New Zealand's wine production is relatively small, but of high
quality wines evenly divided between domestic consumption and
exports. The two main islands (North and South) are completely in
the wine-growing latitudes of 36 to 45 degrees, in this case south.
However, the climate is cooler than might be expected, since cold
ocean waters surround the country and no point on either island is
farther than 50 miles away from the shore. It is also a minimum of
1200 miles to any other large landmass, making it isolated in the
southern Pacific Ocean.
The main topographic feature is the Southern Alps, a high
mountain chain that runs the length of the southern island along
the western coast. With the prevailing winds blowing from the west
these mountains keep the eastern part of the island much drier and
sunnier, protected from the steady stream of storms blowing in from
The North Island lacks this mountain ridge, but has volcanic
peaks that have a similar effect in places with the northern island
enjoying much warmer temperatures in the first place. Thus, most
vineyards are found on the eastern side of both islands in the rain
shadow of the Southern Alps or the northern volcanoes.
The major wine-growing regions from south to north are Central
Otago, Canterbury, Marlboro, and Nelson on the South Island; and
Wairana (Martinborough and Wairarapa Valley), Hawke's Bay,
Gisborne, Waikato (or Bay of Plenty), Auckland, and Northland on
the North Island.
New Zealand's cool climate is tailor-made for white varieties
and Pinot Noir. Sauvignon Blanc proved to be most successful with
an affinity for the terroir, producing high quality wines that are
unlike those grown anywhere else. New Zealand's Sauvignon Blanc
tend to show a typical combination of tropical fruit, grapefruit,
stone fruits (peach, nectarine, apricot), and grassiness.
Due to the popularity of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc worldwide,
the total vineyard area of the variety grew from 22 percent in 1998
to 48 percent a decade later and with the general success and
related growth of the wine industry in all, vineyards planted with
Sauvignon Blanc increased more than eightfold over that period.
Pinot Noir's expansion has almost been as extraordinary as its
reputation grew just as much. During the last ten years these two
grapes varieties made up more than three-quarters of all new
Among New Zealanders the most renowned wine region is
Martinborough at the southern tip of the North Island, where high
quality Sauvignon Blancs share the harvest with just as high
quality Pinot Noirs. Not to confuse with Marlborough on the South
Island, which is dominated by Sauvignon Blancs for export. Hawke's
Bay on the North Island is the warmest region of the country where
red varietals like Merlot and some Cabernet Sauvignon is grown, and
Gisborne directly to the north is the 'Chardonnay Capital'. On the
South Island, Nelson to the west of Marlborough is as renowned for
Sauvignon Blancs; and the relatively new wine-growing region of
Central Otago to the very south has fast become famous for very
high quality Pinot Noirs.