New Zealand Wine Regions
New Zealand is a young wine-producing country located in the South Pacific.
Many worldwide became familiar with New Zealand due to it's very characteristic version of Sauvignon Blanc produced in the Marlborough region over the last 30 years.
However New Zealand's wine history actually goes back to 1819 when the first vines were planted by missionary Samuel Marsden, with viticulture further spread by James Busby, the same man known as the 'founder of the Australian wine industry' who first planted the Hunter Valley region.
New Zealand's temperate, maritime climate, make this country ideal for wine-growing and help it to produce a large array of varieties in many different styles.
New Zealand's wine growing areas consist of ten main regions, though this number could be expanded or contracted as there are not concrete boundaries to certain sub-regions or smaller areas.
These areas fall between the latitudes 36° to 45° South and span roughly 1,600km (990mi) and run almost North to South.
Starting from the top...
The northern-most area in New Zealand, where the first capital of New Zealand was founded near Russell, and where both Samuel Marsden and James Busby made some of New Zealand's first wines.
As Northland is the closest NZ wine region to the equator it experiences warmer temperatures with a climate well suited to Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah and Pinot Gris.
Northland Winegrowers Association now has a membership of over 50 vineyards and is growing each year.
The Auckland area has four very distinct wine regions within it's borders, Matakana, Kumeu, Waiheke Island, and Clevedon Hills.
Auckland has over 100 wine producers within it's borders (totally over 400ha) and, as is befitting the largest city in New Zealand, they are a diverse bunch.
Italian Reds in Matakana, Chardonnays in Kumeu, Bordeaux Reds and Syrahs on Waiheke Island and a couple of small producers making interesting aromatics in Clevedon Hills.
With several of the country's stalwarts of wine making still based in Auckland (producers such as Babich and Villa Maria Estate) and many newcomers having established themselves on the popular weekend get-away of Waiheke Island, Auckland is continuing to grow and develop it's wine industry.
Waikato/Bay Of Plenty
Waikato has a small but increasing area of vineyards, set amidst it's rolling hills and near the longest river in New Zealand, the Waikato River.
The area with more promise however is the mountainous Coromandel Peninsula, with vineyards springing up along it's lower, coastal areas, sheltered on most sides by mountain ranges and open to the sea in the east.
The Bay of Plenty is the headquarters for the well-known Mill's Reef winery which is centred just outside of Tauranga. There is however very little vineyard area in the Bay of Plenty itself, though the area, as the name suggests is bountiful for farming, so there is hope for an increase in vineyard plantings in the future.
Gisborne is one of New Zealand's best kept secrets.
It's hidden away out on the East Cape and even though it is the third largest producer and has a long history of quality wine making, most people outside New Zealand have never heard of it.
Gisborne has over 1,600 hectares of vineyard area, a large percentage of which is devoted to Chardonnay, though Viognier and aromatics like Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer have sizeable plantings as well.
Gisborne has played a large part in the increasing popularity of boutique wineries in New Zealand and is also trialling many new varietals.
Hawke's Bay is New Zealand's second largest wine region and boasts the country's oldest operating winery: Mission Estate, which was first planted in 1851.
Hawke's Bay has over 5000 hectares of vineyard area which plays host to a very wide selection of varieties, from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Chardonnay to Malbec, Syrah and Tempranillo and many in between.
Hawke's Bay is also home to New Zealand's first appellation-style area: the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District. This sub-region is the first NZ area to be protected by law in order to protect the identity and the quality of this area.
A compact yet diverse region at the end of New Zealand's North Island, Wairarapa has nearly 1000ha of vineyard area. This region is a relatively short drive from New Zealand's capital Wellington and specializes in a unique take on Pinot Noir.
First planted in 1883 this area fell victim to a temperance movement and did not recover until the 1970's.
Wairarapa also has an interesting version of Sauvignon Blanc that is often forgotten due to the combination of it's own Pinot Noir and the domination of the nearby Marlborough region's Sauvignon Blanc.
Situated at the top of the South Island, Nelson is known for it's sunshine.
Smaller production than close neighbours Marlborough, with just over 1000ha of vineyards, the two main sub-regions are the Waimea Plains and the Moutere Hills, which produce some of New Zealand's unsung wine heroes.
The compact size of Nelson means most tourists can get around the wineries in just a day or two at a leisurely pace.
Nelson has a mix of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Aromatics and has well-known wineries like Neudorf that keep it's reputation on everyone's minds.
Marlborough has around 2/3 of New Zealand's total vineyard area with over 23,000 hectares under vine.
A combination of cool climate with high sunshine hours, low rainfall and free-draining soils leads to a huge range of unique styles of several varieties.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is an international brand and was what propelled the New Zealand wine industry into the world wine spotlight.
Of Marlborough's 23,000ha, Sauvignon Blanc contributes nearly 18,000ha with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay a distant second and third place respectively.
These three areas combined have nearly 1,500ha of vineyard area between them.
Waipara Valley in the north is splitting off into it's own wine region and is producing some of the best Rieslings and Pinot Gris that New Zealand has to offer.
The Canterbury Plains have slightly older plantings with greywacke-based gravel soils, that can produce expressive Pinot Noirs and Rieslings.
The new area of Waitaki Valley in North Otago straddles the boundary between the Canterbury district and the Central Otago wine region, a more difficult area for growing but is showing real promise especially with Pinot Noir.
Central Otago is the world's southernmost wine region.
Just over 2,000ha of vineyards spread throughout high alpine glacial valleys and steep dry slopes overlooking bright aquamarine rivers and lakes.
Central Otago has become known for producing a Pinot Noir like no other, intense, fragrant and with excellent structure, it has become renowned for it's differences.
Pinot Noir makes up the vast majority of plantings, with Riesling and Pinot Gris increasing every year.
While experiments and trials had been performed earlier, the first commercial block of vines were planted by the pioneer, Alan Brady, at Gibbston Valley Wines, in the early 1980's.
This region now hosts a Pinot Noir Celebration every year, which draws Pinot lovers from all across the world.
Now our journey is over!
Travelling 1,600 kilometres from the top of Northland to end up in Central Otago near the bottom of New Zealand we have seen both warm regions and cold, Sauvignon and Syrah, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, we have seen a country with a wide range of wines, and as the country of my birth I do hope you can all come and visit someday!
Happy studies and if you have wine region you would like to learn about, please contact me.