Cycling around the Alexandra Basin and stopping at picturesque, locally-owned vineyards is a pleasant way to explore in any season.
While Central Otago’s winter is often crisp with blue skies and snowy mountains, we chose to ride the Pedal for Pinot Trail in summery late January this year.
The 25 km trail opened in October 2020 and offers a map to navigate a loop around the basin, going at your own pace and stopping wherever you like.
The tour can start or finish in Alexandra or Clyde and bikes can be hired in either town.
Clyde is also the departure or arrival point for the more-established Otago Central Rail Trail and the exciting new Lake Dunstan Trail.
The Alexandra Basin is a sub-region of Central Otago and is one of the most southerly wine regions in the world.
Pedallers with a penchant for Pinot or other wines will enjoy the beauty, exercise and five family-owned vineyards en route.
Those who aren’t into wine-tasting can pack a picnic to eat along the way or stop to refuel at Alexandra or Clyde’s excellent cafes.
My husband Kel and I left from Clyde, a charming former gold-mining village which nestles below a 100 metre high hydroelectricity dam.
Pedal for Pinot follows the Otago Central Rail Trail between Clyde and Alexandra, or Alex as southerners call it.
Our first stop was Dunstan Road Wines, just off the independent, gravel cycle path. No one answered when we rang the phone number, so we moved on.
Just along the track, vintner Lucienne van der Wal was at home at Immigrant’s Vineyard – and soon made us feel right at home in spectacular surroundings.
She and husband Roland and son Michiel have built a beautiful schist house with beams made from old demolition timber and an open, airy, European feel.
As we sipped wines in their living-cum-tasting room, we listened with fascination to Lucienne’s stories about life since she and Roland left the Netherlands in 1986.
Outside, vines were greening up in the vineyard, which overlooks the majestic Clutha River and Old Man Range.
The couple own 19 ha: 16 ha is planted in mainly Pinot Noir grapes and four hectares in Pinot Gris and a small amount of Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay.
They hand-pick the fruit, which is labour intensive, and have been producing their Ruru Wines since 2015.
Warmed by Lucienne’s welcome, we cycled further and stopped under a tree to eat our sandwiches.
It was then on to Judge Rock, another attractive vineyard which has been going for longer. Its wines have won many international and national awards.
We sat outside in the shade and appreciated sampling a Rosé and various Pinot Noirs beside two Southlanders who were travelling by car.
After that, we rode into Alex and drank coffee at the humming Industry Lane Eatery, which is on the rail trail.
Crossing the Clutha
We then crossed the mighty Clutha and headed towards Clyde on the Alexandra to Clyde River Track, which follows the river upstream.
This rougher terrain suits mountain bikes, however on road bikes we preferred the smoother, tar-seal Earnscleugh Rd.
We soon stopped at Legacy Vineyard, where flowers fringed 140-year-old stone stables. It was picturesque, however the owners were away elsewhere when we rang.
The trail brochure notes that all five vineyards are run by owner operators who may be outside working. Calling ahead is definitely advised!
By the time we reached Three Miners Vineyard further along the road, I’d tried enough wine, although Kel remained keen.
Paul and Kirstin Wright own this 19 ha bordered by gold bearing gravels, which hundreds of miners panned during the 1860s Otago gold rush.
Kirstin was friendly and knowledgeable, so Kel chatted and tasted their Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Riesling as I soaked up the atmosphere.
The trail is designed to be experienced in four or five hours, including the tasting rooms. Depending on the vineyard, the tastings are free or cost between $5 and $10 per person.
Cyclists who buy bottles of wine can carry them on their bikes, pick them up later or have them delivered.
By this stage we were a little hot and tasting-weary, so decided to return to Clyde where we were staying. Dunstan Road Wines had rung back and we arranged to visit the next morning.
Sarah Reynolds and Marc Hatfield own this two hectare vineyard where sheep wandered among vines and the couple’s children and chickens roamed free-range.
Most of the other vineyards we visited collaborate with winemakers in Cromwell or Alexandra, however Dunstan Road makes theirs on-site.
Marc was our host and we spent more than an hour discussing everything from winemaking to what was then the prospect of a Russian war on Ukraine.
Such genuine hospitality was one of our Pedal for Pinot highlights and this stop was the perfect end to a stunning recreational bike ride.
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Roberts Rural Market Fruit and Veg Stall on Earnscleugh Rd sells delicious, real fruit and berry ice-cream!