New Zealand wine
A selection of New Zealand wines
|Climate region||Ia–III, mainly II|
|Precipitation (annual average)||300–1500 mm (12–59 in)|
|Size of planted vineyards||38,680 hectares (95,600 acres)|
|No. of vineyards||2019|
|Grapes produced||413,000 tonnes|
|Wine produced||2.974 million hectolitres (78.6 million US gallons)|
|Comments||Data from 2019|
New Zealand wine is produced in several winegrowing regions of New Zealand. The country's elongated island geography in the South Pacific Ocean results in maritime climates with considerable regional variation from north to south. Like many other New World wines, it is usually produced and labelled as single varietal wines, or if blended the varietal components are listed on the label. New Zealand is best known for its Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and more recently its dense, concentrated Pinot Noir from Marlborough, Martinborough and Central Otago.
While New Zealand wine traces its history to the 19th century, the modern wine industry in New Zealand began in the mid-20th century and expanded rapidly in the early 21st century, averaging 17% per annum in the first two decades. In 2019, New Zealand produced 297 million litres from 38,680 hectares (95,600 acres) of vineyard area, about three-quarters of which is dedicated to Sauvignon Blanc. Nearly 90% of total production is exported, chiefly to the United States, Britain and Australia, reaching a record NZ$1.83 billion in export revenue in 2019. In each of the previous 10 years, New Zealanders consumed a fairly constant 20 litres of wine per adult, about a third of which was imported from other countries, mainly Australia.
Winemaking and vine growing date back to the colonial era in New Zealand. British Resident James Busby, a keen oenologist who had also established wine regions in Australia such as the Hunter Valley, was producing wine on his land near Waitangi for locally-stationed British soldiers in 1836. In 1851, French Marist missionaries established a vineyard for making Communion wine. Now part of the Mission Estate Winery in Hawke's Bay, it is the oldest commercial vineyard in New Zealand. William Henry Beetham is recognised as being the first person to plant Pinot Noir and Hermitage (Syrah) grapes in New Zealand at his Lansdowne, Masterton vineyard in 1881. In 1895 the expert consultant viticulturist and oenologist Romeo Bragato was invited by the NZ government's Department of Agriculture to investigate winemaking possibilities. After tasting Beetham's Hermitage, he concluded that New Zealand and the Wairarapa in particular were "pre-eminently suited to viticulture." Beetham was supported in his endeavours by his French wife Marie Zelie Hermance Frere Beetham. Their partnership and innovation to pursue winemaking helped form the basis of modern New Zealand's viticulture practices. Dalmatian immigrants arriving in New Zealand in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought with them viticultural knowledge and planted vineyards in West and North Auckland. Typically, their vineyards produced table wine and fortified wine to suit the palates of their own communities.
For the first half of the 20th century, economic, legislative and cultural factors made wine a marginal economic activity. The most common use of land in New Zealand during this period was animal agriculture, and the exports of dairy, meat, and wool dominated the economy. The majority of New Zealanders were of British descent, and favoured beer and spirits, and the prohibition and temperance movements further reduced the national appreciation for wine. The Great Depression of the 1930s also hampered growth for the fledgling industry.
In the late 1960s and early 1970s, these factors that had held back the development of the winemaking industry simultaneously underwent subtle but important changes. In 1973, Britain entered the European Economic Community, which required the ending of historic trade terms for New Zealand meat and dairy products. This led ultimately to a dramatic restructuring of the agricultural economy. Before this restructuring was fully implemented, diversification away from traditional "primary" products—dairy, meat and wool—to products with potentially higher economic returns was explored. Vines, which produce best in low moisture and low soil fertility environments, were seen as suitable for areas that had previously been marginal pasture. The end of the 1960s saw the end of the New Zealand policy known as the "six o'clock swill", where pubs were open for only an hour after the end of the working day and closed all day on Sunday. The same legislative reform saw the introduction of BYO ("bring your own") licences for restaurants, which had a marked effect on New Zealanders' appreciation of and approach to wine.
Finally, the advent of jet airliners in the late 1960s and early 1970s brought in the “OE”, short for “overseas experience”, where young, typically well-educated New Zealanders spent a time living and working overseas, often in Europe. The ensuing exposure to wine while abroad subsequently stimulated demand within New Zealand.
In 1973, Montana (now Brancott Estate, owned by Pernod Ricard) planted Marlborough's first vineyards and produced its first Sauvignon Blanc in 1979, labelled by year of production (vintage) and grape variety, in the style of wine producers in Australia. Also produced in that year were superior quality wines of Müller-Thurgau, Riesling and Pinotage. Good Cabernet Sauvignon wine from Auckland and Hawke's Bay also bolstered the industry with ever-increasing investment, vineyard plantings, rising land prices and greater local interest and pride. The result of this boom was over-planting, particularly in hybrids and less well regarded but high yield varietals such as Müller-Thurgau. A 1984 government initiative paid growers to pull up vines in the hopes of addressing the issue, but many growers used the grants to swap these varieties with more fashionable ones, particularly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, often keeping the old root stock. This, combined with the introduction throughout the 1980s of much improved canopy management techniques to reduce leaf vigour and improve grape quality, set the New Zealand wine industry on course for recovery and greatly improved quality.
