Guide to New Zealand’s top wine regions
By Bookabach staff
Posted: 30-Mar-2015 | Last edited: 09-Apr-2015 | Views: 2360 | Permalink
Where better to experience a great wine than in the place it was made? Gaze out at the landscape while sipping wine that is an expression of the terroir - the geography, geology and climate of a place that make it unique.
In New Zealand we’re blessed with lots of sunshine, sweeping plains around braided rivers, and beneath towering mountains in the south, a spectacularly long and beautiful coastline, and rolling hills in the north. Our geology, sunshine and maritime climate is part of what makes New Zealand wines world-renowned. It also makes a trip through our wine-growing regions a particular and scenic pleasure. While Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and Central Otago Pinot Noir may be some of our most famous wines, there are so many more to discover! Many wineries have excellent cellar doors, where notable wine is matched with great food, architecture and scenery, along with the chance to learn about the winemaking process from the people who are passionate about it.
(Drink responsibly! Take your wine tour by bus or bike, or nominate a sober driver. Or taste, then take your bottle back to the bach to enjoy.)
Check out Cuisine’s Good Food Guide for a list of winery restaurants.
Auckland’s wine heritage lies out west, where Croatian and other Europeans settled in the 1900s, bringing their wine-making traditions with them. Head west and discover famous wineries such as Kumeu River with its highly-praised Chardonnay, Matua Valley, Coopers Creek and Nobilo. West Auckland is renowned for Chardonnay and Merlot. Mix in a trip to a wild west coast beach, hike or bike a forest trail, then finish with a wine tasting perhaps – you can find good food to match with local wines at the Tasting Shed or Soljans, if you’re out Kumeu way.
Drive north of Auckland to the rolling hills and vineyards around Matakana, and you’ll find farmers’ markets, lovely white sand beaches and art galleries too. Matakana produces good classic reds, such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Sangiovese, as well as Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. The Vintry wine bar in Matakana Village proudly sells Matakana wines, all grown within a 14km radius. Some popular vineyards with cellar doors and restaurants include Runner Duck and Plume Restaurant, Ascension and Mahurangi River. At Brick Bay, the Glasshouse is a beautiful spot to taste wine or dine, and there’s a sculpture trail through bush and lovely landscaping. For a smaller, quirkier vineyard, visit Heron’s Flight, specializing in Sangiovese and Dolcetto.
Half an hour from downtown Auckland by ferry, lies Waiheke, “The Island of Wine”. It’s renowned for boutique vineyards with lovely sea views, producing some excellent Syrah, and Bordeaux style reds. Vineyards with a cellar door open year-round include Batch, Cable Bay, Jurassic Ridge, Man O War, Miro, Mudbrick, Passage Rock and Stonyridge. Poderi Crisci and Te Whau have great reputations for their winery restaurants too. Wild on Waiheke includes a brewery, outdoor activities and a playground for children.
Photo: Te Whau vineyard, Waiheke
Hawke’s Bay is NZ’s oldest wine region, and the second largest producer. Grapes have been grown here since 1851, when Marist missionaries planted vines. That heritage is preserved at Mission Estate winery and restaurant today. The maritime climate is similar to Bordeaux, and the region is a leading producer of full-bodied reds. The long sunshine hours in the region are great for viticulture, and also for tootling around the Hawke’s Bay Wine Trail, which includes some 72 wineries. Vineyards such as Mission Estate, and Black Barn are popular venues for open-air concerts and other events.
With 180 kms of cycle trails in the area, biking is a fantastic way to appreciate the scenery and the wines of Hawke’s Bay together. The Wineries Ride, part of the NZ Cycle Rail, is mainly flat and takes in the wine-growing areas of Gimblett Gravels and Ngatarawa Triangle. With its dramatic coastal landscape and Art Deco architecture, Hawke’s Bay offers lots to explore beyond wine – from the National Aquarium to golf and local arts.
Photo: Hawkes Bay vines
Lying at the easternmost point of the North Island, the Gisborne region has lots of sun and a warm, dry climate. Sea breezes produce a cooling effect, as in many great wine-growing areas. The area is famous for Chardonnay, but produces a great range of varieties, from aromatics, such as Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer, to Bordeaux-style reds. Many of the wineries are only open at certain times of the year, so it may pay to book a wine tour, or drop in to the Gisborne Wine Centre, where you can make cellar door bookings, and try local wines. Some well-known local wineries are Matawhero, Millton, Longbush and Huntaway.
With good surf and lots of sun, Gisborne is a fantastic starting point for a summer holiday too. Head north to the East Cape for a road trip through Maori communities and small coastal settlements, or just relax on a lovely beach.
The famous Gisborne Wine and Food Festival is held on the Sunday of Labour Weekend, in October.
Photo: Gisborne Wine
You’ll find early settler history and great pinot noir in Wairarapa.
Vineyards are centred round Gladstone with its river terraces, Masterton, and the pretty, wine village of Martinborough. Masterton is Wairarapa’s largest town, and the centre of the Classic NZ Wine Trail. The nearby Tararua Ranges produce frosts, while the days are often sunny, leading to complexity of flavour. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir dominate.
Martinborough is a boutique wine village with a colonial feel, from its street grid based on the Union Jack, to its nineteenth century buildings. The town is small and pretty, surrounded by vineyards, which visitors can bike between. It’s a popular holiday spot, with restaurants, spas and golf on offer too. While Martinborough is famous for pinot noir, its mineral–rich soils and cool climate produce good Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and aromatics too.
