More than Marlborough Wine
Whether you’re tripping or sipping, now’s a good time to discover the many wine regions of New Zealand.
From north to south
New Zealand produces just one per cent of the world’s wine, but the varied climates, from sub-tropical to frosty, produce an impressive range of wine styles. A comprehensive wine tour of New Zealand could take you 1600km, from the very tip of the North Island to Central Otago in the south. Working south from Auckland, here are some of the country’s significant wine regions.
This tiny island is just a 35-minute ferry ride from central Auckland. The first vines were planted here in the 1970s but now more than 20 wineries, some with acclaimed restaurants, attract many wine tourists. The thin layer of ancient soils over hard bedrock challenges the vines, producing highly concentrated wines, particularly elegant reds. Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends predominately, with Syrah (the New Zealand version of Shiraz) and Chardonnay also important.
Just over an hour’s drive south of Auckland on the east coast, Gisborne is where the migrating Maori first landed in New Zealand and where Captain Cook made his first landfall. NZ’s third largest wine region, Gisborne is famous for producing exceptional Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Merlot and Malbec. The pedal-powered winery tour, including a vineyard lunch, is a popular option.
Further down the east coast, Hawke’s Bay bills itself as food and wine country and is famous for its fresh produce. It’s also a hub for craft beer and cider making. The first vines were planted here in 1851 and today you’ll find more than 70 wineries and cellar doors. The second largest of New Zealand’s wine regions, it is best known for its Chardonnay and its powerful reds: Merlot, Cabernet blends and Syrah.
On the southernmost tip of the North Island. next door to the capital, Wellington, Wairarapa is at the heart of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail, a self-drive trail from Hawke’s Bay to Marlborough. The mostly family-run vineyards produce some world-class Pinot Noir. There are more than 20 cellar doors within walking or cycling distance of the village of Martinborough or take a pleasant country drive to the vineyards of Masterton or Gladstone.
Across Cook Strait (around a three hour journey on the ferry) is the Marlborough region. This likely needs no introduction, as Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is New Zealand’s biggest wine export. This region produces more than two thirds of New Zealand’s wine and about 80 per cent of that is Sauvignon Blanc. You’ll also find some excellent Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs.
The Canterbury Plains is the area around Christchurch and most of the region’s wineries are just a short drive from the city. A sunny, dry climate, cold winters and long growing season are ideal for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and aromatic Riesling and Pinot Gris. The Pinots and Rieslings of the Waipara Valley sub-region are particularly noteworthy. While you’re in the area, the seaside village of Kaikōura is famous as New Zealand’s ‘crayfish capital’. Perfect with a glass of local white.
Set amid snowy peaks and deep ravines, the vineyards of Central Otago have a unique climate, altitude and aspect. The hero variety of New Zealand’s most southerly wine region is definitely Pinot Noir, which makes up more than 80 per cent of the plantings here. There are half a dozen sub-regions and the character of the wines varies from the highly distinctive and complex to the delicate and aromatic.
But wait, there’s more
There are more than 2000 vineyards spread over the length and breadth of New Zealand, and many more wine areas than we’ve covered here. The New Zealand Wine website – nzwine.com – is a good place to start if you’re planning a tour. Or even if you’re an armchair traveller wanting to widen your wine experience at home.