Mac's Summer in New Zealand.....

February and March, 2010......

Bay of Islands

Most wine travelers to New Zealand arrive in Auckland and then head south to the well known wine regions of Hawkes Bay and Martinborough on the North Island and onwards to Marlborough and Otago on the South Island.  These areas represent the majority of New Zealand wines that are sold in wine and liquor storesNZ Wine Regions map across Canada. 

While not large in landmass, like Australia, the New Zealand islands extend more than 1600 kilometers along a north-east/south-west axis.  The distance and resulting changes in temperature dictate the establishment of appropriate cultivars as well as the harvest periods. 

In New Zealand, the further south you go the cooler the climate becomes, save for some local elevation and coastal considerations.

For example, Otago, which has the most southerly chardonnayChardonnay cultivation in the world, ripens this white grape four to six weeks later than Chardonnays around Auckland and north.

The “Northland” Region is considered subtropical and with its abundant heat and humidity caused some problems with grape growing in the early days of the industry.  World renowned research into canopy management created better cultivation and fruit quality and allowed for an expansion of red varieties to the roster of whites previously in production in this area.  Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon ripen well here in the warmer climes with leeward sites like Waiheke Island Passage Rock Winery, Waiheke Islandjust west of Auckland which also benefits from lower rainfall and sloping topography.   

The warmer climate aids tourism because the area has many bays, islands, and beaches. Swimming, surfing and boating are major pursuits in this warmest part of the country. This area is also the historical cradle of Maori culture and there are many opportunities to visit Maori life, culture and history.  

Waiheke Island lies just a 35 minute ferry ride from Auckland Harbour. Passage Rock Winery tastingsA home to many art galleries, boutiques and 30 vineyards, the 20 or so wineries are small production, high quality producers whose varieties include the Bordeaux reds and whites, Pinot Gris, Viognier, Chardonnay, Syrah and Montepulciano.  There are plenty of small hotels and B&Bs and taxis and public bus transportation are available.  For the more independent types, car rentals and mountain bikes are also available.  

The New Zealand Wine Industry is presently in a bit of a funk.  Wairau River Valley Overproduction in the last few years has caused grape prices, especially Sauvignon Blanc, to drop.  Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc can be had in Australia and New Zealand for $5 a bottle.  The wine has found its way into casks (“bag in the box”) for considerably less. When Canadians are paying $20 and up for the same product, you clearly see that someone other than grape growers are benefiting.  

Wineries and growers are being squeezed because of theHouse at Te Mata Winery, Hawkes Bay excess inventory and some major wineries are in receivership. The industry reduced grapes harvested in 2010 by 19,000 tons – 7% lower than the previous harvest.  Marlborough alone reduced by 10,000 tons despite an increase in vineyard acreage.  Growers are committed to keep the next few harvests lower in production to recapture their previous profitable situations.  

Possibly sensing that the wine world wants something different, Montana Winery (Brancott wines) this past year introduced a new/old variety to the domestic market: Sauvignon Gris.  This old Bordeaux variety is enjoying a bit of a revival in its homeland so maybe it’s time to try it out in the New World.

After Mac toured New Zealand, he and Bev moved on to Australia and he will share the rest of his "Down Under" observations on the state of the wines in his next newsletter.

Mac lunching at Allan Scott Winery, NZ

In vino veritas...

Mac MacDonald
July, 2010

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