Discovering the wine region of New Zealand
New Zealand is an isolated island nation in the Pacific Ocean, about a thousand kilometres southeast of Australia. It lies between latitudes 36°S and 45°S, making it the southernmost wine producing country in the world. New Zealand has ten major wine-producing regions spread between the North and South Islands, the most important of which is Marlborough.
New Zealand produces a wide variety of wines, the best known of which are the zesty, grassy whites made from Marlborough sauvignon blanc.
Pinot noir has also proven to be well suited to New Zealand's terroir and has made a name for itself in Martinborough, Marlborough and especially Central Otago, where the wines can be described as dense and muscular with strong black fruit flavours. The aromatic Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer varieties have found their way into the cooler regions of the South Island, and the Syrah, Bordeaux Blend varieties (Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc) do well in the warmer regions of the North Island.
The first vines arrived in Northland in 1819 and were planted by the father of antipodean viticulture, James Busby (who went on to establish the Hunter Valley region of Australia). Missionaries brought vines to Hawkes Bay in the 1850s, and in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Dalmatian gum-digging settlers planted vines throughout Auckland and Northland, laying the foundation for New Zealand's modern wine industry.
For much of the 20th century, the country's vineyards were mainly confined to the east coast of the North Island, and most wines were produced solely for local consumption. It wasn't until the 1970s that wine-growing areas began to expand and New Zealand wines began to be exported. In 1973, Auckland-based wine producer Montana (now Brancott Estate) bought land in Marlborough's Wairau Valley. After some problems with poorly chosen grape varieties and the scourge of phylloxera, Marlborough sauvignon blanc took off in the 1980s and 1990s, producing a style of wine praised for its earliness and grassy, sweaty character.