Wonderful Wines and Wineries
But Still Largely An International
In New Zealand, the
beauty of the country is reflected in the brilliance of its
wonderful wines are largely unknown and unavailable
of a series on travel to and in New Zealand -
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Forty years ago, New Zealand's
wine industry was typified by low price generic wine from
no-name hybrid grapes and maximum strength 'sherry' (which would
be sold in 80 ounce flagons). Wine was grown in three main
regions in the North Island and almost nowhere else.
Who would have thought that today
New Zealand's classic varietal wines are as good as any in the world, and
that brilliant wine is being made throughout the country by
literally hundreds of wineries, from the north of the North Island
to the south of the South Island.
But New Zealand's wine revolution
is largely hidden from the rest of the world, because its boutique
wineries are too small to export their products. You have to
go, see, and sample, for yourself.
Looking Back - The Amazing
Evolution of New Zealand Wine
To me, one of the most remarkable aspects to New Zealand's
wonderful wines today is to look at how the industry has
In the 'old world' (ie Europe) wine making is all about
tradition, with the assumption being that the older the winery,
the better the wine, and with much to do with the wine making
process similarly frozen in time and place.
The old world also sees their total wine production struggling
to adapt to declining local demand and consumption.
But at the same time, wine making in the 'new world' has -
necessarily - rejected all such constraints and instead is
joyously experimenting with new regions to grow grapes, new wine
blends and styles, new ways to even brand, bottle, label and
market wine. This is not a uniquely NZ phenomenon of
course, but is being repeated in many other countries too.
However, it is seen in its most extreme and finest form in NZ.
The outcomes as between old world tradition and new world
innovation are barely spoken of in the 'old world' but the truth
is out there if you search for it. Blind taste tests have
upset the supposition that the biggest names (and biggest
prices) of the old world wine producers are the unrivaled best
in terms of quality, too. They no longer are.
The transformation of wine in NZ has been nothing short of
astonishing. It is difficult, but perhaps also irrelevant,
to ponder which came first - a more sophisticated and
enthusiastic wine drinking population, or better wine. But
now NZ has plenty of both.
Forty years ago, there were three or four main
wineries in New Zealand. If people wanted good wine, they'd buy an
imported bottle of Australian or South African or other wine.
No NZ wine was exported.
Flash forward a few decades, and now brilliant wine is being made throughout the country by
literally hundreds of winemakers of all sizes from tiny boutique
wineries to enormous sized (by NZ standards) operations. And nowadays, if
people want good wine, they shun the lower priced imports and
choose one of the many premium local wines instead.
Furthermore, two out of every three bottles of NZ wine are now
As for the flagons of 'McDonalds Special Extra Strength Sherry'
(something which was definitely not special, and very debatable
as to if it was deserving of the sherry description or not);
although 40 years ago I used to sell it in vast quantities when
working in my college holidays at the local liquor store, that
has thankfully disappeared entirely (as probably have those who
formerly drank it so enthusiastically!).
NZ - the World's Fastest Growing Wine Region
this report, New Zealand has increased the land on which it
grows grapes by 168% in the period 2000 - 2011. This was
massively more than any other country reported on, and at a time
when total land for grape growing, world-wide, decreased by
New Zealand also came top in growth terms for the shorter period
2007 - 2011 (a 21% increase compared to a global 2.5% decrease).
The table on page 23 of that report is also very interesting -
look at the contrast in wine production between the 'old world'
countries such as France, Germany, Spain and Italy - all showing
significant decreases between 2000 and 2011, and the growth of
'new world' countries such as Australia, Chile, and Argentina.
NZ doesn't appear in this table because it is not one of the ten
largest wine producers (in 2011 it was the 19th largest) but its
total wine production is also massively increasing (according to
this table, a 15% increase from 2008 - 2011, as compared to
a 2.9% increase worldwide).
If you've not had a chance to adequately sample a good range of
New Zealand wines, you're missing out on the biggest new thing
in the wine world.
NZ Wine - An Unavoidably Well Kept Secret
Unfortunately, the chances are you have not had a chance to
adequately try NZ's better wines. Although some New
Zealand wine can sometimes be found in some wine stores around
the world, there is a problem which prevents its best wines
becoming better known.
Put in simplest terms, most of the country's better wineries are
way too small to be able to get a significant 'footprint' on the
world stage, and the biggest wineries necessarily have to
compromise on quality as part of a focus on quantity for their
most prolifically produced wines.
In total, NZ produces just under 1% of all wine in the world
(235,000 litres/61,000 gallons, or, if you prefer, the
equivalent of 313,000 standard sized bottles of wine a year).
