Autumn is when the grapes are harvested. New Zealand’s wine regions are at their most spectacular in autumn when the days are long and bathed in late sunshine – it’s an ideal time to savour and enjoy the country’s sauvignon blancs, alternative albarinos and rieslings. Here are the most popular wine regions in New Zealand:
West Auckland is where New Zealand’s wine began – the early Eastern European immigrants brought grapevines with them. The descendants of those vines are red, copper and gold come autumn, when the winemakers have finished their harvest. Auckland is the nation’s wine industry headquarters, with four destinations within an hour’s travel. Chardonnay specialist Kumeu River Wines is 20 minutes’ drive from the city, Waiheke Island is a 40-minute ferry ride from the CBD and the towns of Matakana and Warkworth are an hour’s drive to North. Villa Maria Estate sits in the vast, vine-lined Ihumatao volcano – five minutes from Auckland Airport.
The fourth-largest wine region in the country, Gisborne is also known, casually, as the Chardonnay capital of New Zealand. The local winemakers make many of the country’s top examples, as well as gewurztraminer, chenin blanc and wines such as albarino, marsanne and vermentino. Most wineries are small and owner-operated.
Mid to late autumn is ideal for visitors to enjoy the country’s second-biggest wine region, with nearly 5000 hectares of grapevines. The Bay’ best known wine area is the Gimblett Gravels, 800 hectares of stony ground which absorbs, retains and radiates heat to red grapes such as syrah, malbec and merlot.
This region on the East side of the Rimutaka Ranges enjoys settled weather in autumn, as well as a steady stream of vineyard events, such as marathons around the vines, country fairs and harvest events. The Wairarapa is home to only three per cent of New Zealand’s grapes, due to the decimating effects of strong spring winds, but the grapes feature a distinct flavour. The best wines include Ata Rangi Pinot Noir, Nga Waka Riesling, The Escarpment Vineyard’s Pinot Noir, Margrain Chenin Blanc and Martinborough Vineyard Chardonnay.
Marlborough reigns in size, economic importance and production of New Zealand’s biggest wine success story to date: Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It is busiest in summer during harvest – so visits are best in autumn, when the weather is generally warm and sunny. The region’s sauvignons now account for 85.6 per cent of the country’s exports, the vast majority from Marlborough where there are 141 wineries and 24,000 hectares of producing grapevines. Today, a wider range of styles are being made, something that was highlighted at the country’s first International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration in January 2016.
Nelson is the northernmost wine region in the South Island and is known for its seaside café culture and outdoor living. Orcas and dolphins often visit the region during autumn, which is also when the vines’ colours are at their most beautiful; both make this the top season to explore the relaxed vibe of Nelson. Like its nearest neighbour (Marlborough), Nelson’s historic wine strengths have tended to be whites with chardonnay, gewurztraminer, riesling and sauvignon blanc harnessing a strong reputation. The best pinot noirs are now adding another string to the region’s wine bow.
Cool nights, hot days, long dry autumns and strong winds are the story of this wine region, 40 minutes North of Christchurch and now the hub of Canterbury’s wine industry. The region’s most renowned wines are its rieslings (both bone-dry and sweet ones). These wines are made possible by the long, relatively warm autumns here and the region’s dry sunny climate. This is home to many of the country’s leading wine brands, such as Pegasus Bay and Bellbird Spring. Others to visit include Pyramid Valley, Bell Hill and Greystone.
Central Otago is considered best to visit in autumn when the burnished colours bathe the mountains. Local winemakers are largely reliant on pinot noir, with 80 per cent of their vineyards devoted to this early-ripening grape. The white wines here are dwarfed by pinot power, but the rieslings, pinot gris, pinot blancs, chenin blanc and chardonnays also offer quality. Gibbston Valley Wines is a top lunch spot, as is Carrick Estate at Bannockburn. Aurum Wines is a small, family-run place with top quality wines by French winemaker Lucie Lawrence.