Sauvignon Blanc breakthrough
By the 1980s, wineries in New Zealand, especially in the Marlborough region, were producing outstanding Sauvignon Blanc. It was in 1985 that the Sauvignon Blanc from Cloudy Bay Vineyards finally garnered international attention and critical acclaim for New Zealand wine. Wine writer George Taber recounts that Cloudy Bay is “what many people consider to be the world's best Sauvignon Blanc.” New Zealand's reputation is now well established; Oz Clarke wrote that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc was “arguably the best in the world”, and Mark Oldman wrote that “New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is like a child who inherits the best of both parents—exotic aromas found in … the New World and the pungency and limy acidity of an Old World Sauvignon Blanc like Sancerre.”
Climate and soil
Wine regions are mostly located in free draining alluvial valleys (Hawke's Bay, Martinborough, Nelson, the Wairau and Awatere valleys of Marlborough, and Canterbury) with notable exceptions (Waiheke Island, Kawarau Gorge in Central Otago). The alluvial deposits are typically the local sandstone called greywacke, which makes up much of the mountainous spine of New Zealand.
Sometimes the alluvial nature of the soil is important, as in Hawke's Bay where the deposits known as the Gimblett Gravels represent such quality characteristics that they are often mentioned on the wine label. The Gimblett Gravels is an area of former riverbed with very stony soils. The effect of the stones is to lower fertility, lower the water table, and act as a heat store that tempers the cool sea breezes that Hawke's Bay experiences. This creates a significantly warmer meso-climate.
Another soil type is represented in Waipara, Canterbury. Here there are the Omihi Hills which are part of the Torlesse group of limestone deposits. Viticulturists have planted Pinot Noir here due to French experience of the affinity between the grape type and the chalky soil on the Côte-d'Or. Even the greywacke alluvial soils in the Waipara valley floor have a higher calcium carbonate concentration, as can be witnessed from the milky water that flows in the Waipara River.
The Kawarau valley has a thin and patchy topsoil over a bedrock that is schist. Early vineyards blasted holes into the bare rock of north facing slopes with miners caps to provide planting holes for the vines. These conditions necessitate irrigation and make the vines work hard for nutrients. This, low cropping techniques and the thermal effect of the rock produces great intensity for the grapes and subsequent wine.
The wine regions in New Zealand stretch from latitudes 36°S in the north (Northland) (comparable in latitude to Jerez, Spain), to 45°S (Central Otago) in the south (comparable in latitude to Bordeaux, France). The climate in New Zealand is maritime, meaning that the sea moderates the weather, producing cooler summers and milder winters than would be expected at similar latitudes in Europe and North America. Maritime climates tend also to demonstrate higher variability with cold snaps possible at any time of the year and warm periods even in the depth of winter. The climate is typically wetter, but wine regions have developed in rain shadows and in the east, on the opposite coast from the prevailing moisture-laden wind. The wine regions of New Zealand tend to experience cool nights even in the hottest of summers. The effect of consistently cool nights is to produce fruit which is nearly always high in acidity.
Industry structure and production methods
New Zealand's winemakers employ a variety of production techniques. The traditional concept of a vineyard, where grapes are grown on the land surrounding a central simply owned or family-owned estate with its own discrete viticultural and winemaking equipment and storage, is only one model. While the European cooperative model (where district or AOC village winemaking takes place in a centralized production facility) is uncommon, contract growing of fruit for winemakers has been a feature of the New Zealand industry since the start of the winemaking boom in the 1970s. Indeed, many well-known producers started out as contract growers.
Many fledgling producers started out using contract fruit while waiting for their own vines to mature enough to produce production-quality fruit. Some producers use contract fruit to supplement the range of varieties they market, even using fruit from other geographical regions. It is common to see, for example, an Auckland producer market a "Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc" or a Marlborough producer market a "Gisborne Chardonnay". Contract growing is an example of the use of indigenous agro-industrial methods that predate the New Zealand wine industry.
Another example of the adaptation of NZ methods toward the new industry was the universal use of stainless steel in winemaking adapted from the norms and standards of the New Zealand dairy industry. There was an existing small-scale industrial infrastructure ready for winemakers to economically employ. While current winemaking technology is almost universally sterile and hygienic worldwide, the natural antibiotic properties of alcohol production were more heavily relied upon in the 1970s when the New Zealand wine industry started. This pervasive use of stainless steel had a distinctive effect on both New Zealand wine styles and the domestic palate. The early wines which made a stir internationally were lauded for the intensity and purity of the fruit in the wine. Indeed, the strength of flavour in the wine accommodated very dry styles, despite intense acidity. While stainless steel did not produce the intensity of fruit, it allowed for its exploitation. Even today, New Zealand white wines tend toward the drier end of the spectrum.
