Two top Producers from Hawkes Bay and Marlboro
Even though New Zealand’s first grape plantings at Kerikeri by missionary Samuel Marsden were recorded during 1819, while the first accounts of a wine being produced were by British immigrant James Busby at his Waitangi Plantation in 1834. Thereafter, it took more than 160 years for New Zealand’s grape growing and winemaking to make any significant impact on the world’s wine industry.
This modern renaissance began sometime during the early to mid 1970’s, when early New Zealand winemakers began making wines that caused a stir around the world. The country’s first wine exports occurred as early as 1970, but it took the better part of that decade for the first New Zealand wines to make their mark on the world market. Thereafter, production grew at an alarming rate and, today, practically every part of the small country can be counted as one of New Zealand’s ten producing wine regions.
While New Zealand is made up of two separate islands (North Island and South Island), the area that produces wine covers approximately 720 miles from north to south (equating roughly from California to Washington in the United States). While it is the most southerly of the world’s wine growing areas, New Zealand sits on latitudes that are similar to Italy and contains climates that are comparable to its better known rival in Bordeaux. In fact, the tiny country offers a wide diversity of climates and soils that suite the cooler growing grape varietals, namely Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Interestingly, it was the oft-maligned Sauvignon Blanc that first brought New Zealand and her wines to international attention. Sometime between 1973 and 1975, a number of New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs made their way into international competitions and, in some cases, beat their much-heralded European counterparts, much to the astonishment of the consuming wine world.
This early success served as a signal to the fledgling New Zealand wine community that their wines could be competitive with any other country’s wines, and that it was time to take advantage of the situation. Benefiting from the fact that their country’s growing season occurs during the European wine growing world’s hibernation period, a number of New Zealanders set out for Europe where they worked diligently alongside their French and Italian counterparts to learn the secrets of world-class winemaking.
It was entirely possible for these men and women to work twenty vintages in ten years, and many did so, applying their expertise and training to the new wines that were being produced each year back in New Zealand. Over the next thirty years, production techniques and quality continued to improve as well, as did the overall world reputation of many New Zealand wines and wineries.
From the handful of wineries that existed back in the 1970’s, the number of wineries has grown to over four hundred at latest count and shows no signs of stopping. Today, in many parts of the wine world, it is commonplace for New Zealand wines to garner top prizes in the very highest international wine competitions.
And, to add icing to the cake as it were, the Sauvignon Blanc that started it all in 1975 has become New Zealand’s trademark wine. Wine connoisseurs around the globe consider the New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc as the finest example of that varietal produced in the world, much to the chagrin of French and California winemakers and wineries.
The growth of the New Zealand wine industry has continued unabated, and has more than doubled in the decade between 1996 and 2006. The effects of the cool, maritime climate that conveniently cloak practically all New Zealand vineyards promises even better things to come.
New Zealand’s largest wine producing region is in Marlborough, located on the northeast corner of the South Island. Formerly known for its sheep and wool production, Marlborough the area where the first commercial vineyards were planted in Sauvignon Blanc in the early 1970’s and is today’s largest wine producing region.
The country’s other large wine producing areas are Hawke’s Bay and Gisborne and along with Marlborough, account for almost 90% of New Zealand’s grape production.
The future seems incredibly bright for both New Zealand’s emerging wineries, which seem to revel in the fact that their wines are constantly under estimated. That same desire and determination that caused New Zealand to be developed in the first place, and should continued for some time to come.