Editor’s Note: Learn about 7 of New Zealand’s top wine regions and what makes them stand out. Many of New Zealand’s wine regions are crafting premium quality wines and offer unique wine tourism experiences to travelers. Here’s what to drink at home and where to travel when you decide to visit this special country.
New Zealand is divided into two parts. The North Island, which is slightly warmer and has a larger population compared to its neighbor. And the South Island, which is a bit cooler and is home to some of the more famed New Zealand wine-growing appellations.
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As a whole, the country of New Zealand resides within the Southern Hemisphere. This means that harvest time occurs between the months of February and April, depending on the grape variety and specific micro-climates.
It’s important to note that there are more than 7 wine-growing regions within New Zealand. However, we wanted to highlight some of the more picturesque regions that are well worth a visit, as well as several New Zealand wine styles that are easily accessible at your neighborhood wine shop or grocery store.
How Many Wineries Are in New Zealand?
All told, there are about 700 wineries throughout the entire country spread across 13 unique wine-growing appellations. The majority of vineyards are located near the coast, where cooler summers and mild winters offer long sunny days with cooling night temperatures that are conducive to providing a long growing season. Long growing seasons and slow ripening aid in producing more complex wines that New Zealand has become so famous for.
While the country produces a wide range of grape varieties, Sauvignon Blanc has attracted the most worldwide attention.
Top Wine Regions to Visit in New Zealand
Probably the most famous New Zealand wine region to the international community, Marlborough is best known for producing fantastic Sauvignon Blanc. The region is also responsible for upwards of 77% of all wine production in New Zealand. Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are also grown in earnest throughout the area.
Marlborough is tucked away in the far northeastern corner of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s here where beautiful vineyard properties are beset beneath the towering mountain ranges within the Hinterlands to the north and south. In the heart of the region, lowland valleys offer ideal soil compositions and temperate weather for growing concentrated and consistent red and white wines. To the north and east, picturesque coastlines and small islands dot Marlborough’s sounds just offshore.
All told, Marlborough really is one of the more geographically diverse wine regions in New Zealand. This affords vintners an opportunity to harvest and produce wine that is completely unique to New Zealand in terms of aromatics and flavor.
For a safe, affordable and fun way to explore many of Marlborough’s wineries, there are hop-on-hop-off bus tours provided to visitors in Queenstown and Blenheim. Most of the wineries have a partnership with the tour company and offer discounts and perks to travelers who choose to use this mode of transportation. Alternatively, our favorite way to explore Marlborough is by taking this self-guided bike tour.
Fun Marlborough Fact: Marlborough was rated the sunniest region in New Zealand in 2015!
Nelson resides not far from Marlborough on the northern end of New Zealand’s South Island. In terms of wine production, Nelson is characterized by two distinct regional geographies. The rolling hills and sheltered plains both offer varied styles of fine New World wine. Sauvignon Blanc also reigns king here, followed by Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. In addition, aromatic varieties such as Pinot Gris, Riesling and Gewürztraminer are grown in smaller concentrations.
Aside from a beautiful landscape and climate, Nelson offers wine enthusiasts a personal, more intimate wine tourism experience. You can traverse the countryside of this beautiful, relatively uncrowded place. Wine producers themselves are happy to show you their vines and give you a taste of their wines. Explore vineyard cafes and nautical-themed mom-and-pop restaurants with fresh seafood and Sauvignon Blanc.
Fun Nelson Facts: Nelson and Marlborough are actively competing for the sunniest regions in New Zealand! It’s also well known for its art and cultural scene, beautiful beaches, and sunsets.
Central Otago is quickly becoming one of New Zealand’s premier wine-growing regions. Originally, it was better known for Cherry and Apricot growing. Today, it’s best known for producing gorgeous Pinot Noir and refined Rosé versions of the same grape. Given its cooler climate, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Chardonnay plantings are on the rise as well.
Aside from the quality of fruit coming out of Central Otago, it offers one of the most dramatic landscapes given its proximity to mountain ranges.
Our partner Appellation Wine Tours is currently offering discounts on Central Otago wine tours, stopping at 4 vineyards with lunch and wine included (out of Queenstown). Click to see a detailed breakdown of Central Otago’s wineries, terroir and climate.
Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s second-largest and oldest wine-producing region. Given its central location on the eastern shore of New Zealand’s North Island, Hawke’s Bay offers a climate and terroir that is conducive to producing a wider range of grape varieties. In fact, Bordeaux-style red blends are produced in very good quality here due to the similar climate. Merlot, Malbec and Cabernet Sauvignon is grown, in addition to Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Syrah and Pinot Gris.
On a smaller scale, producers in Hawke’s Bay are also discovering the potential of aromatic grape varieties like Viognier, and Spanish varieties such as Tempranillo. Aside from wine production, fertile land and an elevated sunny climate have also helped Hawke’s Bay to distinguish itself as a quality fruit-producing area.
Private tours and customizable day trips through Hawke’s Bay are available. For a more affordable option, consider scheduling a small group tour that stops at a number of panoramic viewpoints and several wineries.
Waikato and the Bay of Plenty region is located centrally on the North Island. Waikato is actually a relatively small wine-producing region, though the quality is just now becoming more recognized and plantings are increasing every year. Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Cabernet Sauvignon are all produced here.
But wine isn’t the reason why we’re listing Waikato as one of the most beautiful wine regions in New Zealand. It’s the natural aspects — both above and below ground — that made it an easy decision to include the region on this list.
Above ground, rolling hills and pristine farmland dot the landscape, making it an ideal location for a beautiful road trip. Themed gardens can also be found throughout the area. On the west coast of Waikato, be sure to stop by the town of Raglan, best known for its surfing.
If the above isn’t enough, did you know that Waikato is also the location of The Shire? You heard that correctly. Waikato is the home of Hobbiton, one of the shooting locations for The Lord of the Rings and Hobbit movies. Travelers should also consider exploring Hamilton, New Zealand’s fourth-largest city. Here, adventurers can explore an underground cavern system unlike any in the world. Tours are offered by barge, where you can cruise in silence past stalagmites and stalactites beneath the surface.
Click here to book a tour to explore Hobbiton (from Auckland) which also includes a visit to the glow worm caves.
Just a short 35-minute ferry ride from Auckland, Waiheke Island offers travelers a chance to deviate from countryside scenery. Not only is Waiheke a beautiful island getaway, but there are also wineries on the island as well. Roughly 12 wineries can be found across Waiheke, and there’s a lively artsy scene and quaint cafe lineup where you can relax with a cup of coffee as you inhale the nearby Pacific sea breeze. Don’t forget to stroll the beautiful beaches and take a look at the olive groves as well!
Click here to schedule a full-day tour of Waiheke Island with wine tastings included.
A uniquely quaint and nautical feel emanates from Wairarapa in New Zealand. Located just a short distance from downtown Wellington on the North Island, Wairarapa is made up of three sub-regions — Martinborough, Gladstone and Masterton. Wairarapa is actually a Maori term, which translates directly to “glistening waters” — as if you needed another reason to visit.
While Wairarapa makes up a mere 3% of all vineyard plantings in New Zealand, a consistent climate and soil composition lend to beautiful Pinot Noir, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc. Dessert wines of premium quality are also being produced here.
Seeing and experiencing Wairarapa by bike on its many cycling trails is one of the best ways to explore the region.
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