Varieties, styles and directions
New Zealand has long been best known for its Sauvignon Blanc, which dominates New Zealand's wine industry. In 2017 its vines took up 22,085 hectares (54,570 acres) of vineyard area, a full 60% of New Zealand's total grape planting, and Sauvignon Blanc wine made up 86% of the nation's exports. New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc is regarded by many critics as among the best in the world. Historically, Sauvignon Blanc has been used in many French regions in both AOC and Vin de pays wine, and famously Sancerre and Pouilly Fumé. Following Robert Mondavi's lead in renaming Californian Sauvignon Blanc Fumé Blanc (partially in reference to Pouilly Fumé, but also to denote the smokiness of the wine produced from flinty soil and oak barrel ageing), there was a trend for oaked Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand during the late 1980s. Strong oaky overtones dropped out of fashion through the 1990s but have since made a come-back, with several makers now offering oak-aged Sauvignon Blanc (Greywacke, Dog Point, te Pa Sauvignon Blanc 'Oke', Sacred Hill “Sauvage”, Jackson Estate "Grey Ghost", and Saint Clair “Barrique”).
Chardonnay is produced as far south as Central Otago, but plantings increase the further north one goes. There is little discernible difference in styles of Chardonnay between the New Zealand wine regions; individual winemakers' recipes, use of oak, and the particular qualities of a vintage have tended to blur any distinction of terroir. It is therefore unsurprising that almost every region is represented among the most highly rated New Zealand Chardonnays, which include wines from Kumeu River Estate (Kumeu), Church Road, Clearview, Sacred Hill, Villa Maria and Te Mata Estate (Hawke's Bay), Ata Rangi (Martinborough), Fromm (Marlborough), Neudorf (Nelson), Millton Estate (Gisborne). Although Chardonnay may be less fashionable than it was ten years ago (it has declined in vineyard area in the last ten years, losing ground to Pinot Gris), winemakers in 2016 reported strong sales and a recent upswing. It also commands higher prices than any other New Zealand white wine variety.
Pinot Gris emerged in the early 2000s from almost nowhere to the country's fourth most planted variety 2017, overtaking Riesling in 2007. It is planted mostly in Marlborough, Hawke's Bay and Gisborne, with the remainder in the South Island. Some of the initial plantings of Pinot Gris were identified later as Flora; indeed, some Auckland winemakers have incorporated this mishap into their Flora wine names, such as "The Rogue" from Ascension and "The Impostor" from Omaha Bay Vineyards.
Other white wines
Other white wine varietals grown in New Zealand include (in descending order of vineyard area) Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Viognier, and less commonly Chenin Blanc, Albariño, Arneis and Sémillon. Riesling is produced predominantly in Martinborough and the South Island. The same may be said about Gewürztraminer, although it is also planted extensively in Gisborne. Chenin Blanc was once more important, but the viticultural peculiarities of the variety, particularly its unpredictable cropping in New Zealand, have led to its disfavor. Good examples nevertheless exist, from Esk Valley, Margrain and Millton Estate.
Today, New Zealand is internationally most well known for red wines made from traditional French varieties. After Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir has become New Zealand's second most planted variety, while in the warmer regions, particularly Hawke's Bay and Waiheke Island, Syrah and Bordeaux-style blends of mainly Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have been gaining recognition.
The late 1970s was early in the modern wine industry, and the comparatively low annual sunshine hours to be found in New Zealand discouraged the planting of red varieties. Despite this, some held great hopes for Pinot Noir. Initial results were mixed due to limited access to good clones, yet the Saint Helena 1984 Pinot Noir was notable enough that the Canterbury region was thought to become the New Zealand home for Pinot Noir. While the early excitement passed, the Canterbury region has witnessed the development of Pinot Noir as the dominant red variety, particularly in the now dominant Waipara sub-region. Producers include Waipara Hills, Pegasus Bay, Waipara Springs, Muddy Water, Greystone, Omihi Hills and Black Estate.
The next region to excel with Pinot Noir was Martinborough, 75 kilometres (47 mi) east of Wellington in the Wairarapa region. Several vineyards, including Palliser Estate, Martinborough Vineyards, Murdoch James Estate (now Luna Estate) and Ata Rangi consistently produced interesting and increasingly complex wine from Pinot Noir at the end of the 1980s and into the 1990s.
At around this time the first plantings of Pinot Noir in Central Otago occurred in the Kawarau Gorge. Central Otago had a long (for New Zealand) history as a producer of quality stone fruit, particularly cherries. Significantly further south than all other wine regions in New Zealand, it nevertheless benefited from being surrounded by mountain ranges which increased both its daily and seasonal temperature variations, making the climate unusual in the typically maritime conditions in New Zealand, and ideal for growing Pinot Noir. Indeed, recent years have seen Pinot Noir from Central Otago winning numerous international awards and accolades, and have excited the interest of British wine commentators including Jancis Robinson and Oz Clarke. Not only did the wines have the distinctive acidity and abundant fruit of New Zealand wines, but they demonstrated a great deal of complexity, with aromas and flavours not common in New Zealand wine and normally associated with Burgundy wine. Notable producers include Akarua, Felton Road, Chard Farm and Mount Difficulty.
