It is an old saying that when God made the world there were lots of bits left over – all put together into the two islands we call New Zealand; with its towering Kauri forests, mountain ranges, volcanos, fjords, rivers and rapids, golden beaches and wide open plains. The Maoris call this land AOTEAROA or ‘the land of the long white cloud’.
New Zealand mainly comprises two islands: North Island and South Island separated by the Cook Strait , 70 kms (43m) across very choppy seas. The population is now approximately 5 million and the capital, Wellington, is situated at the southern tip of the North Island. 2000m to the west across the Tasman Sea lies Australia. (Whence, in the 1830’s was sent by the Governor of N.S.W., a certain James Busby to act as ‘British Resident’ who helped draft various important treaties with the Maoris, but who also established a vineyard. It was Mr. Busby who later returned to NSW and set up the first vineyards in the Hunter Valley!)
There are ten distinct wine growing areas of New Zealand; in the North Island : Northland, Waiheke Island, Auckland, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay, Wairapa and Martinborough. And in the South Island: Marlborough, Nelson, Waitaki Valley, Canterbury and Central Otago. The main grape grown across all regions is Sauvignon Blanc amounting to about 60% of the total and approx 86% of wine exports. Pinot Noir flourishes in Martinborough and Central Otago while Riesling, Pinot Grigio and Gewürztraminer are spread over all parts of the country. Wine production in New Zealand has grown exponentially over the last three decades with overseas, mainly Australian and American, investors buying in and amalgamating some of the old vineyard names. Wine has now overtaken wool exports in percentage terms!
NORTH ISLAND: Hawkes Bay on the East Coast with a similar climate to Bordeaux, and developed by Australian McWilliams in the 1970’s. Here are some super red blends, Syrahs, Cabernets, Merlots and Pinot Noirs. Babich, Craggy Range, Kim Crawford, Esk Valley Wines, Te Awa, Trinity Hill and Villa Maria. Martinborough over the mountains to the north of Wellington with its Dry River, Ata Rangi and Palliser brands – lovely Chardonnays and Pinots Gris, Craggy Range and Escarpment. And what about little Waiheke Island way up north in the gorgeous Bay of Islands with its special Man O’War Sauvignon Blancs and Semillons.
SOUTH ISLAND:Marlborough in the north of the South Island. This is a sunny and well-protected landscape, planted in early 70’s, and probably now most famous for Sauvignon Blanc production: Cloudy Bay (owned by French giants LVMH) also with its Te Koko and Pelorus brands; Brancott Estates, the largest producers all over NZ., Saint Clair, Jackson Estate, Babich, Dog Point, Spy Valley, Kim Crawford and Greywacke; plus the estimable Villa Maria, also spread wide across the whole country. Between Marlborough and the city of Christchurch lies the Waipara Valley - Waipara Springs Vineyard, with its clay and limestone soils, and making consistently good Chardonnays, Pinot Noirs and Rieslings.
Central Otago: much further south and in the lee of the Southern Alps offering some super Pinot Noirs and Rieslings and makers of note - Felton Road, Burn Cottage and Pyramid Valley.
New Zealand may be a small country in size but it is a great country: its peoples, mighty landscapes, good governance and wines to stand alongside the very best in the world