In the New Zealand town of Wanaka, it can sometimes feel a bit like adventure is everything. Here, ahead of the snow’s arrival, you can leap out of planes from 15,000 feet, throw yourself off numerous bridges and hike up to alpine mountain tops before a two-wheeled descent at ludicrous speed. But this lakeside locale pours more than just adrenaline, with concoctions of a very different kind (and flavour) served in its cellar doors, craft beer breweries and distillery.
Elevated on Lake Wanaka’s shores, along the road to Mount Aspiring National Park, lies Rippon Vineyard, surely the most picturesque in New Zealand and likely to be among the most spectacular on the planet. From the knoll on which its cellar door sits, vines creep down a gentle slope towards the shoreline. Rimmed by mountains, the water sits as calm and flat as pressed tin, its surface broken only by the tiny, uninhabited Ruby Island in the distance. During the days of prohibition back in the 1920s, a cabaret dance floor was built on the island, filling Saturday nights with reverie and illicit drinks for the town’s more wayward, and thirsty, types.
Rippon not only offers the finest of panoramas, but also the easiest access. It can be reached from town on the lakeside Waterfall Creek Track, past the famed That Wanaka Tree (the much-photographed willow that peeps out of the surface of the lake). The property has been owned by the Mills family since 1913, with vines first planted in 1975 and the inaugural commercial vintage poured 14 years later. The 15 hectares of vines produce 10 different single-origin wines, including two varieties of Central Otago’s signature drop: pinot noir.
Archangel, another of Wanaka’s vineyards, claims one of New Zealand’s most intriguing wine stories. The origin of the name dates back to 1940 and war-torn Europe, when two Polish girls — strangers — were exiled to a labour camp in the Russian city of Arkangelsk. Their parallel tales continued, without intersecting, for three years — first to Africa, then to the UK, where the women finally met in an RAF camp and developed a lifelong friendship. The daughter of one eventually married the son of the other, and that couple, Ian and Mary Zurakowski, moved to New Zealand where, in 2003, they planted the first Archangel vines. “It’s a story of hope, love and survival,” offers Mary.
The vineyard’s cellar door proved another game-changer when it opened. Styled as a ‘wine lounge’, it offers a unique sense of sophistication, with leather chairs surrounding a pot-belly stove. There are also rotating art exhibitions, while Mary’s dream is to add a sculpture park. Guests are also encouraged to wander through the vines, which are grown from root stock.