In a blind tasting of New Zealand Pinot Noir in 2006, Michael Cooper reported that of the top ten wines, five came from Central Otago, four from Marlborough and one from Waipara. This compares with all top ten wines coming from Marlborough in an equivalent blind tasting in the previous year. Cooper suggested that this has to do with more Central Otago production becoming available in commercial quantities, than the relative qualities of the regions' Pinot Noir.
As is the case for other New Zealand wine, New Zealand Pinot Noir is fruit-driven, forward and early maturing in the bottle. It tends to be quite full bodied (for the variety), very approachable and oak maturation tends to be restrained. High quality examples of New Zealand Pinot Noir are distinguished by savoury, earthy flavours with a greater complexity. In an article in Decanter (September 2014), Bob Campbell suggests that regional styles are starting to emerge within New Zealand Pinot Noir. Marlborough, with by far the largest plantings of Pinot, produces wines that are quite aromatic, red fruit in particular red cherry, with a firm tannic structure that provides cellaring potential.
Bordeaux-style blends and Syrah
New Zealand red wines are also made from the classic Bordeaux varieties, mainly Merlot, with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec, and Petit Verdot. Syrah wines from Hawke's Bay, particularly the Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa Triangle sub-regions, as well as further north from Waiheke Island have also gained a good reputation internationally.
Early success in the Hawke's Bay Region in the 1960s by McWilliams and in the 1980s by Te Mata Estate, led to a phase in the 1980s and 1990s of mainly Cabernet Sauvignon planting and wine production by large producers such as Corbans, McWilliams, and Mission Estate. As viticultural techniques were improved and tailored to New Zealand's maritime climate, other Bordeaux-style grapes were planted, and a switch of emphasis made to the more suitable, earlier-ripening Merlot. Today, Merlot is the second most planted red variety after Pinot Noir, accounting for 1,203 hectares (2,970 acres), far outweighing Cabernet Sauvignon plantings by five to one.
Typically, these Bordeaux blends come from the hotter and drier regions of New Zealand, largely in the Hawke's Bay Region. Wines that typify the best of Hawke's Bay include Elephant Hill "Airavata", Te Mata Estate's “Coleraine”, Craggy Range's “Sophia”, Newton Forrest Estate's “Cornerstone”, Esk Valley's “The Terraces” and Villa Maria's Reserve Merlot and Cabernet. Waiheke Island, whilst a very small viticultural region, also produces acclaimed red wines such as the “Larose” from Stonyridge, and wines from Destiny Bay, Man O' War, and Goldie Estate. In Marlborough there are also a small number of producers of Bordeaux-style varietal wines, and examples of Bordeaux blends can be found as far south as Waipara, where the “Maestro” from Pegasus Bay also demonstrates the shift from Cabernet Sauvignon to Merlot predominant blends.
The amount of Cabernet Sauvignon in production has dropped to a third of what it was in the early 2000s, and has been overtaken by a tripling of Syrah planting in that time. In the same time period, Sauvignon Blanc has grown more than five-fold and Pinot Noir has doubled. Whilst today's fashion has turned from Bordeaux blends to Pinot Noir, it also indicates the marginality of Cabernet Sauvignon in New Zealand conditions.
Other red wines
There are some producers dedicated to establishing other red grape varieties. New Zealand has small plantings of Tempranillo, Pinotage, Montepulciano and Sangiovese in Hawke's Bay and the warmer Auckland regions.
Most New Zealand wine producers that produce Pinot Noir or Merlot also produce a rosé style wine, although it is sometimes found made from other red varieties. New Zealand rosé is made to drink immediately rather than age, resulting in the crisp, fresh, fruit-forward flavours popular with the New Zealand public. Well rated examples are from Forrest, Isabel, Ti Point, Whitehaven and Rapaura Springs.
Méthode traditionelle sparkling wine is produced in New Zealand. The first made commercially was a wine called Champelle, made in 1956 by Selaks in Kumeu. In 1975 Daniel Le Brun, a Champagne maker, emigrated to New Zealand to begin producing méthode traditionelle in Marlborough. The suitability of the Marlborough terroir and success of the wines produced over the next 20 years were sufficient to attract investment from large Champagne producers, most notably Deutz and Moët & Chandon. Today, the Le Brun family continue to produce well awarded Méthode sparkling wine, operating as No. 1 Family Estate, after the Daniel Le Brun name was acquired by Lion. In 2013 several Marlborough producers established Méthode Marlborough, a collaborative organisation to standardise and promote the brand both domestically and internationally.
