Throughout the world, only one in every 500 bottles of wine is produced in New Zealand.
Yet even though it’s considered a “niche player” in the global wine marketplace, it is responsible for some of the most highly acclaimed bottlings made anywhere. The country is best known for its zippy, zesty renditions of Sauvignon Blanc, but it’s also a world-class producer of Pinot Noir, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Syrah.
New Zealand is home to 10 main grape-growing regions, six on its North Island (Northland, Auckland, Waikato/Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, Hawkes Bay and Wellington) and four on its South Island (Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury and Central Otago).
As a nation of islands, New Zealand benefits from the temperature modulating effect of the sea. The extremes of heat and cold experienced by vast landlocked countries simply don’t apply. The country also enjoys long, dry autumns, ideal for winegrapes to attain full ripeness and good acid structure. There also are numerous microclimates, which accounts for the variety of grape types grown and wines made.
For those with at least a week at their disposal, it’s possible to plan a wine adventure that extends from Hawkes Bay to Wairarapa, and then using Wellington as a “gateway” to Marlborough. A more contracted agenda would involve just Wellington and Marlborough, with Wellington serving as a good home base.
Wellington buzzes with cafes, delicatessens and restaurants, and the downtown area is divided into distinct quarters, making it easy for visitors to experience the various “personalities” of the city.
Courtenay Quarter is the nightlife hub, packed with restaurants, bars, cafes, cinemas and theaters. Cuba Quarter is bohemian and alternative – a great place to find ethnic cuisine.
Lembton Quarter is upscale, boasting the city’s finest restaurants and countless purveyors of designer fashions. And the Waterfront Quarter offers numerous parks, museums and landmarks – perfect for daytime exploring.
Among the special food experiences available to Wellington visitors are a chocolate cafe, a restaurant that puts a new spin on traditional Maori food, and a seafood restaurant that’s housed in an historic, restored wool shed. There’s even a “walking gourmet” tour of the inner city, which culminates in a three-course tasting lunch, each course matched with a New Zealand wine.
Just over the hills from Wellington, the Wairarapa region boasts a fabulous wine culture, with Pinot Noir being the star vinous attraction. In the village of Martinborough, you can take a leisurely stroll or bike ride around the local vineyards and olive groves. Some of the wine estates include restaurants or cafes. All told, there are more than 50 wineries in the area to explore.
A like number of wine estates are situated in and around Marlborough, reached via a memorable ferry journey over the Cook Strait to the Marlborough Sounds. On the Sounds, you can take a cruise that offers fresh seafood and local wines in addition to the magnificent scenery.
Marlborough is the wine region that first put New Zealand on the world wine map. This is where eye-opening renditions of Sauvignon Blanc – big, herbaceous and absolutely true to the variety – are produced. You can obtain a winery map by logging on to winemarlborough.net.nz.
Comparable in size and/or shape to Great Britain, Japan or Colorado, New Zealand has a population of just 4 million – making it one of the world’s least crowded countries. It is a haven for those seeking peace, rejuvenation and relaxation, as well as a playground for thrill seekers and adventurers. A temperate climate with relatively small seasonal variation makes it an ideal year-round destination.
New Zealand’s spectacularly beautiful landscape includes vast mountain chains, steaming volcanoes, sweeping coastlines, deeply indented fiords and lush rainforests. Take the time to soak in the scenery in between winery visits, and you’ll have vacation memories to last a lifetime.