New Zealand Wine Trail
by Ann Hattes
"The prominent US wine Publication, Wine Enthusiast Magazine, has selected New Zealand as the Wine Region of the Year for 2002, attributing the industry's innovation, consistency, diversity and value as the basis for this exemplary award.
Commenting on the award, Wine Enthusiast's editor and publisher Adam Strum said, "The reasons we are honouring New Zealand as this year's Wine Region of the Year go beyond exponential sales growth, and the critically acclaimed Sauvignon Blanc. In 2002, no other region in the world offered as much innovation, consistency, diversity and value."
New Zealand has 10 main wine growing regions, each experiencing a great diversity in climate and terrain, resulting in an astonishing range of wine varieties and styles. The country's elongated shape, if superimposed on Europe, would stretch from southern Spain through Bordeaux, Loire, Burgundy, Champagne and Alsace, to the Rhine Valley in the north.
While Europe's climate is based on a continental landmass, New Zealand's is maritime and island-based. The vineyards here bask in an average of 2,200 sunshine hours each year, ideal for growing premium quality grapes.
Central Otago, near the adventure capital Queenstown and Fiordland with breathtaking Milford and Doubtful Sounds, is the fastest growing wine area in New Zealand. The large difference between day and night temperatures during the growing season helps to seal in the flavours and acid in white wine varietals, and adds colour and stability to Pinot Noir grapes.
Back in the 1860s, a French gold miner recognised the region's potential for planting and harvesting grapes for 20 years. Today, water races left over from the goldmining days are often used to irrigate the vines.
In 1895, a Yugoslav-born consultant viticulturist to the New Zealand government predicted: "There is no better country on the face of the earth for the production of Burgundy grapes than central Otago.
"The grapes grown here, specifically Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, are the two great grapes of Burgundy and Champagne," explains Bruce Carpenter, an It's Wine Time guide, one of several small companies in the Queenstown area that offer wine tours. "Because we are so far south, we're aiming to become the world's best Pinot Noir producer."
At Gibbston Valley Vineyard, guide Rosie tells of how the soil is light and well drained, and that during the day, the sun heats the schist rock that reflects the heat. She also explains that Gibbston, one of New Zealand's leading boutique wineries, hand harvests "so that bunches of whole grapes go into the fermenting tank, especially with the Pinot Noir."
We access the Tuscan-style Chard Farm Winery by a humpy, rutted 145-year-old road, part of the original Queenstown Highway. The small site is bathed in winter sunshine. The two rivers running through the valley create a beneficial current of warm air that stops frost from settling on the vineyard when the grapes are budding up in mid to late September.
Though frost is a problem in central Otago, winemakershere on the southern edge of the world's grape growing regions are mindful of the European winemakers' belief that great wine is made in a challenging environment. Despite the difficulties, fine wine and Pinot Noir seem to have become the new gold.
Goldwater Winery - Waiheke Island near Auckland
In Auckland, I take the 35-minute ferry ride to Waiheke Island for a visit to the Goldwater Winery producing hand crafted reds that are now famous 0worldwide. Kim and Jeanette Goldwater pioneered winegrowing on Waiheke Island by planting the first vinifera vineyard in 1978.
When in Europe, they decided that they could grow grapes just as gorgeous, "that we could produce glorious wines in New Zealand," explains Jeanette Goldwater. New Zealanders are like Americans, believing if you want to do something, you can do it, she adds.
"We kept our day jobs. We didn't have any vast foreign capital. We did everything, inching our way forward. We would sail out on weekends, and brought all the vines and the posts down on the boat. Kim rowed them ashore."
Jeanette, mentioning that they recently made a winetasting tour in the US, culminating at the Aspen Food and Wine Festival, concludes: "It's wonderful to see people enjoying the fruits of our labour."
The Goldwater philosophy is that "great wine is horn in the vineyard." Careful choice of vineyard sites include Waiheke Island with its warm, dry maritime climate similar to Bordeaux, and acreage in Marlborough's renowned Wairau Valley, with its more continental climate similar to that of Burgundy and the Loire.
The sites, plus varietal clonal selection and meticulous vineyard management achieve healthy balanced vines so that grapes with luscious ripe and complex flavours are produced.
Northland Wine Trail - Cottle Hill Winery
On the Northland Wine Trail on the North Island, I visit Cottle Hill Winery in the Bay of Islands. Proprietors Barbara and Mike Webb sailed away from the southern California rat race to fulfill a life long dream.
"What we enjoyed about wine tasting was going to places that were very casual, where you could talk to the winemaker, and it was not too pretentious," explains Barbara Webb. "We wanted our small winery to be comfortable. We didn't want people coming in and he intimidated by wine. The rules here are to have fun. If you don't like what I give you, just tip it in the bucket."
Barbara continues. "When people come, we encourage them to try a wine they may not be familiar with because we don't normally charge for tasting."
Every year is a little different so you're going to learn something new. When I was in Europe recently, I went to a sixth generation vineyard and they are still learning."
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is rated throughout the world as the definitive benchmark style for this varietal. The growing recognition for New Zealand Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Mcthode Traditionelle sparkling wines, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends is helping to further cement New Zealand's position as a producer of world class wines.
Touring the stunning wine regions of New Zealand is a treat indeed!