Imagine, for example, the problem posed if a large supermarket
chain such as, perhaps, the Safeway or Kroger group in the US
(1458 and 2460 stores, respectively) were to agree to showcase a
premium NZ wine. They'd of course want a minimum of a
dozen bottles of the wine per store, and more likely two or
three dozen bottles, and if it proved popular, they'd want to be
assured of an ongoing supply.
But how many premium winemakers in NZ could supply, say, 5,000
cases (45,000 litres) of one particular vintage of one
particular wine to fill a first order? Almost none.
these 2013 statistics, NZ has 692 wineries in total, but 609
of the 692 are small, and only 15 are getting close to 'large'.
Even the largest of the 609 small wineries would find that
single one order represented a quarter of their total annual
production, and of course, their total annual production would
be of a mix of different wine styles and bottlings. In
other words, a single order of this sort of size would take
their entire annual production, and if the wine sold well,
they'd be unable to resupply for a year.
That just simply makes no sense for the supermarket chain - or
for the winery, either.
This makes it difficult for New Zealand to fully and fairly
showcase its best wines. That's not to say you can't find
NZ wine - indeed, for a stunning display of the evolution of NZ
wine, look at the evolving mix of wine exporting
shown in these charts - but the wine you find is primarily
mass market wine rather than high quality wine.
There's an interesting related issue. In 2007, New Zealand
wine, when sold internationally, got a higher price per liter
than wine from any other country, beating even France, and being
more than twice as costly as Australia and many other major
producers (NZers would say this price loading is a fair
reflection of its better quality!). See
page 7 of this report for the statistics.
If you want to luxuriate in some of NZ's world-beating wines,
the only way to do so is to travel to NZ yourself. But
that's hardly the worst thing in the world to need to do, is it!
Where to Find NZ's Wine Growing Regions and Wineries
The good news is that pretty much anywhere you travel in New
Zealand, you'll be close to wineries these days.
But there are some clearly distinct regions where most of the
winemaking is concentrated, and where specific regional styles
and characteristics become factors.
By winery count, rather than by volume of wine produced, here
are the main regional groupings (as of Feb 2013). Note
that this list sort of goes from the top of the country
|Waikato & Bay of Plenty
|Canterbury & Waipara
These regions are shown geographically here :
The good news is that one of the more active wine regions - that
in the Central Otago region - is close to the lovely town of
Queenstown that most visitors choose to include in their NZ
But most of the other major wine regions (in particular, Hawke's
Bay and Marlborough) are off the traditional international
tourist routes, but this is not necessarily a bad thing at all.
If you choose to go to such places, you'll find you're in more
quintessentially New Zealand surroundings, with more of a focus
on local New Zealanders and their lifestyle, rather than being
in regions with lots of other international visitors and going
to places that are primarily designed to give foreign tourists
whatever it is that the attraction developers think they want.
What are NZ's Best Wine Types
You'll find most people in NZ are reluctant to answer this
question, preferring instead to believe that all NZ wine
varieties and styles are excellent!
One easier question to answer is what types of wine does NZ
produce in largest quantities. In 2008, grapes were grown
in the following amounts of land
This is interesting from a historical perspective - NZ first
made a name for itself with some astonishingly 'big' Cabernet
Sauvignon wines, made by revered wine-maker
Tom McDonald, in Hawke's Bay, in the 1960s, and produced
little white wine at all. But today the situation has
A Suggested Wine Based Itinerary for a NZ Visit
If you're going to New Zealand and wish to combine 'normal'
activities with wine tasting, the good news it is totally
possible to do both.
You'd probably fly into Auckland, and we'd suggest you then hire
a car and drive your way down the North Island - stopping in
Rotorua for normal tourist things, then going to Hawke's Bay (go
first to Gisborne if time allows) for wine tasting, then spend a
night in Martinborough for more wine experiences and on to
Take the ferry over to Picton and then head down to Blenheim to
spend time luxuriating in the Marlborough region (go first to
Nelson if you have more time).
Then drive down to Queenstown for plenty of wonderful things to
see and do, including lots of Central Otago wines and wineries
At the end of your time, fly back to Auckland and back home
Shipping Wine Back Home
Remember the curious thing - wine always tastes at least twice
as good when tasting it at the winery, compared to when opening
a bottle of it back home subsequently!
But if you find some wine you absolutely must have, then most
wineries can help you ship it home. Alternatively, there
are wine shipping services such as
MWT Wine Export that
can arrange everything for you.
New Zealand has evolved to become a wine lover's paradise.
But although it has around 700 wineries, only perhaps 3% of
these are represented internationally, and their wines are not
necessarily the finest the country produces.
If you're curious about why NZ wines are more valuable than
French wines internationally, you really should head down to New
Zealand and see for yourself.
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7 Mar 2014, last update
30 May 2021