Although the majority of méthode traditionelle sparkling wines in New Zealand are made in Marlborough, there are also fine examples from throughout the rest of New Zealand. Quartz Reef is based in Central Otago, Church Road in Hawke's Bay, Lindauer was originally established in Gisborne (and now also owned by Lion), and there are makers as far north as the Auckland regions as well.
Exports of New Zealand sparkling wines are chiefly to the United Kingdom, where the best known examples there are the Pelorus from Cloudy Bay, now part-owned by LVMH Moët Hennessy Louis Vuitton, and the Special Reserve from Lindauer. More recently, exports of méthode have been declining, halving in volume between 2005 and 2011, and now making up less than 1% of total New Zealand exports. This is partly due to a rise in popularity and production of sparkling Sauvignon Blanc, a new style of sparkling New Zealand wine.
Wine regions of New Zealand
New law came into force in New Zealand in 2017 that established a Geographical Indication (GI) classification for New Zealand wine, equivalent to European Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) classification and the American Viticultural Areas in the United States. In 2017 a total of 18 applications were lodged with the GI register at the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand, and registrations were complete by early 2019.
Northland is the most northerly wine region in New Zealand, and thus closest to the equator. A Geographical Indication since October 2017, it is also the smallest GI, producing 92 tonnes in 2016 from an area of only 64 hectares (160 acres) under vines. Although Chardonnay is the most planted variety, it is most well known for ripe Syrah red wines, and white wines from Pinot Gris, which together comprise the top three planted varieties. Some Northland wineries are also making wine from warmer climate grapes such as Montepulciano, Chambourcin and Pinotage. The combination of high summer temperatures and high rainfall can be challenging for viticulture; although irrigation is not needed, the humidity can encourage some pests and diseases. The fertile soils and Northland climate also results in high vine productivity, requiring good vineyard management to limit yields in order to ensure better quality wines. Consequently, Northland tends to produce ripe wines, with low acidity.
The Auckland Geographical Indication is a small region, with a vineyard area in 2016 of 323 hectares (800 acres) and lies around New Zealand's largest city. The region produces some of New Zealand's finest Chardonnay white wines, which is the most planted variety, followed by the Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec that produce Auckland's well regarded red Bordeaux-style wines. Soils are usually heavy clay, or small areas of volcanic-derived soils, and it is the warmest of New Zealand's vine-growing areas. There are three sub-regions within Auckland: Waiheke Island, Kumeu, and Matakana. In recent years, the hotter temperatures are allowing Auckland winemakers (for example Omaha Bay, Cooper's Creek, Heron's Flight, Matavino, and Obsidian) to experiment with Italian and Spanish grape varieties, such as Albariño, Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Dolcetto, Temperanillo, and even Nebbiolo.
Waiheke Island is an island east of Auckland in the Hauraki Gulf, and is a Geographical Indication within the larger Auckland GI. It has a dry and warm meso-climate, and is primarily planted in French red grape varieties: Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the white grape varieties Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. The Bordeaux style red wines that are produced are considered to be significantly ripe and full bodied, and some of the best in New Zealand. The “Larose” from Stonyridge Estate has an international reputation and is often compared with some of the best Bordeaux wine in the world, and comparing favourably with the likes of Château Latour and Château Mouton-Rothschild. Other notable wine producers are Destiny Bay Vineyards (“Magna Praemia”), Obsidian Vineyard, Peacock Sky, Man O'War (“Dreadnought” Syrah), Cable Bay, Mudbrick and Te Motu.
Since Waiheke Island has a very small area of 92 square kilometres (36 sq mi), the wines tend to have a higher price premium due to the inherently small scale of the wineries, the cost of land, and the increased cost of access to the island by boat.
The Geographical Indication of Kumeu is a small sub-region west of Auckland City, surrounding the towns of Huapai and Kumeu, as far west as Waimauku, and east to the southern edge of the town of Riverhead. The area is most notable for its excellent Chardonnay, with well reviewed examples especially from Kumeu River and Soljans Estate Winery. Chardonnay makes up 85% of the vineyard area in Kumeu, with Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir making up most of the remainder. Some of New Zealand's oldest wineries are in Kumeu, established in the late 1800s by Croatian settlers working the Kauri gum fields. Some of these, such as Montana Wines (now Brancott Estate), Babich, Nobilo, and Cooper's Creek are now among New Zealand's largest wineries, having extended their operations throughout the rest of New Zealand.
Matakana is a small Geographical Indication and sub-region of the Auckland GI, situated about 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Auckland City around the towns of Warkworth and Matakana. It extends from Mahurangi Harbour in the south, and as far north as Leigh, although most of the vineyards are clustered in the hills and valleys between Warkworth and Matakana. The area has a warm meso-climate protected from prevailing winds by hills to the north and west, and a maritime influence from Omaha Bay and Kawau Bay. Matakana wineries are mostly small, family-run or "lifestyle" vineyards, with very small plots and non-commercial production volumes, usually dry-farmed on north-facing hill slopes.
