When the sun rises on the
worlds’ vineyards each day, it shines first on the vineyards of New
Zealand. Just west of the International Date Line, this country also
has the world’s most southerly vineyards ranging between latitudes 36°
to 45° south. To give perspective, Cornwall and Kemptville, Ontario,
are situated at latitude 45° north.
Back in the seventies, New
Zealand was more or less represented at the Liquor Control Board of
Ontario (LCBO) by 2 or 3 white wines based on cool climate varieties
such as Muller Thurgau.
These wines were aromatic and had a decent finish but nothing in the
middle, hence they were called “donut wines”…
maybe today they would be known as “Timmies”.
Conventional wisdom at the time
dictated that the
potential wine growing areas in New Zealand could only ripen short
season varieties. Today, that is not the case (or bottle) as world
class Sauvignon Blanc,
represent the top four cultivars in planted hectares;
also show recent gains.
The landscape hasn’t changed and
global warming hasn’t contributed - the Fox and Franz Josef
glaciers in the Southern Alps are actually advancing
but there has been a realization that conditions for vine cultivation
that exist are better than previously thought. The other major
contribution is the fact that New Zealand leads the world in vine canopy
management which greatly enhances the ripening process.
From Gisborne on the
North Island south to Central Otago on the South Island, wine
regions such as Martinborough, Nelson,
Hawkes Bay, Marlborough, Canterbury
and Otago lie in the lee of mountain “rain shadows”.
Prevailing winds laden with moisture from the Tasman Sea are forced up
western slopes where rain and snow is dumped in great amounts. When the
winds descend down the leeward slopes, the air heats up rapidly creating
a warm and cloudless “rain shadow” where vines thrive. Much of the
soils are alluvial in nature, deposited by rivers with their mixture of
gravels, stones and silts providing soils with good drainage
We are familiar with the
Sauvignon Blancs of Marlborough such as
Kim Crawford and
Cloudy Bay -
aromatic, pungent with limey acidity and sometimes with grassy and
gooseberry notes. Mount Riley
turns out a good Sauvignon Blanc Sparkler and Pinot Noirs are definitely
worth a try. Blenheim is the commercial centre but Picton
30K north, is a more interesting place to stay. Picton
a small port where the ferry from the North Island arrives after a trip
down Queen Charlotte Sound, a beautiful fiord. The town is small
enough to walk around, has decent restaurants and places to stay... and
there are many hiking trails in this scenic area.
Eric Arnold, a sometime
comedian, has written
Big Crush - The Down and Dirty of Making Great Wine Down
Under - an entertaining book out about winemaking at the
Scott Winery in Marlborough; check it out at
is home to Queenstown, a place that reminds me of Banff and, as
they said in the seventies, “where the action is”. Just down the road is
a town called Arrowtown, with good restaurants, B&B’s and
boutiques. Skiing in winter is close by as are the Central Otago
vineyards. Pinot Noir is
king here with a purity of flavour you will find nowhere else:
Felton Road are some of the
wineries of note.
The famous Milford Sound
is a day trip away from here but don’t go unless the weather forecast is
good. It can get badly socked in with fog resulting in no “there” being
there and you being out a lot of money.
Outside of the major cities,
traffic is sparse on the roads, especially on the South Island.
But watch out for wandering sheep that outnumber the human population by
a considerable margin! Driving is on the left and there are
many one lane bridges to negotiate and for which to be alert. And
another small point not to be overlooked - you cannot rent an auto on
one island and drive (via the ferry) to the other, so drop offs and
re-rentals are the norm and all major companies have offices at the
ferry terminals to help you easily facilitate this. And yes, about the
ferry – try to take it when the weather is calm - the windy and rough
three hour crossing of the Cooke Strait has ruined many a day and
There is much more to see and do
in this wine paradise… and it is worth going half way around the world
to do it.
Next report…. Australia 2009!
In vino veritas...
early March, 2009