Exploring New Zealand’s Wine Regions

Grapevine in autumnWhen I was in elementary school, I always seemed to gravitate to kids who didn’t seem to have a lot of friends, or were on the quiet side, or came from a different part of the world.

I don’t really know why. But I still have vivid memories of an exchange student from Denmark named Ole Andersen (what else?) and a new kid to our school named Sergio; I believe he was from Venezuela.

Becoming friends with those boys in the fifth and sixth grades opened my eyes very early in life to the knowledge that there was a big world out there with places that were far different than the place I called home.

I think those early experiences made me more open-minded when I first got into wine. It would have been the easiest thing in the world to simply stick with what I was first exposed to and quickly came to love: the wines of California’s Napa Valley and Sonoma County.

But rather than turn my back on wines from other countries, I sought them out and gave them a try whenever I had a chance. Over time, I learned not only to recognize the differences in wines from various countries, but to embrace them.

That’s why I love when Vinesse releases their Worldly Wonders collections. They feature delicious wines that help us break out of our California comfort zones and discover different aromas, different flavors, different blends and different ways of winemaking.

I haven’t been able to visit all of the wine regions of the world that I’d like to, but some years ago, I did get to travel around New Zealand’s South Island.

Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest and most important grape-growing region. It is located at the northeastern tip of South Island, facing east, well protected from the “westerlies” by the Southern Alps.

While Marlborough’s climate is quite cool — the average temperature is 64 degrees — the number of sunshine hours per year is amazing: nearly 2,400. The annual rainfall is roughly 34 inches, similar to the North Coast of California, and tends to fall in the winter and early spring.

Soils vary from fertile, water-holding clay to stony, gravelly types that need irrigation. While world famous for Sauvignon Blanc, the long season allows for the ripening of Pinot Noir, Merlot and Chardonnay, as well as Cabernet Sauvignon in the warmer sub-regions.

Nelson is just over the mountains, about 45 miles northwest of Marlborough (facing due north), and enjoys similar protection — although its position makes it cooler than Marlborough, ripening about a week later. Soils are clay loams and the best vineyards are on well-drained slopes.

Canterbury is another 160 miles south and is as cool as the Champagne region of France or the Rhine in Germany. Coastal hills protect the vines from battering by sea breezes. The free draining soils and dry autumns allow ripening of grapes in a place that, on paper, seems too cool.

Central Otago is New Zealand’s only vineyard area to have a continental climate, being 90 miles inland and only 100 miles from the southern tip of the country. At 44 degrees south, the summer days are extremely long (and cloudless) and the rainfall is low. Summer highs can peak at 85 degrees, with very cool nights. This is an up-and-coming region for Riesling and Pinot Noir.

New Zealand’s North Island may have more people, but it’s the South Island that’s home to the healthiest vines and finest wines.

I consider myself fortunate that I had the opportunity to experience its different aromas, different flavors, different blends and different winemaking styles in person.

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Posted in Wine Region Profiles
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