August 2007

Wine Talk: New Zealand Wines

Author: Krissy Cantelupe

New Zealand is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and unspoiled landscapes, ranging from large, dense forests to snowy mountain tops, beautiful coastline and magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean. New Zealand is the most southern point in the world where grapes can grow. Its temperate climate has a strong influence on its vineyards, warmed by strong sunlight during the day and cooled by sea breezes at night. The long, slow ripening period helps extend the growing season and retain the flavors that make New Zealand wine so distinctive.

New Zealand is separated into two islands, the North Island and the South Island, both of which are fully capable of wine production. Together, they are divided into ten growing regions with various climates and terrain accounting for the different varietals produced. The harvest season is opposite of that in the United States. For example Chardonnay on the North Island will be harvested anywhere from late February to early March, while on the South Island, harvest can begin in mid- to late April.

North Island regions

Northland is where the first grapes were planted in 1819, but it is New Zealand’s warmest and smallest growing region. The climate makes it a perfect place for Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot.

Auckland was established as the fashionable district for expensive Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Cabernet Franc. Many small boutique wineries in the region have expanded into white wine production as well.

Waikato/Bay of Plenty produces mainly Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, but the climate is very warm with less desirable growing conditions.

Gisborne, located in the northeast corner of the North Island, sees the sun before anywhere else. Chardonnay is king, and Gisborne is even known as “the Chardonnay capital of New Zealand,” including sparkling wine production.

Hawkes Bay is becoming very popular in the United States. It is the second largest growing region and is home to some to the most delicious Cabernet Sauvignons in the country. Chardonnay is also widely planted as well as some Syrah.

Wellington is the furthest south on the North Island, and is home to the town of Martinborough (not to be confused with Marlborough), exporting some delicious Pinot Noirs.

South Island regions

Marlborough is the area from which most of the herbaceous, grapefruit-y, and zesty Sauvignon Blancs come. Sauvignon Blanc has actually replaced Chardonnay as the number one varietal, and Marlborough is the largest and most productive growing region in New Zealand.

Nelson has some difficult terrain to overcome for grape viticulture, with rocky, clay soils hindering growing conditions. Nevertheless, Chardonnay, Riesling, and Pinot Noir are successfully grown in the region.

Canterbury has longer, drier summers with cooler evenings, allowing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay to thrive.

Central Otago has some of the most beautiful landscape in the world (Lord of the Rings was filmed there.), but extreme temperature changes between midday and midnight dictate cool weather varieties: Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

Now that you know something about the geography of the country, next time you venture into a wine store, look for the New Zealand section and check the bottle for the region. Read more about the fascinating wine regions of New Zealand at www.winesofnz.com or www.nzwine.com.

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