Wine began to be made in Matakana in the 1960s, but the oldest current vineyards are Heron's Flight (established 1988), Providence Wines, and Ransom Wines, established in the early 1990s. Around the turn of the century Heron's Flight replanted its mainly Bordeaux varieties with the Italian varieties Sangiovese and Dolcetto, and many of the newer wineries, have also planted Tannat and Petit Verdot alongside the usual French varieties, as well as the Italian and Spanish varieties Barbera, Nebbiolo, Albariño, Roussanne, and Montepulciano. As of the 2017 vintage, there were more than 65 hectares (160 acres) planted in vines, and 21 commercial grape growing/winery operations within the Matakana GI.
Although the Gisborne GI established in October 2017 covers most of the East Cape Gisborne District, most of the 1,371 hectares (3,390 acres) of vineyard area in 2017 is concentrated in a relatively small area around Gisborne city. The fertile Gisborne region originally grew prodigious grape yields throughout the mid-20th Century, which was mostly used to make fortified and cask wines. In the 1980s a shift away from cask wine for better quality, bottled still wine meant that huge areas of bulk varieties, most notably Müller-Thurgau, were uprooted and replaced with Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer, for which the region is well known today. It is also the world's most easterly vine-producing region.
Hawke's Bay is New Zealand's oldest and second-largest wine region, and includes the Gimblett Gravels, Bridge Pa Triangle and Te Mata Special Character Zone sub-regions. It is best known for its Merlot and Syrah red wines, and white wines mainly from Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier.
The Wairarapa winegrowing region, a Geographical Indication since October 2017, is one of New Zealand's smallest. It contains two GI sub-regions, Gladstone and Martinborough, as well as Masterton and Opaki. Martinborough was the original area planted, on the basis of careful scientific study in the 1970s, which identified its soils and climate as perfectly suited to the cultivation of Pinot Noir. As a consequence, many of the vineyards established there are older than their counterparts in the rest of the Wairarapa. The area in general lies in the rain shadow of the Tararua Range, which gives it a warm climate with relatively low rainfall. Subtle differences are seen in the wines from the South Wairarapa (which includes Martinborough), which has more maritime influences, to those grown further north in Gladstone and Masterton.
By 2016 the Wairarapa had 119 wineries or commercial growers, with a total vineyard area of 1,005 hectares (2,480 acres), or about 3% of the New Zealand total. Nearly half of this area is Pinot Noir, the remainder mostly Sauvignon Blanc, with smaller areas of Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and Syrah.
Martinborough is a small wine village located 75 kilometres (47 mi) east of Wellington by road, in the South Wairarapa. The combination of topography, geology, climate and human effort has led to the region becoming one of New Zealand's premier wine regions in spite of its small size, particularly for Pinot Noir. The growing season from flowering to harvest is amongst the longest in New Zealand. Naturally breezy conditions control vine vigour, creating lower yields of grapes with greater intensity. A genuine cool climate, with a long, dry autumn, provides an ideal ripening conditions for Pinot Noir and other varietals, such as Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Syrah. Most of the wineries are located on the Martinborough terrace, a raised alluvial terrace of the nearby Ruamahanga River.
Martinborough wineries are relatively small and typically family-owned, with the focus on producing quality rather than quantity. Relatively small yields enable Martinborough winemakers to devote themselves to handcrafting superior wines. Among the many long-established wineries, several, including Schubert Wines, Te Kairanga, Ata Rangi, Palliser Estate, Murdoch James Estate (now Luna Estate), and Dry River, have become internationally recognized as premium producers of Pinot Noir.
Nelson has the sunniest climate in New Zealand, with an annual average sunshine total of over 2400 hours, approximately equivalent to Tuscany. The long autumns permit the production of fine late-harvest wines. There are two sub-regions in Nelson: Waimea and Moutere Valley. Notable wineries from the region include Neudorf Vineyards, awarded Raymond Chan's 2012 "Winery Of The Year".
Marlborough is by far the largest wine region in New Zealand, accounting for three quarters of the country's total wine production and 70% of its planted vineyard area. Internationally it is also the most recognised, its wines accounting for 85% of New Zealand's 2019 wine exports. Marlborough is well known internationally for its Sauvignon Blanc, and its Pinot Noir is also attracting attention.
The Canterbury Geographical Indication covers wine made anywhere within the Canterbury region of New Zealand, a very large area of some 44,500 square kilometres (17,200 sq mi). In practice, almost all of the region's vineyards are concentrated in a relatively small area around the city of Christchurch, which has prompted the establishment of two more specific GIs within it. North Canterbury is simply the top half of the larger Canterbury GI north of the Rakaia River, and is still under examination, and Waipara Valley, a small area about 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Christchurch and where the majority of Canterbury's vineyard area resides.
