approaches, white netting is draped over the vines to protect the fruit from marauding birds. Inside the dark cave, fermenting barrels of wine are neatly stacked.

To enjoy the winery experience, one doesn't have to have a working knowledge of viticulture and, obviously, it will never compete with the adrenaline rush of bungee jumping.

No matter which winery we visited (we fit in four in our schedule), the experience was always relaxing and fun. We realized that every New Zealand wine we liked would not be available back in the States, but it was worth enjoying some of these premier new-world wines just once during our trip earlier this year.

Donna Tolbert-Anderson lives in Easton.

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