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New Zealand's next top wine region

Editor's note: SmarterTravel.com Editor Molly Feltner is currently traveling around New Zealand and reporting back to us about her experiences in the "Adventure Travel Capital of the World."

When I found out the mountainous region in New Zealand I was visiting for adventure activities, Central Otago, is also one of the country's top wine regions, I was a bit surprised. Snow-covered, 10,000-foot peaks and vineyards don't go together in my mind.

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But, as one of my B&B owners told me, if you start digging a hole here you won't get to China, but to the Burgundy region of France. Though Central Otago is the southernmost wine-growing region in the world and home to New Zealand's highest elevation wineries, its mountain valleys are protected from extreme weather and create a variety of microclimates ideal for certain varieties, particularly pinot noir.

In between various adventures, I had the chance to visit the region's oldest and most prominent winery, Rippon, in Wanaka, and speak with its owner, Lois Mills. She and her late husband Rolfe started the winery in 1981 despite the belief that a winery in the area would be a losing prospect. More than 25 years later, Rippon's pinot noirs have been hailed as among the best outside Europe. Others have since jumped on the wine bandwagon. Currently more than 30 wineries make up the Central Otago Wine Trail.

Rippon shouldn't be missed, however, if not for its wine then for its spectacular setting on Lake Wanaka overlooking the mountains. The winery is open to visitors most of the year except May and June, when an appointment is necessary.

Next on my tour, I leave the interior of the South Island and head to Kaikoura on the east coast for adventures centered around the area's abundant whale, dolphin, and seal populations…

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