There will come a time when you’ll feel the need to leave the comfort of your dining table and explore the wines you revere at their points of origin. It’s not exactly a hard sell. Iconic regions, after all, deliver magnificent scenery, exciting food, upscale lodging and the chance to acquire rare treasures in perfect provenance straight from cellars.
For the trip, or trips, of a lifetime, this guide divulges the hotels, restaurants and producers you should experience to savor four of the world’s emerging New World wine regions: Central Otago, New Zealand; Margaret River, Australia; Stellenbosch, South Africa; and Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Central Otago, New Zealand
If ever a landscape suggests the handiwork of a celestial power, Central Otago on New Zealand’s South Island stands out. Billowy clouds cling to snow-dusted peaks. Glacial blue lakes reflect sunlight toward the heavens and vines. Winegrowers make Pinot Noir capable of sending angels into song. Go and you’ll never want to fly home.
For luxury lodging on glittering Lake Wakatipu, book Matakauri Lodge. Watch the century-old “Lady of the Lake” steamship float by during lunch in the lodge’s gastronomic restaurant. Wakatipu views can also be had from historic Queenstown property, Eichardt’s Private Hotel. Cozy style, terraces and mountain vistas grace the rooms, apartments and lakeside residences of The Rees Hotel. Upscale hotel chain QT recently opened here, known for its bespoke décor that echoes the local vibe. Its Queenstown outpost is “modern alpine meets après-ski.” Downtown, The Spire is another boutique option with a great bar and restaurant, No5 Church Lane.
Amisfield Bistro offers one of the best winery dining experiences. Pick from three, five or seven courses of seasonal food sourced from the area. Matt Lambert helms the kitchen at The Lodge Bar, a culinary extension of clothier Rodd & Gunn. Log-burning fires and lake views provide ambiance alongside the regional menu at Botswana Butchery. Tuck into green-lipped mussels, Ora King salmon or red deer tartare. Acclaimed chef Josh Emett opened Rata several years back, and the sleek spot remains a Queenstown favorite. Sister restaurant Madam Woo does vibrant Malaysian hawker food.
Felton Road is famed not only for biodynamics, but site-specific Pinot like Cornish Point. Rippon, as acclaimed for its views as its wines, sits high above Wanaka. Grant Taylor of Valli Vineyards was an Otago pioneer. The Bannockburn and Gibbston Vineyard Pinots testify to his winemaking prowess. Quartz Reef crafts biodynamic Pinot and Chardonnay into top New Zealand traditional-method sparklers. When available, Gibbston Valley’s single-vineyard Pinots teach a masterclass on Otago terroir. Ted Lemon, of California’s Littorai, helped mold the natural farming ethos behind Burn Cottage Vineyard. Two Paddocks, owned by actor Sam Neill, crafts riveting wine from the edge of the grape-growing frontier.
Margaret River, Australia
How to describe the magic of Margaret River? Few wine regions vibrate such mellow energy while it spins Cabernet and Chardonnay gold. Perhaps it’s the remote location skirted in protected natural park. Or the surf-friendly turquoise waves that swell from the Indian Ocean. Maybe it’s the eucalyptus Karri forest aflutter with parrots and kangaroos. Whatever the secret, let’s hope it stays unchanged.
Few branded hotels exist in Margaret River. Mostly, lodging is small and independent. The winner for location, scenery and design is Injidup Spa Retreat. Villas boast plunge pools and sweeping ocean vistas from king beds. Ease jet lag with a sunset massage from adjacent Bodhi J, an organic, Perth-based wellness spa. Set off scenic Caves Road is Cape Lodge. Owners modeled the main house after South African Cape Dutch architecture. A pool and fantastic restaurant draw guests out of spacious rooms. For true beachfront digs, Smiths Beach Resort offers a range of fully equipped options from smaller “beach shacks” to villas. Grab an espresso and brekkie, or breakfast, at nearby Lamont’s.
Start your day with breakfast by the ocean. Order a flat white and avocado toast at beach café White Elephant. Winery restaurants dominate the fine-dining scene, open mostly at lunch. Cullen creates exquisite biodynamic, vegetable-driven dishes with a Japanese twist. Settle in for a four- or seven-course “discovery” menu at Voyager Estate that sports wine pairings on printed cards. Tired of drawn-out meals? Simplify with handmade pastas at Barnyard 1978 or fresh fish at Bunkers Beach House, set on stunning Bunker Bay. During summer, catch a concert after dinner at Leeuwin Estate’s preeminent restaurant. Sip through the stellar list at Settlers Tavern in town.
Pioneer Moss Wood remains small and family-run. It shows its supple Cabs and elegant Chards by appointment. Whether you know Vasse Felix for Chardonnay or charismatic Chief Winemaker Virginia Willcock, leave room in your luggage for a Tom Cullity Cabernet Sauvignon. An American, Will Berliner, ruffled local feathers when his tiny Cloudburst label debuted at dramatic prices, but it also sold out. He shows his two wines by appointment out of a truck in the vineyard. If you don’t drink “Moon Opposite Saturn Harvest” Chardonnay with lunch at Cullen, bring one home to cellar. Hit natural winemakers Si Vintners for a glimpse at alternative winemaking.
