Wine Growing Regions
New Zealand's first grape vines were planted in Northland in 1819, however winemaking almost died out here until a strong resurgence of interest in recent years.
The region is now expanding rapidly, although it still rates as the country's smallest. Grape growing is scattered over three districts: Kaitaia on the west coast in the far north, around the Bay of Islands on the northern east coast and near Whangarei, Northland's largest city.
Northland typically experiences the country's warmest ripening conditions which explains the popularity of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay, the region's three most widely planted grape varieties. Vineyards are sited mainly on flats or gentle slopes.
Soils vary throughout the region from shallow clay soils
over sandy-clay subsoils to free-draining volcanic structures.
A small group of wineries surrounding the small coastal town of Matakana produces some top quality red wines.
The Matakana region enjoys a cool maritime climate with high humidity and lots of rain during the winter months of June to September. During the summer, the prevailing wind is a warm northeasterly which limits the regions ability to grow thin-skinned grape varieties. Soils are mainly clay loams on a base of limestone or sand.
Matakana's first wines were produced in the late 1980's.
Several new wineries have opened since this time with most
concentrating on the production of cabernet-based reds, chardonnay,
pinot gris and riesling.
Waiheke Island is situated in the Hauraki Gulf, about half an hour from Auckland City by boat. Winemaking began on Waiheke in the 1970's. Since this time a number of wineries have been established and the Island is becoming renown for some superb quality wines such as those produced by Stephen White of Stonyridge Vineyard.
Most winemakers on Waiheke are growing cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, merlot, malbec and chardonnay grape varieties. Some are experimenting with pinot noir and sangiovese.
Waiheke's hot, dry climate makes it ideal for grape growing. It enjoys significantly less rainfall than Auckland, is less humid and has more sunshine hours. Because of its gulf location it has occasionally endured severe storms which has wiped out much of the season's crops.
While the quantity of wine produced on Waiheke is very small, even by New Zealand standards, the quality of the cabernet sauvignon and merlot are world class.
The Auckland region is one of the oldest vine-growing areas of New Zealand. Henderson, Kumeu and Huapai to the northwest of Auckland's city centre, are the traditional winemaking districts with many having been established by Croatians who arrived in the late 1800's to earn a living digging and selling kauri gum.
Waikato and Bay of Plenty
The Waikato and Bay of Plenty regions south of Auckland represent small but steadily expanding vineyard plantings (approx 100 ha) that occupy scattered pockets of land amidst rolling farmland. The region is made up of four sub-regions: Te Kauwhata, Hamilton, Bay of Plenty and the Mangatawhiri Valley.
Wine production is focused mainly on cardonnay with cabernet
sauvignon and sauvignon blanc occupying second and third place.
Small amounts of briedecker, gewurztraminer, chenin blanc,
palamino, riesling, sylvaner, baluberg, merlot and pinot noir
are also grown. Recently, there has been increased planting
of cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and malbec,
so we can expect to see increased production of wines from
The region enjoys a moderately warm climate by New Zealand standards with soils of heavy loams over clay subsoils. All sub-regions enjoy high levels of sunshine as well as high rainfall and humidity.
Gisborne has a reputation as the engine room of the New Zealand white wine industry and has built a special affinity to Chardonnay. Few people realise that it is not only New Zealand's third largest area in vines but that it produces as almost as much fruit as Hawke's Bay despite being nearly 1000 hectares smaller according to vintage returns from 2000.
This is of course because Gisborne vineyards tend to crop at higher levels than either Hawke's Bay or Marlborough and to some extent this is both positive and negative.
Talk to Steve Voysey at Montana and he will tell you that now the Corbans and Montana wineries have been joined by a series of underground pipes and linkages Gisborne boasts the biggest and arguably the most advanced winery facility in the country.
"Gisborne is capable of providing good quality, commercial fruit with great consistency year after year," says Steve, although he admits that the 2001 vintage was a severe aberration and saw crop levels drop by almost 40%.
"Our Gisborne Chardonnay is seen my most people to be at the cheaper end of the market but in the UK and the US it is marketed as a premium wine and sells in the UK for about £6. And this is one of the region's biggest assets, the ability to produce full blown, quality Chardonnay in commercial quantities with great consistency."
It is not only Montana that see Gisborne in this light. Nearly all the larger wine companies take considerable quantities of fruit from Gisborne but it is a sore point with some locals that the Gisborne origins are not always acknowledged.
And many of the locals argue that if the region were not so isolated geographically, the smaller, more boutique producers would be encouraged to make Gisborne their home. It is, of course, already home to a number of quality producers like The Millton Vineyard, New Zealand's premier organic and biodynamic vineyard which has an established national and international reputation.
