At one of the ‘judge’s dinners’ – after a day’s work at the New Zealand International Wine show in September 2023, there were a couple of wines on the table from Ayrburn. A label none of us knew anything about, other than they were labelled Central Otago. Clearly, come the end of the year, I knew what Ayrburn was/is. Who could have missed the PR splurge, with six page inserts in magazines, adverts all over digital media?
I usually take a week’s holiday in January and it is often to South Island and might involve a minor amount of wine (my ‘field trips’ are 100% wine-focussed with Winefolio, but holidays tend to stay away from trade stuff). I emailed Ayrburn asking for an introduction so that I could get some background on the place, but after a couple of tries and no reply, I was on the doorstep a couple of days ago and decided to call in. Everyone I had spoken to about it (not the invisible Ayrburn people) has said it is ‘lavish’ but ‘under-staffed and not finished’. Locals talked of two-hour waits for food.
As such I dropped in mid-afternoon, not wanting to add to over-worked workers woes, for “a look”. I’d had lunch at the superb Gibbston Valley Winery Restaurant – slick, gorgeous and high-end. This looked like a similar vibe but in a grandiose, resort/theme park kind of way. I visited Yarra Valley in the last year, and this would fit in well there. It also reminded me of the excellent environs at Tantalus on Waiheke Island, but without the helicopters. The place is vast. The driveway in – it takes a while – look out for Range Rovers coming the other way who are entitled not to have to move out of the middle of the drive for anyone else, lol.
Landscaping costs must go into multi-millions. There are both shady nooks and wide lawns in abundance. The restaurant has that low-slung casual chic that aims at the Hamptons, but does have a very ‘Central Otago posh’ identity.
Currently there seemed to be a restaurant – The Woolshed; a bar that could have been a Tasting Room as well – the Manure Room, and The Dairy – a one room stone building serving six flavours of ice cream. Each had a few patrons. People in the restaurant lingering, tourists standing around outside the bar, and blocking paths; and a few kids eating ice creams in the gorgeous secluded courtyard round the back of the Dairy. There’s a playground, a stream and signs indicate a waterfall could be strolled to. The car park is huge and yet quite full – despite there being only about forty customers on site. Perhaps everyone brought their own electric SUV?
I’d definitely say that it is a worthy addition for the well-heeled lunchers of the region. It will take patronage away from the neighbours at Amisfield, Gibbston Valley and Artisan kitchen. When finished it will be quite the destination for anyone wanting a fancy trip out. I hear the wines are currently OK and made from bought grapes. The vines you see on the way in are only 18 months old of course. I recall the Pinot Noir being quite good at the judge’s dinner last year. I’ll wait and see if I can get samples, and review.
One to keep an eye out for – and do pay a visit if you’re in the area. I wish I had been brave enough to book for lunch. The restaurant was beautiful and the menu was everything I’d want – a bit of fish, some local proteins, and had a fresh, summery vibe to it.