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When we mention New Zealand, you may think of the impressive nature, the Lord of the Rings films and Maori culture, but the country is also increasingly well known for its wine.  There are about 700 wineries throughout the whole country. The cool summers and mild winters of the Southern hemisphere ensure a long growing season and slow ripening. The harvest time is between February and April, varying slightly according to the variety of grape and the particular micro-climate.

Are you ready to explore the vivid wine industry of New Zealand?

New Zealand is a relative newcomer in the international wine world and so is quite distinct from countries such as France with a history of vinification stretching back for centuries.  And yet, in a matter of fewer than thirty years, New Zealand has built a strong reputation for itself, built on quality and flavour. The country has dozens of wine regions spread across the North Island and South Island. Here we have selected eight of the best and most picturesque wine regions for you. Take your time and plan your wine-tasting journey through these stunning locations.

Hawke’s Bay

Hawke’s Bay, located on the North Island, is New Zealand’s oldest wine region. Due to the many hours of sunshine, the mild climate and the different soil types, French missionaries laid the first vineyard here in 1851, which grew into Mission Estate Winery. In addition, Hawke’s Bay is the third-largest wine region with 72 wineries, where mainly red varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot and Syrah dominate. It is, therefore, no surprise that this wine region is the largest producer of red wine in New Zealand.

Driving and wine tasting do not mix, but fortunately, this region has a large network of bicycle paths. This makes it easy for you to cycle to the prize-winning farmers. Make a stop in the town of Napier along the way. This city is known for its beautiful Art Deco architecture and delicious food.

Central Otago

When it comes to New Zealand wines, it quickly becomes about Sauvignon Blanc. However, after Burgundy in France, the Central Otago wine region is one of the best Pinot Noir regions in the world. Located on the South Island, Central Otago is the southernmost wine region in the world and the highest in New Zealand.

The continental climate and soil of this region make it extremely suitable for the Pinot Noir grape. With its mountains, beautiful rivers and deep gorges, Central Otago is also the country’s most spectacular wine region. While enjoying a glass of wine, you can look out over the mountain peaks of the Remarkables.

Gisborne

Gisborne is the Chardonnay capital of New Zealand. This wine region is located on the North Island and has the most easterly vineyards in the world. The grapes here are the first in the world to see the sun in the morning.

Gisborne also plays an important role in New Zealand history. Here James Cook set foot ashore in 1769. He called the bay on which Gisborne lies Poverty Bay because in his eyes it had little to offer. Cook was quite wrong with this thought. Due to the mild climate, the many hours of sunshine and the fertile soil, this area is extremely suitable for viticulture and fruit growing. It is not only the wine that makes this region interesting. The Gisborne region also has a rich Maori culture, making the area well worth a visit.

Marlborough

If you have ever enjoyed a glass of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, the chances are it came from the Marlborough region. Marlborough is New Zealand’s most important and well-known wine region. The region is located in the far north of the South Island and produces no less than 70% of all New Zealand wines. Viticulture started here in 1973 and the combination of warm, sunny days and cool nights makes the region the perfect environment for the Sauvignon Blanc grape.

The real wine lover will indulge himself in February. Then the annual Marlborough Wine Festival takes place where you can taste all the wine varieties from the region. Are you not around during this period? Don’t worry, there are other opportunities to taste the delicious wines from this region. For the ultimate wine experience, there’s nothing better than staying overnight at a vineyard or taking part in a wine tour that takes you through the beautiful countryside of Marlborough. Tip: our personal favourite is The Ned, a Sauvignon Blanc from this region.

Waikato & the Bay of Plenty 

Waikato is not only the location of the original Shire, the hobbit home from Lord of the Rings. It is also known for its golden sand beaches, local wines and fresh seafood, due to its stunning coastal location on the North Island. When James Cook discovered a bay in 1769, full of plantations and villages, he noted in his journal that he had found ‘a bay of plenty’. Today, the Bay of Plenty still lives up to its name and is rich in local produce.

Here you can take a tour or travel independently among small pockets of vineyards nestled in rolling farmland. The main varieties here are Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris and to a lesser extent Sauvignon Blanc. Wines from this region are known for their round, full-bodied flavours and we are sure you’ll enjoy sampling them.

Canterbury

Canterbury has two main wine regions: Waipara Valley and the plains surrounding Christchurch. Waipara in particular is a fast-growing wine region with 79 wineries to choose from. The long dry summers, many rivers, many hours of sunshine and cool nights in this region ensure that mainly Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Noir grapes can thrive here.

They know all too well in Waipara Valley that good wines and good food go well together. If you’re in the area in March, enjoy award-winning wines and excellent local food at the Waipara Valley Wine & Food Festival. This is a great opportunity to sample everything the region has to offer.

Wairarapa 

This unique and friendly region, located on the Southern tip of the North Island of New Zealand, is not far from the capital Wellington. The word Wairarapa is a Maori term meaning ‘Glistening Waters’, which clearly tells you what you can look forward to. The spectacular coastlines and the range of vineyards to visit explain why this area is so appealing to visit.

Wairarapa has a steady climate and the soil composition is ideal for the many vineyards, so Pinot Noir, Syrah and Sauvignon Blanc grapes, in particular, thrive here. High-quality dessert wines are also produced in this region. Take time to visit the picturesque colonial town of Martinborough, with over 30 family-owned wineries that are within walking distance from the town centre.

Nelson 

Nelson is a picturesque wine-growing region not far from Marlborough, towards the North of the South Island. The area is characterised by rolling hills and a mild climate and this is ideal for growing the main varieties of grapes for New World wines. Not only Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir all grow well here, but also the aromatic varieties such Pinot Gris and Riesling.

For the wine enthusiast, the uncrowded region of Nelson offers the opportunity of a more intimate type of wine tourism experience than in some areas with larger-scale wine production. You can tour the countryside by bike and visit the vineyards and talk with the owners. The wine producers will be happy to show you around their vineyards and to let you sample the wines. There are also vineyard cafes to visit and nautical themed restaurants serving delicious fresh seafood with a glass of chilled Sauvignon Blanc.

Andrew Morten is Founder of A Journey DownUnder. A Journey DownUnder creates bespoke, tailored trips to Australia and New Zealand.

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