North Canterbury Wine Region
In 2018 the Wines of Canterbury and Waipara Valley Wine Growers associations merged, to form the North Canterbury Wine Region. Only 168 hectares (420 acres) of vineyards are planted in Canterbury outside the Waipara Valley GI, concentrated in a few small areas such as West Melton, Banks Peninsula, Cheviot and Rolleston. Notable producers include French Peak (formerly French Farm), Melton Estate, and Lone Goat, which is notable for producing well-reviewed Riesling from the vineyards originally owned by Giesen Estate before they moved operations to Marlborough, and New Zealand's only Ehrenfelser wine. In order of descending planting area, varieties grown in Canterbury outside Waipara Valley include Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay.
Further inland from Waipara, the limestone soils around Waikari are producing well reviewed wine from Bell Hill and Pyramid Valley, using organic and/or biodynamic production methods, and close-planted vineyards. Further north in Cheviot and Hanmer Springs respectively, notable producers Mt. Beautiful and Waiau River Estate (formerly Marble Point) are producing well-regarded Pinot Noir.
Waipara Valley is a Geographical Indication and sub-region of the larger Canterbury GI, located about 60 kilometres (37 mi) north of Christchurch. The valley floor provides a warm micro-climate ideal for viticulture. To the west, the Southern Alps temper the prevailing westerly winds and provide a rain shadow, and to the east, low coastal limestone ridges moderate the cool ocean winds. In the 1970s the first vineyard to be planted was Pegasus Bay, which established a reputation for its Riesling wine. The region now makes up the bulk of Canterbury's plantings with a total area under vine of 1,257 hectares (3,110 acres), and is now the most well-known Canterbury area for Pinot Noir, of which 340 hectares (840 acres) is planted. Liam Steevenson MW has described Waipara as possibly the “most exciting place to grow Pinot Noir.” Good examples include Black Estate, Bellbird Spring, Fancrest Estate, Muddy Water, Greystone, Waipara Springs, Pegasus Bay and Crater Rim. Greystone Wines has won the Decanter International Trophy for Pinot Noir in 2014 and the Air New Zealand Trophy for Pinot Noir. Black Estate was awarded the Trophy for Best Pinot Noir at the International Wine & Spirits Competition in 2010. White wines of the region include varietal wines of most commonly Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, and Chardonnay.
New Zealand's newest winegrowing region is located on the border of Otago and Canterbury. The Waitaki Valley GI is defined as the southern bank of the Waitaki River up to 500 metres (1,600 ft) elevation, along a narrow strip of approximately 75 kilometres (47 mi) between the towns of Duntroon and Omarama. The area contains north-facing limestone hillsides and escarpments, and Burgundy-like limestone alluvial soils. The climate is a combination of the cool, maritime influence from the Pacific Ocean and the warm, dry summer and autumn weather in the rain shadow of the Southern Alps. In a good year, the warm summer and long dry autumn in the Waitaki Valley can produce one of the longest growing seasons in New Zealand. The grapes reach full ripeness and produce complex, well balanced wine. However the weather year-to-year is so variable and frost-susceptible that some years have been simply too cold to produce a reliable harvest.
The region is young; the first plantings were in the early 2000s and the local wine growers association was formed in 2005. The 2008 global financial crisis hit just as initial interest in the area was building up, and poor initial vintages and remoteness from tourism further troubled some producers, some pulling out of the area altogether. Regardless, those that remain have been rapidly growing a reputation for the quality and individuality for the region's mainly Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer wines. The Pinot Noir in particular is proving to express a distinctive terroir, different in character from other regions of New Zealand, and more restrained and delicate than Central Otago Pinot Noir.
Well-known Waitaki wine producers include Valli, Pasquale, Ostler, Lone Hill, and John Forrest.
Central Otago is home to the most southerly wine-producing region in the world. The vineyards are also the highest in New Zealand – at 200 to 400 metres above sea level – on the steep slopes of lakesides and the edges of deep river gorges, often also in glacial soils. Central Otago is a sheltered inland area with a continental microclimate characterised by hot, dry summers; short, cool autumns; and crisp, cold winters. It is divided into several subregions around Bannockburn, Bendigo, Gibbston and Queenstown, Wanaka, the Kawarau Gorge, the Alexandra Basin, and the Cromwell Basin.
Trends in production and export
The initial focus for the industry's export efforts was the United Kingdom. The late 1970s and early 1980s were not only pioneering times for production but also for marketing. As with many New Zealand products, wine was only really taken seriously at home when it was noticed and praised overseas, and in particular by British wine commentators and critics. For much of the history of New Zealand wine exports the United Kingdom market, with its lack of indigenous production, great thirst and sophisticated wine palate, has been either the principal or only market. More recently, this UK dominance of exports has eroded. In 2000, the UK market represented half of New Zealand's total exports of NZ $168 million. By 2017 export value had risen to NZ $1.66 billion, but UK exports had dropped to second place at 23% of total exports behind the United States at 31%, with Australia accounting for almost the same proportion of export value at 22% in third place. Other countries include Canada (6%), the Netherlands (3%), and China (2%). Wine exports to China, whilst still only a small proportion of export revenue, are remarkable for having grown more than ten-fold in the decade since 2008. The Chinese market is seen by some wineries and industry pundits as having a large untapped potential.
