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Wine Tourism: A journey through New Zealand

Category: Wine Tourism

Wine Tourism: A journey through New Zealand

New Zealand

In short:

New Zealand is most well known globally for its exquisite Sauvignon Blanc – but there’s more to this country’s winemaking prowess than the fruits of Marlborough.

With vineyards flourishing since the 1800s, unique mineral-rich terroirs spanning across ten wine regions and three islands to the mild maritime climates; there’s a wealth of variety waiting to be explored.

Although Marlborough is undoubtedly the most famous of New Zealand’s wine regions, vineyard plantings actually began on the North Island, as missionaries settled in the Bay of Islands. Soon there were vineyards planted across the island with the country’s oldest commercial vineyard, Mission Estate in the Hawke’s Bay established in 1851. The taste for wine grew, and with it the exploration of the vast landscapes and new grape varietals.


As with many of the world's wine regions, travellers and exploration have fuelled the industry. For New Zealand, the ‘60s and ‘70s brought a trend of young Kiwis travelling to Europe for their ‘Overseas Experience’, a key in unlocking the untapped potential in otherwise arable land. From their adventures in the Old World’s great wine regions, technique and excitement was imported back to New Zealand. Montana Wines (now Brancott Estate) were the first to kick off the trend and plant Sauvignon Blanc, just a stone’s throw from the official ‘wine capital of New Zealand’, Blenheim – by the ‘80s New Zealand was firmly on the map for wine lovers world-wide with huge expansion and world-first development in both viticulture and oenology.

New Zealand’s unique landscapes, mineral-rich soils and topographies, combined its position geographically enable slower fruit ripening. This in turn enables a greater development and depth of flavour, with less hardy varietals, such as Pinot Noir and Gewurztraminer benefitting immensely. The harvest timing alone speaks volumes for the variety, with the South Island beginning the grape harvest nearly two months after their counterparts in the North.

The North Island
With ancient riverbeds, undulating valleys and endless coastlines – the North Island offers warmer temperatures, alluvial soils and cooling breezes. These varied climates and terroirs create unique microclimates for each subregion, some as renowned as the Hawke’s Bay’s Gimblett Gravels have become the go-to for dedicated fans of New Zealand wine.

Known as ‘New Zealand’s fruit bowl’, the Bay of Plenty and Gisbourne regions have a rich history in fruit farming and wine production. With high sunshine hours and lighter clay soils, this region is famous for its Chardonnay, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Merlot and Malbec – with Spanish varietals like Albariño complimented perfectly by the coastal breezes.

Hawke's Bay:
Home to the famed Gimblett Gravels, with warmer temperatures and sheltered, low altitude vineyards creating the perfect temperate maritime climate. The Hawke's Bay is best known for superb Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot and equally impressive Chardonnay.

The Wairarapa regions rugged coastlines, forested valleys and mountains offer prime growing conditions for Pinot Noir, both for red wine production and delicate Provence style rosés.

Tony Bish 'Fat & Sassy' Chardonnay, Hawke's Bay
From the only producer in Australasia to specialise in the grape, this Chardonnay is aged in oak barrels to bring a bit of spice and complexity. Expect notes of citrus, stone fruits and pineapple.
Craggy Range Syrah, Gimblett Gravels
Gimblett Gravels is one of New Zealand’s premier wine-growing regions. When it comes to premium Syrah that really shows a sense of place, it’s hard to find a better wine than this.
Coney 'Pizzicato' Pinot Noir, Martinborough
Making the most of the Burgundy-like conditions, this Pinot has won awards over multiple vintages. It's light yet complex with flavours of raspberry, cherry and pomegranate.

The South Island
The largest of New Zealand’s islands, the South Island is most famed for its intense, fruity white wines.With the official wine capital in Nelson, the strength of the South Island’s wine tourism industry is almost as famous as the wine itself. Further south, the Southern Alps offer protection to Canterbury and Waipara with immense, pristine lakes, tussocky ‘deserts’ and fiordlands forging unique terroirs in Central Otago.

Located right at the tip of the South Island, Nelson’s winegrowing country is nestled among long sandy beaches, sub-tropical bush and vast coastlines. German settlers were the first to plant vines in Nelson, with many of the region's vineyards still producing exceptional expressions of these varietals.

Hailed as one of New Zealand’s most sunny and dry regions, Maori referred to the Wairau Valley as ‘Kei puta te Wairau’ – ‘The place with the hole in the cloud’. With over 30,000 hectares under vine, Marlborough produces almost two thirds of New Zealand’s wine over three core subregions: Wairau Valley, the Southern Valley and Awatere Valley.

This vast wine region spans almost 200km of the South Island’s eastern coastline, from the Southern Alps to the west and the sweeping Pacific Ocean to the east. The meeting of tectonic plates at the Alpine Fault creates volatility in the region, but also incredibly varied, rich growing soils and a cool, dry climate. Wines are renowned for their intense flavours, richness and complex fruit.

Central Otago:
Renowned for its stunning expressions of Pinot Noir and delicate, aromatic varietals as well as Chardonnay. The rugged, mountainous terrain of Otago provides each subregion with a unique climate, aspect and altitude allowing for huge diversity, flavour range and complexity.

Waimea Estates Gewürztraminer, Nelson
Trevor and Robyn Bolitho were growing apples on this estate and diversified into vines, with impressive results. An intense, tropical-fruit-laden wine, full of concentrated flavours of orange zest and lychee.
Steve Bird ‘The Whanau Reserve’ Pinot Gris, Marlborough
As one of New Zealand’s few Māori winemakers, Steve Bird can trace his lineage back 800 years to the arrival of the Te Arawa and Mataatua canoes. His winery has family and sustainability at their core, and these practices shine through in their exceptional wines.
Pegasus Bay 'Bel Canto' Riesling, Waipara Valley
A family affair, Pegasus Bay is run by the couple and their four sons. Their sheltered, low-yielding vines are over 30 years old, producing flavourful grapes with plenty of natural acidity thanks to the cool nights. Riesling thrives under these conditions, and Bel Canto is only made in exceptional years.