Stellenbosch, South Africa
Stellenbosch, both as a wine region and town, straddles the Old World and New World. Though grapes were planted shortly after Simon van der Stel founded the “City of Oaks” in 1679, wines taste rooted in modernity. Traverse breathtaking mountain passes past vine-covered foothills and 17th-century Cape Dutch buildings. It’s like being transported to centuries past, an exhilarating contrast.
Boutique hotels and guest houses like Cloud Estate and Majeka House define Stellenbosch’s country-chic vibe. Jordan Wine Estate’s posh new suites let you roll into bed after a plunder of the winery restaurant’s cheese room. Long on style and views, Delaire Graff Lodges & Spa rules as the top lodge. The swank jewelry shop is a dead giveaway. After you bounce between wine bars in Stellenbosch, stroll beneath moonlit oaks to Oude Werf. For a Cape Dutch experience of yesteryear, Spier’s wood-beamed ceilings and lush views supply the setting. Book a fancy farm stay at Babylonstoren, founded in 1692. Wander streamside gardens, then break from the agrarian fantasy for the spa.
Stellenbosch’s winery restaurants are as good as any in Napa, a fact that surprises most American tourists. Book lunch at design-forward Tokara and soak in views from the top of Helshoogte Pass. Elegant Rust en Vrede is for lovers, proposals and anniversaries. No kids allowed. The glass-walled dining room and adjacent deck provide a striking setting to delve into the tasting menu at Waterkloof, replete with biodynamic wines. Tour the creative endeavors of South African chef Bertus Basson. Start at Hidden Valley Wines, where you can try Overture for gastro cuisine, or The Deck for burgers made from grass-fed beef. In Stellenbosch, Basson celebrates the country’s heritage at Eike on Dorp Street, as well as nearby wine bar Spek en Bone.
Red wine rules, and Cabernet is arguably its king. Bring wine luggage to exploit the exchange rate. Stuff it with ripe, structured bottles from stalwarts Rust en Vrede, Rustenberg, Kleine Zalze, Waterford, Le Riche and Thelema. For Bordeaux blends, De Toren’s Fusion V recalls the Left Bank. Ernie Els Wines and Mvemve Raats earn high marks, too. Don’t ignore Pinotage. If one property can win you over, it’s Kanonkop. Nab a bottle of Paul Sauer if it’s still in stock. Syrah thrives, notably from De Trafford, Keermont, Kleinood and organic Reyneke. Ken Forrester and DeMorgenzon style beautiful Chenin Blanc. The latter has a knack for Roussanne.
Willamette Valley, Oregon
Willamette Valley’s Pinot Noir garnered early comparisons to Burgundy. Today, the region stands on its own, rather than as some replication of Europe. That evolution was driven by small producers, though big investment is on the rise. Still, green-and-tan patchwork blanket rolling hills, a mix of vineyards and agriculture punctuated by forest, remains a bucolic world apart.
Only recently have lodging options risen to the sophistication of winery experiences. The Allison Inn & Spa has reigned as the high-end standby that hosts the region’s most discerning visitors. Set on 35 hilly acres, the resort produces its own honey and maintains a chef garden sourced in its onsite restaurant, Jory. The long-awaited Atticus Hotel in McMinnville has arrived. From velvet fabrics and brass fixtures to fireplaces, it’s a keen attention to detail that make it the best boutique experience in the valley. For winery guest rooms and smaller inns, look at Youngberg Hill, Black Walnut and Le Puy.
Between tastings, grab lunch at Red Hills Market. Crunchy pizzas and tasty sandwiches complement a good retail wine selection. In McMinnville, Thistle was first to introduce eclectic, farm-fresh dining and craft cocktails. It’s very popular and tiny, so book early. Nearby, Valley Commissary’s breezy space slings brunch comforts like breakfast burritos to a chickpea burger with smoky lime yogurt. Check the events page of Willamette Valley Vineyards to catch one of its three-course wine pairing dinners. In Carlton, stop for French-inspired cuisine at Cuvée from Alsatian chef Gilbert Henry. In Newburg, Recipe Part Deux has reopened, while Newbergundian just launched with a bistro menu.
The Eyrie Vineyards, still helmed by the Letts, forged Willamette’s modern wine industry in the 1960s. Get your hands on back vintages. Luisa Ponzi took the reins from her dad to run one of the area’s few multigenerational wineries, Ponzi Vineyards. Adelsheim Vineyard, also early settlers, remains a Pinot Noir benchmark. Cristom Vineyard’s sensual wines showcase Eola-Amity Hills fruit. Bergström Wines makes cellarworthy bottlings from multiple terroirs. Chehalem boasts a beautiful site, but the concrete-and wood tasting room in Newburg does the job. The Drouhins recognized Willamette’s potential decades ago as they set up Domaine Drouhin, the first family to arrive from Burgundy. It’s not all Pinots out in Willamette: Brooks Wine turns out nervy, fruit-forward Rieslings.
Last Updated: May 4, 2023