Matawhero has had spectacular results in the past and Revington vineyard has produced some well-received wines but has little national profile. Waimata is the label that is used to market the wines made at the local Tairawhiti Polytech that offers a diploma in viticulture and oenology. All in all a very small number of individual producers when compared to either Hawke's Bay or Marlborough.
Encouragingly there seems to be a new feeling of optimism abroad. The establishment of Gisvin, a 3000 tonne crushing facility has located more of the winemaking processes within the area and hopefully will encourage more local growers to go down the path of Paul Tietjen and Geordie Witters.
Geordie has been growing for the major companies for 25 years and Paul has been supplying fruit since 1984. They have now combined to form their own label - TW - and use grapes from specially selected parcels of fruit from their own vineyards. "Sometimes we even do a skim pick before the machine harvesters come through" says Paul.
Amor Bendall is another company that has decided to stick to it's Gisborne base. Noel Amor is a food technology consultant who has made his lifelong hobby of winemaking into a major business concern.
The Amor-Bendall wines are sourced from various sites in the Gisborne area and vinified separately at the small, boutique winery at Wainui Beach. The company concentrates on white wines, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris but Noel expects to make red wines in Australia to add to the portfolio. Recent medal success indicates some of the potential to come from this label.
And last but not least, Gisborne has spawned two tiny production labels which have a particular interest in the organic nature of their production. Tiritiri is a fully organic vineyard on 0.67 acres in the Waimata Valley. Owner, Duncan Smith says that he thinks it is the smallest producing vineyard in New Zealand and aligns his grape growing and Chardonnay making with the cultivation of pecans, olives and walnuts.
On a similarly small scale Geoffrey Wright is marketing the
country's first vegan wines. No animal products are used in
the process of making or bottling the wine so egg fining,
the use isinglass or animal based glues are absent. The vineyard
Hawke's Bay - the name alone conjures up warmth, sunshine, blue skies and of course, great food and wine.
With vineyards as diverse as those on the coast at Te Awanga to inland regions such as the famous Church Road, Highway 50 and the Gimblett Gravels - the range of wine produced is also varied. The styles that portray Hawke's Bay's expertise more than any other are Merlot and Cabernet (or blends of) and richly flavoured Chardonnays. The region is well known to be New Zealand's leading producer of these red-wine styles, as it is better placed to fully ripen the grapes.
Syrah is also gaining a stronghold with some wonderful examples coming through. In the recent New Zealand Wine Society Royal Easter Wine Show, guest judge James Halliday, one of Australia's leading wine authorities, said that as well as Pinot Noir, Syrah was clearly a viable option for New Zealand. He said the Australians should no longer be complacent about their position at the top of the tree with regard to production of quality Syrah (or Shiraz as it is called in Australia).
Pinot Noir is not commonly grown in Hawke's Bay with the climate tending to be too warm, but we are seeing some lovely wines emerge with true varietal characters. Whether this fickle grape variety will expand in Hawke's Bay or remain firmly entrenched in the Wairarapa, Central Otago and Waipara/Canterbury remains to be seen.
Sauvignon Blanc is also produced in Hawke's Bay, though many recognise Marlborough as the true home of this grape. The Hawke's Bay wines that score well in wine shows and panel tastings tend to show Marlborough characteristics such as firm acidity, fresh, vibrant flavours and a touch of herbaceousness. Traditional Hawke's Bay Sauvignon Blanc is juicy with tropical fruit flavours and has less obvious acidity. While it is often pleasant to drink, it is perhaps not viewed as seriously as those from Marlborough.
If you are visiting Hawke's Bay, be sure to contact Hawke's
Bay Tourism for their excellent guides to the region including
the wineries, Farmer's Markets and more.
The Wairarpa (including Martinborough) is New Zealand's sixth largest wine producing region. Pinot Noir is the region's most planted and certainly most acclaimed grape variety.
Vines were first planted in the Wairarapa in the late nineteenth century, but wine making never really got established due to the introduction of prohibition around this time. Grapes would not be grown in this region again until the late 1970's when a noted soil physics and geology specialist co-founded the Martinborough Vineyard.
Most of the early wineries were located around the small town of Martinborough but subsequently a number have been established in the greater Wairarapa region - particularly the northern areas of Masterton and Gladstone and around Te Horo to the west.
Climatically Wairarapa is more aligned to Marlborough than to any of the North Island regions. The success and style of its Sauvignon Blanc is evidence of this alliance. The Wairarapa is the North Island's coolest and driest winemaking region, although the regions vineyards often must endure heavy onshore winds blowing north from the Cook Strait across the exposed plains of the southern Wairarapa.
