Mac's News from New Zealand, 2009...

... ‘Sauvies, Pinots and “Rain Shadows”

Allan Scott Winery view

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 theAllan Scott winery small 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, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Merlot represent the top four cultivars in planted hectares; Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah 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 Oyster Bay growers- 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 theNZ wine region map small 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 characteristics.

We are familiar with the Sauvignon Blancs of Marlborough such as Oyster Bay, 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 Queen Charlotte Sound ferry to Pictonis 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 bookcoverFirst Big Crush - The Down and Dirty of Making Great Wine Down Under - an entertaining book out about winemaking at the Allan Scott Winery in Marlborough; check it out at or

Otago vineyard South IslandOtago 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: Amisfield, Chard Farm, Quartz Reef, 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 areChard Farm entry small 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 stomach.

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!

Mac lunching at Allan Scott Winery

In vino veritas...

Mac MacDonald
early March, 2009

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