The Mountain Times

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Wines from the island down under

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 west.

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 plantings.

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.

Tagged: Wine Experiments, New Zealand