The most prevalent grape varieties grown are pinot noir and chardonnay. Smaller quantities of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot are also prevalent. As more winemakers embrace pinot noir, this grape variety is expected to account for almost half of the region's production in the next few years.
Both sauvignon blanc and riesling also perform well in the
Wairarapa and plantings of pinot gris are on the increase.
Some say the Wairarapa produces New Zealand's best Pinot Gris
Nelson is the country's eighth largest wine region and is an area of artists, artisans and very stylish wines. Viticulture occupies scattered pockets with a range of horticultural activities on the alluvial loam soils of the Waimea Plains and in the folds and valleys of the beautiful hills throughout the district. Soil structure here changes to clay loams over hard clay subsoil.
The region is unusually sited on the western side of the country near the northern tip of the South Island. Mountains to the west of the region provide a rain shadow effect while coastline helps to moderate temperature extremes.
Nelson winemakers specialise and excel in grape varieties
that respond to cooler growing conditions. Since 1992 the
number of winemakers in Nelson has grown from 7 to 26 - an
indication of the growing popularity of this region for winemaking.
Over the same period of time the harvest has grown significantly
from 248 tonnes to 2313 tonnes. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc,
Riesling and Pinot Noir account for over 80% of the region's
Story by Vic Williams
Marlborough is New Zealand's largest winemaking region and it has almost single-handedly brought the local industry to the attention of the world.
Just one grape deserves the Kudos. Marlborough sauvignon blanc has been called the first totally new wine style of the past 100 years. This super aromatic variety, until the 1980s best known in France's Sancerre district, has found a second spiritual home on the sun-baked plains at the top of the South Island. It thrives on the stone-covered river flats, growing flavour strength through the long, sunny days and consolidating during the crisp, cool nights.
Even the super-parochial French acknowledge that the zesty local style is the way of the future - locals are getting used to seeing Sancerre producers touring the region, cheque-books in hand, in search of land.
Marlborough sauvignon blanc is unique and exciting, but this much blessed region is suitable for a wide range of grapes. Riesling, chardonnay, pinot noir, gewürztraminer, sémillon and pinot gris all perform well, and even hard-to-please cabernet franc, can be coaxed along to give reasonably rich flavours. At Fromm, Hatsch Kalberer has broken all the rules with a series of intense reds not only on these so-called Bordeaux varieties, but also on malbec and syrah - both grapes said to need baking heat to thrive.
Marlborough is also the centre of the nation's sparkling wine production. Industry giant, Montana, works with the house of Deutz in Champagne to make a local interpretation of their style, and even internationally famous Cloudy Bay takes a break from bottling the world's best-known sauvignon blanc to produce its own bubbly, Pelorus. Neither company enters its wines in local competitions, but many other Marlborough labels have achieved medal success.
Pinot Noir is Marlborough's new red star. Very good wines have been produced from this notoriously finicky grape, and most sell for several dollars less than their stellar cousins in Martinborough, Waipara and Central Otago.
Visitors are often surprised to learn that wine grapes weren't planted seriously in the region until the early 1970s. Frank Yukich, then the head of Montana Wines, had been told he was crazy to establish a vineyard on the Wairau Valley's dry, drought-prone soil, but that just encouraged him. He must be laughing now.
Marlborough's secret is in the stones. The whole valley was once criss-crossed with meandering rivers, and the stones the water left behind now reflect the sun's warmth onto the ripening grapes. The heat hangs around - an hour after sunset, the stones are still warm to touch, giving the grapes a little extra ripening time each day.
In the last few years, a second region has opened up in the Awatere Valley, a short drive from Blenheim. Here it is even drier and warmer than the Wairau, which is why several major companies have joined local growers in planting grapes. With land near any of Marlborough's big name properties now commanding a premium, it can be expected that sub-regions will continue to be discovered.
On the food side of the ledger, two winemaking couples deserve special mention. Toni and Terry Gillan, have opened restaurants, shopping centres and a hotel in Blenheim since they arrived from , the UK many years ago, and they have always had a good understanding of the place of honest food with good wine. Today, their cellar door sells tapas (Spanish nibbles) to go with their carefully made products.
More recently, Hans and Therese Herzog arrived from Switzerland,
where they operated a Michelin-starred restaurant, and have
established a winery, restaurant and tasting facility the
likes of which the town has never seen. Many of the staff,
including both chefs, have been brought over from Europe,
ande the wine list offers some of the world's greatest labels.
Han's own wines are a shining advertisement for low cropping,
such is their intensity.
