Discover New Zealand's Wine Country
Last Updated on May 4, 2023.
New Zealand is a unique wine producing country due to the fact that no vineyard is more than 80 miles from the ocean. This means wherever the vineyards are, they benefit from the moderating impact that these waters have, and combined with long sunny days, it’s an area perfect for growing vines.
New Zealand has eleven wine regions that extend across the country over 10 degrees latitude, from 36° S to 46°S. Despite being a smaller nation, this variation means that they can produce a wide range of styles and varieties.
Prior to colonization by Europeans, New Zealand did not have any grapes nor was wine produced. Beginning in the early 19th century, British and French colonists began planting vineyards to provide wine to other colonists for consumption or religious use. While many began to recognize that New Zealand had potential to be a major wine-producing area, there were a variety of factors that slowed the growth of the industry, such as a British inclination towards other alcoholic beverages, use of land for other agricultural pursuits, and the rise of the temperance movement.
Winetraveler Tips: Get Notifications on The Best Flight Deals into New Zealand and Recommendations on Hotels Here
With the Great Depression of the 1930s, the fledgling industry dwindled. Changes in government regulations and agricultural priorities in the 1970s. In the 1980s, wine production began to blossom with recognition of Sauvignon Blanc’s potential in the country, and New Zealand became internationally recognized and critically acclaimed for their wines.
New Zealand Grape Varieties & Wine Styles
The country’s signature grape is Sauvignon Blanc, and it makes up roughly 60% of the wine produced. The grape flourishes in the moderate climate, and does well throughout the country. However, it’s the wine region of Marlborough that has come to define what we expect from this grape. High in acidity, with bright steely citrus and often herbaceous or grassy notes, these are pungent, full-flavor wines. While often made dry, they may have a touch of sweetness to give them a fuller body. Several winemakers are also producing oak-aged versions, a style popular in the 1980s that is recently coming back into popularity.
Pinot Noir is the second-most popular grape grown in the region, and it does best in cooler regions like Wairapa, Marlborough, Nelson, Canterbury, and especially Central Otago. Pinot Noir wines from these areas are often fruit forward with a red berry nose, though they have the potential to develop earthier, umami-type notes when given time to age. They tend to be a little fuller bodied than their European counterparts, and often are more restrained in their oak aging.
Over the last two decades, Pinot Gris has gone from rarely seen to dominating white wine production in New Zealand. It has now overtaken many popular grapes like Riesling. The stone-fruit and apple flavors are emphasized, and it has a fuller mouthfeel that makes it a fun alternative to Chardonnay.
The second most popular red grape grown in New Zealand is Merlot, which does well in the hotter regions of the country like Hawke’s Bay. These are often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petit Verdot to produce Bordeaux-style blends. Their depth and character can rival their European counterparts.
New Zealand Wine Regions To Visit
Known for its Sauvignon Blanc, this region is cooler but has lots of sunshine and low rainfall which helps it to produce high acidity and fruit-forward wines. It is the largest region for winemaking in the country, and offers a wide range of varieties despite its notoriety for Sauvignon Blanc.
Hawke’s Bay is of the oldest wine producing regions in the country, and continues that legacy today as the second largest wine region in New Zealand. It is known for its red wines, particularly Syrah, Pinot Noir, and Merlot dominated Bordeaux-style blends. The warmer climate also makes it ideal for Dessert Wines, and their Pinot Noir is often used for the production of Sparkling Wine.
This is the primary region for Pinot Noir production in New Zealand, though it is also known for Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Early on, this region made its mark by producing internationally recognized wines in the late 19th century. Today, tourists enjoy both the wine and stunning landscapes of the area. It’s one of our favorites to visit that will leave a lasting impression on you.
New Zealand has a wide range of other regions that offer different styles and experiences. Gisborne is a remote area known for its biodynamic wines; Canterbury is producing classic Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays; Northland is producing warm climate, fruit forward wines; Auckland is known for Chardonnay and more recently for experimental Italian and Spanish grapes; Wairapa has a number of older vineyards and a focus on Pinot Noir; Nelson is the sunniest region and produces interesting late harvest wines; Waitaki Valley is the country’s newest wine region and is producing distinctive wines.
New Zealand Wineries To Visit & Wine Recommendations Available Internationally
New Zealand wines vary in accessibility; though larger brands like Oyster Bay and Kim Crawford are available nearly everywhere. Other vineyards like Loveblock, Dog Point, Greywacke and Craggy Range are worth seeking out and can be found at your local store or ordered online.
If you’re considering of visiting New Zealand, check out some of the wineries listed below in Winetraveler’s regional directory for more information on how to visit them and what each offers.
Written By Kate Meyers Emery
Kate Meyers Emery is a Finger Lakes wine evangelist, sharing the love and knowledge of her region through the classes she teaches and in her writing. She is the author of VinifeROC, a personal chronicle of her adventures in exploring the wines of New York, with a particular focus on Rochester and the Finger Lakes. Follow her wine adventures on Instagram at @kmeyersemery.