Today, New Zealand's wine industry is highly successful in the international market. New Zealand Winegrowers reported in 2017 that export sales had risen to a new record of NZ $1.66 billion, with a goal to achieve NZ $2 billion and become a top five export industry. To meet the increasing demand for its wines, the entire country's vineyard plantings grew from 7,410 hectares (18,300 acres) in 1997 to 37,129 hectares (91,750 acres) in 2017. This more than five-fold increase in vineyard area over just two decades has led to a similar increase in sales and export revenue. In 2008, The Economist reported that for the first time, wine overtook wool to become New Zealand's 12th most valuable export at NZ $760 million, up from only NZ $94 million just a decade earlier in 1997. The industry sold 1 billion glasses of wine in nearly 100 countries, and more than 10% of wine sold in Britain for more than £5 was from New Zealand.
As in many places in the world, an emerging trend in New Zealand wine is an increased recognition for high quality wines coming from small, boutique wineries. In 2016 these smaller producers, with a vineyard area of no more than 20 hectares (49 acres), represented over three quarters of New Zealand's wineries. They are located fairly evenly throughout all wine regions, with the larger producers predominantly in Marlborough, Hawke's Bay, Gisborne, and Waipara.
New Zealand Winegrowers has also placed a growing emphasis on sustainability and organic certification, including monitoring and measuring water, energy, soil and pest management, waste reuse, land and biodiversity restoration, and social factors such as tourism impacts and staff training. Its first annual sustainability report in 2016 states that 98% of NZ's vineyard area is certified under its Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand scheme.
Praise and criticism
Cloudy Bay Vineyards set a new standard for New World Sauvignon Blanc and was arguably responsible for its huge increase in interest, particularly in the United Kingdom. Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy, a French luxury brand conglomerate, now owns a controlling interest in Cloudy Bay. Following on from the early success of Sauvignon Blanc, New Zealand has been building a strong reputation with other styles; Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Cabernet/Merlot blends, Pinot Gris and Syrah to name a few.
UK wine writer Paul Howard praised New Zealand Pinot Noir in 2006, writing that “comparisons with Burgundy are inevitable” and that New Zealand Pinot Noir is:
- “rapidly developing its own distinctive style, often with deeper color, purer fruit and higher alcohol. While regional differences are apparent, the best wines do have Burgundy's elusive complexity, texture and ‘pinosity’ and are capable of ageing. It is a testament to the skill and craft of New Zealand producers that poor examples are infrequently encountered.”
In that same year, Pinot Noir overtook Chardonnay as New Zealand's second most planted variety, after Sauvignon Blanc. In the decade since, its international reputation has “gone from strength to strength” and has performed very well in reviews and competitions; wine from Marlborough has won the Champion Pinot Noir Trophy three times at the International Wine and Spirit Competition – in 2006, 2007, and by Giesen Wines most recently in 2016. A New Zealand wine also won the 2014 Decanter International Trophy for Best In Show Pinot Noir, up against Burgundy Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru and other top wines from around the world. That said, it is important to note that many of the top producers in France do not submit their wines to international competitions.
|Year||Productive wine area (hectares)||Total Production (millions of litres)|
As of 2018 the largest annual volume of New Zealand wine was produced in 2014.
|Region||Vineyard area (ha)||Tonnes crushed|
|Auckland & Northland||416||1,602|
|Waikato & Bay of Plenty||23||63|
|Nelson & Tasman||1,115||10,494|
|Canterbury (incl. Waipara)||1,462||10,962|
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Over the past 30 years, New Zealand’s Pinot Noir has gone from strength to strength and become a serious player on the world stage. Here, Bob Campbell MW highlights the stylistic differences between each of the country’s five main regions, and the key estates and wines to watch.
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Méthode Marlborough is a society of highly regarded Marborough producers; established with the aim to communicate the quality and heritage of Marlborough traditional method sparkling wines.
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Bell Hill uses the Burgundian model of vineyard architecture with a high plant density of 9,259 to 12,500 vines/ha […] We have been farming organically and bio dynamically since the 2007/2008 growing season
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Further south is Canterbury/Waipara, a region that “could potentially be the most exciting place to grow Pinot Noir,” Steevenson stressed.
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While regional differences are apparent, the best wines do have Burgundy's elusive complexity, texture and "pinosity" and are capable of ageing.
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It is the third time in a decade that the Marlborough region has won the IWSC champion Pinot Noir trophy (also in 2006 and 2007).
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This year's Decanter World Wine Awards International Trophy for the Best in Show Pinot Noir over £15 went to Greystone, The Brothers’ Reserve Pinot Noir, Waipara, Canterbury, New Zealand 2012.
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