Crowds flock to Martinborough for the Toast Martinborough Festival, a celebration of local wines, cuisine and music, held in the surrounding vineyards every November.
Photo: Destination Wairarapa
World famous for Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough is the perfect place to sip a sav while enjoying local green-shell mussels and views of spectacular scenery.
NZ’s premier wine region, set at the top of the South Island, Marlborough is ridiculously scenic, from the deep waters of the Sounds, to the alluvial plains stretching back towards the mountain ranges inland. The first vines were planted here in 1873, but wine making didn’t take off commercially until the 1970s. In 1973 Montana bought large tracts of land, reasoning that Marlborough had perfect potential as a grape growing area, thanks to its high sunshine, minimum rain and free-draining soil. Montana established its first vineyard, now known as Brancott Estate, and trialed Sauvignon Blanc there. The rest is history.
Other pioneers include Ernie Hunter, who first took Hunter’s Fume Blanc to the Sunday Times Vintage Festival in 1986, winning a gold medal three years in a row. Cloudy Bay is another boutique winery, established in 1985, that has received a great number of accolades. These days, Marlborough produces the majority of the grapes in the country, has over 100 wineries, and over 40 cellar doors.
The Marlborough Wine & Food Festival is NZ’s longest running such festival – it draws crowds every February, showcasing 50 wineries, great food and entertainment, in the picturesque setting of Brancott Vineyard.
Photo: Wine Marlborough
The Nelson region, with its famous sunshine and gentle climate, has long been prized for its fertility and growing conditions. German settlers, who arrived from the 1800s, were some of the first to specialize in wine-making, fruit trees and hops. Grapes were grown from the 1860s, but viticulture really took off from the 1970s, with vineyards such as Seifried Estate and Neudorf. Grapes are grown on the clay of the Moutere Hills, and on the stony soils of the Waimea Plains. Nelson is known for great Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and for producing fine aromatics, with an innovative, artisan approach. Vineyards that won gold medals or 5 star ratings in 2014 include Seifried, Neudorf, Waimea Estates, Brightwater, Rimu Grove and Kina Beach Vineyard.
With all that Nelson sunshine, you’ll want to explore some of the beautiful beaches in the area, hike or bike in the bush, and discover some of the many art galleries, studios and cafes too.
Photo: Golden Bay / Bookabach.co.nz/34625
Cool climate wines – Canterbury is perfect for them. The region has stony alluvial soils, and a climate that is hot in summer, cool, clear and frosty in winter. Riesling and Pinot Noir in particular have gained awards and accolades. With the Southern Alps to the west, and the Pacific Ocean to the east, it’s a very scenic area for a wine tour too. Vineyards are clustered in three areas – Waipara Valley to the north of Christchurch, Banks Peninsula and the Canterbury Plains, and Waitaki Valley to the south of the city.
It’s an easy drive from Christchurch, “The Garden City”, to vineyards on the Canterbury Plains, or out to Banks Peninsula. Riesling and Pinot Noir are the stars of the area. Banks Peninsula is home to a handful of wineries, and attracts holidaymakers with its lovely scenery, beaches, French influence around Akaroa, and marine wildlife.
The Waipara Valley lies about 40 minutes’ drive north of Christchurch, towards Kaikoura, in the shelter of the Teviotdale Hills. Aromatics from this new, exciting and expanding wine area are highly rated. Wineries such as Greystone, Waipara Hills, Mud House, Torlesse and Pegasus Bay have won awards for Pinot Noir, Riesling and other aromatics, and have cellar doors. The Waipara Wine and Food Festival takes place in March.
The Waitaki Valley lies between Canterbury and North Otago, with the braided Waitaki River being the natural border between the two. The limestone, greywhacke and schist soils give the wines a characteristic minerality, with Pinot Noir and aromatics such as Gewürztraminer, Pinot Gris and Riesling being notable. It’s a scenic and unspoilt area, with Kurow and Oamaru the local towns. Apart from the wine, visitors can try hiking, gliding, jetboating, cycle the Alps2Ocean trail or see Maori rock art.
Photo: Black Estate winery /Jocelyn Kinghorn
Central Otago is the southernmost grape-growing region in the world. Surrounded by mountains, it has an almost Continental climate: dry, with hot sunny days, and cold nights. The temperature extremes contribute to complexity of flavour. Central Otago is most famous for its Pinot Noir, but also produces good Chardonnay and other varieties. At 45 degrees south, the climate has similarities to the famous grape-growing region of Burgundy, which lies round 45 degrees north. There are four sub-regions to the Central Otago grape-growing area: Cromwell Basin with 70% of the vineyards, Gibbston, with 20%, Clyde and Alexandra with 7%, and Wanaka with 3%.
Head to Gibbston Valley, or Rippon Vineyard on Lake Wanaka, and you can sample famous Central Otago Pinot Noir amidst mountains, lakes and beautiful scenery. With the popular holiday spots of Queenstown, Arrowtown and Wanaka nearby, there are loads of places to stay, to enjoy the wine as well as great skiing, hiking, biking and all manner of adrenalin pursuits.
Stay in the Central Otago District to escape holiday crowds, and explore historic towns, such as Dunstan and Cromwell, or bike the Otago Rail Trail.
Photo: Rippon Winery