Part 8: New Zealand's Central Otago region
Gibbston Valley


Alan Brady was one of the pioneers of Central Otago wine. In a former life a journalist from Northern Ireland, he planted 500 vines here in 1981, although he emphasizes that he wasn’t the only one experimenting then. At the time he tried lots of varieties, including Chasselas and Müller Thurgau. It was initially just a hobby, but the encouraging results spurred him on to release his first commercial wine in 1987: the Gibbston Valley winery was born.

Alan is no longer involved in Gibbston Valley, and the winery has also expanded beyond its original home vineyard. The home vineyard, planted on soils of schist and river terraces can produce excellent results, but the Gibbston sub-region has a pretty marginal climate, and to focus all vineyard efforts here would be pretty risky.

Christopher Keys, winemaker

For that reason, in the late 1990s Gibbston Valley started planting in the warmer Bendigo sub region. This is where most of their vineyards are now located. Christopher Keys, the winemaker at Gibbston Valley, explains that in Bendigo there’s quite a bit of variation. They have four different vineyards on terraces at different altitudes. The lower terrace is more alluvial, at lower altitude (250 m) and has coarser soil. It’s a bit warmer. Higher up, the soil is finer, and there’s even a bit of limey soil under the schist. It’s also cooler. This variation in terroirs helps add complexity to the wines. Altogether Gibbston Valley have around 40 hectares in Bendigo.

My visit was to the small home vineyard in Gibbston, where the winery is located. Christopher showed me a small plot of Riesling vines planted singly on stakes that, with the schist soil, bore a pretty close resemblence to the Mosel.

A range of wines are made here, but – of course, it being Central Otago – the focus is on Pinot Noir. And these Pinots are superb: among the region’s very best. We tried some 2009 Pinots from barrel, in the winery’s cave, which was built in 1998. It’s a proper subterranean cellar, drilled into the schist hillside. Once the Clyde Dam project had been completed the technology was already in the area for drilling like this, so the cave was built in just three months at a lower cost than would otherwise have been possible. It has a natural temperature of 13/14 °C which is warm enough for malolactic fermentation to take place.

Barrel samples, 2009 Pinot Noir

Bendigo, lower vineyards: this is rich, broad shouldered and muscular with firm tannins. A great blending component.

Bendigo, lower vineyards, east. Rich and intense yet focused with lovely vivid fruit. Still fresh and structured.

China Man’s Terrace. This is a higher altitude vineyard in Bendigo and it’s cooler, with the Pinot Being harvested two weeks later than the lower vineyards. It’s very fresh and perfumed with lovely structure and focus. A thrilling wine with sense red fruit, some meatiness, and some spice.

School House. The highest vineyard at 400 m, and the latest ripening. There’s a limestone belt under the schist here. Very focused and perfumed with lovely ripe yet fresh fruit. Finesse and intensity here. Powerful and expansive with lovely tannins.

School House, but clone 6: very elegant, pure and linear with real purity of dark fruit. Textured and stylish.


Gibbston Valley Pinot Blanc 2008
A long ferment here pushes out the texture. Very pure and creamy with rich pear and citrus fruit. Nice texture with real interest. 89/100

Gibbston Valley Riesling 2008
Very clean, elegant, pure nose with subtle lime and floral notes. The palate is beautifully elegant with nice liminess. Dry but fruity with beautiful balance. 89/100

Gibbston Valley ‘Le Fou’ Riesling 2008
From the Gibbston vineyard; 9% alcohol. This is beautifully textured with fresh, citrussy fruit. Off-dry and harmonious. Complex and quite thrilling. 92/100

Gibbston Valley Pinot Gris 2009
Very nice lemony, perfumed nose with real clarity and focus. The palate is fresh and textured with some estery fruit character and a bit of citrus. 88/100

Gibbston Valley La Dulcinee Pinot Gris 2008
Very nicely textured. Creamy and elegant with grape and melon fruit. Lovely flavour and rounded texture. 90/100

Gibbston La Dulcinee Gewürztraminer 2008
From vines planted in 1983; just 450 bottles made. Very nice lychee, melon and Turkish delight nose. Elegant but rich. Fresh and textured with lovely balance. Harmonious. 92/100

Gibbston Valley Reserve Chardonnay 2007
100% barrel-fermentation with 20% new oak. Toasty, focused fig and herb nose. The palate has a soft, buttery character with lovely texture. 90/100

Gibbston Valley Reserve Chardonnay 2008
Lovely nose: some minerals, some nuts. Nice pure fruit with a hint of toast. Lovely complexity and minerality here. 92/100

Gibbston Valley Reserve Chardonnay 2009 (barrel sample)
Very fine, fresh and minerally with lovely focus and complexity. Really intense with lovely minerality even though it’s in new oak. Brilliant. 92–94/100

Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir 2008
Very pure, elegant dark cherry and spice nose with great precision and a bit of sappiness. The palate has lovely focus and real purity with plum and cherry fruit. Nice focus and freshness. Deliciously balanced: rich yet fresh. 93/100

Gibbston Valley Le Mineur d’Orient Pinot Noir 2008
Superbly elegant. Fresh cherry and berry fruit with rich texture as well as freshness. Good balance here and firm yet silky structure under the fruit. Needs time to settle down. 94/100

Gibbston Valley Reserve Pinot Noir 2008
‘I’m trying to capture the beauty that Pinot Noir can offer,’ says Christopher Keys. ‘Getting extraction and weight is quite easy here.’ This wine is based on prettiness, finesse and perfume and comes from the School House vineyard at altitude. Beautifully elegant with pure focused cherry and spice character. Sweet and textured, but also structured with refined minerally tannins. A lighter style, but with good concentration. Swallows up the 60% new oak with ease. 96/100

Gibbston Valley Pinot Noir 2007
Very aromatic pure, sweet liqueur-like nose with purity and elegance. The palate is rich and sweet with bold flavour and nice texture. Real finesse, too. A broader style than the 2008. 93/100

Gibbston Valley Le Maître Pinot Noir 2007
From the home block. Very fresh and aromatic with bright cherry and herb fruit. Complex herby, spicy notes. The palate is lively and spicy with real freshness and savoury minerality. Finishes with spiciness. A distinctive style. 92/100

Gibbston Valley Le Maître Pinot Noir 2009 (cask sample)
Very lively, herby aromatics. Spicy and a bit smoky with lovely cherry and herb fruit. Lively, juicy and focused with the chocolate and spice richness tempered by fresh fruit and good acidity. 92–94/100

See also: notes from a more recent visit, February 2014

See a short film from this visit:

Felton Road
Mount Difficulty
Pisa Range 
Gibbston Valley

Wines tasted 02/10  
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