Waipara is situated about 1 hour's drive north of the city
of Christchurch. Traditionally a farming area, significant
droughts in the region have shifted the emphasis toward wine
growing rather than dairy or cattle farming. The first grapes
were grown in the 1970s and 1980s. Significant recent interest
in the region has resulted in a number of new vineyard developments
and the establishment of new wineries.
Waipara has lower rainfall and less frost than Canterbury, and receives significant shelter from the cool, easterly breezes by the Teviotdale Hills. Most of the rainfall falls in the winter and early spring.
Waipara has two main soil types: the silty, alluvial soils alongside the Waipara River and silty loams intermingled with patches of clay north of the river.
The most widely grown grape varieties are sauvignon blanc, followed by riesling, chardonnay and pinot noir.
French settlers first planted grapes in this region in the 1840s on Banks Peninsula to the east of the city. However, it was not until the early 1970s after trials of a wide range of grape varieties by a group from Lincon University, that Canterbury's wine industry was really established.
The two main winegrowing areas in Canterbury are Banks Peninsula and the Canterbury plains to the west of the city. The soils are mainly alluvial silt loams over gravel subsoils and generally suited to chardonnay, pinot gris, pinot noir and riesling. Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are the most widely planted grape varieties, together making up nearly 60% of the region's vineyard. Riesling is the third most popular variety with Sauvignon Blanc in fourth place.
Long, dry summers, abundant sunshine and relatively cool
growing conditions are typical of this region. Canterbury
(including Waipara)is New Zealand's fourth largest wine region.
Central Otago is on the rise, in image and in plantings but it is still quite small. 600 hectares is just 3 percent of the national vineyard; Marlborough has ten times more area devoted to vine. But Central Otago claims its fair share of attention - and gold medals!
It is worth remembering that ten years ago there were just 32 hectares of vineyard in Central Otago and although there has been a very high percentage of growth, it still contains no "large" or "medium" sized wineries - all 48 winemakers are categorised "small" by New Zealand Winegrowers at this stage. "Small" means sales of less than 200,000 litres each per year.
A total of 600 hectares divided by 48 winemakers suggests an average of 11 to 13 hectares per winemaker. Based on the lower Central Otago yield (tonnes per hectare) and the smaller cropping varieties here, and "average" winery would make just 72,000 litres.
Initially it was Rolfe Mills of Rippon Estate at Wanaka and Alan Brady of Gibbston Valley out of Queenstown who set the scene for Central Otago, messing with varieties which had little glamour but supposedly were 'cool climate grapes'. Chard Farm joined in with their stark sloping vineyard a short distance from Gibbston Valley.
The early producers were single site wineries, true boutiques we might say - only the grapes grown there were processed in them. It was a wobbly period through the late 1980s as the need for something different, some regional statement, needed to be found in a style that was unique to Central Otago. The wineries were basic as well. Central Otago needed an evolution. Pinot Noir has provided the answer, so far, for a young region.
Gradually the spotlight widened to Bannockburn, Loburn and Alexandra. It was the start of the changes. Bannockburn is a little warmer than Gibbston Valley and picks grapes a week or two earlier. Chard Farm and Gibbston Valley wineries both started drawing grapes from the 'new' sub-region, melding them with grapes from their home site.
Olssens Vineyard at Bannockburn moved from grape grower to having their own label. Felton Road emerged as a winery and then as a statement about territory. Mt Difficulty linked four producing vineyards into one sensibly sized label. Carrick also moved from grape grower to winemaker with two partners and a new winery that has just opened.
Further out near Alexandra, Verdun Burgess and Sue Edwards had blasted and hacked a most remarkable Black Ridge vineyard from the rough rocky and schisty terrain, surely one of the most unlikely of achievements in the world of wine. Black Ridge remains the most southern winery in the world.
Viticultural activity has shot over around Cromwell and up the Clutha River. Closer to Wanaka, new names like Mount Maude and Mount Michael are making a strong early impression.
Closer to Queenstown, Gibbston Valley and Chard Farm have stopped being single estates as they draw grapes from a wide Central Otago catchment area. Chard Farm has formed a partnership in Lake Hayes Wines, based on the lake which also known as Hay's Lake (different spelling).
Also in the territory are actor Sam Neill (Two Paddocks)
and Director Roger Donaldson (Sleeping Dogs). Neill has brought
land further afield also, to add diversity and vintage security
to his label. Wentworth Properties with a mix of investors
sells housing sites with vineyard attached, in the same region.
Related winery is Peregrine enjoying very good first years
but there's more to come as things get established, including
a partnership at Lowburn of much larger proportions and a
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