The reputation of New Zealand’s wines has been founded on its classic Sauvignon Blanc, which wowed the world during the 1990s and earned the country a supporting role on the international wine stage – but Pinot Noir could be the next rising Kiwi star.
There are several cool climate regions in New Zealand that are almost tailor made to grow this notoriously fickle variety – to realise their potential Pinot Noir grapes demand cool mornings followed long, warm afternoons and colder, misty evenings.
Among these is North Canterbury, where some of the New Zealand’s finest expressions of Pinot Noir are being produced at Waipara Valley wineries. Regarded by some as the country’s hidden secret, Waipara is a relatively small sub-region that focuses its attention on small batches of hand crafted premium wines dominated by Riesling and Pinot Noir. The bucolic region is still relatively young in wine making terms, with most wineries in Waipara only being established during the 1990s, but many vintages have left a lasting impression on international critics. The valley’s hills provide shelter from cooling ocean winds and the clay-limestone soils are precisely suited to Pinot Noir’s needs. Stylistically, the Pinot Noir from Waipara wineries are more restrained and savoury than those from the rest of New Zealand.
Gibbston the so-called ‘Valley of the Vines’ has a reputation for producing award winning Pinot Noir from its elevated terraces, which create lighter-bodied wines without sacrificing the intensity of flavours. Martinborough, meanwhile, is the premier Pinot Noir growing area of the North Island. As part of the larger Wairarapa region, the rural town close to Wellington has risen through the ranks to become one of New Zealand’s most sought after wine destinations.
The spreading word and the region’s closeness to the resort town of Christchurch has brought an influx of wine tourists to wineries in Waipara, which are less crowded and formal than those in its more illustrious South Island neighbour Marlborough. Waipara wineries also have the added incentive of being located in a region that has the highest summer temperatures and lowest rainfall of any of the country’s other wine regions. However, Waipara Valley wineries are not the only estates producing premium quality Pinot Noir. Central Otago (or simply ‘Central’ as it is referred to by the locals) has long been considered New Zealand’s primary Pinot growing region from what are the world’s most southerly vineyards. Although Central Otago only accounts for 2.4% of the country’s entire production, its contribution comes largely from some exquisite Pinot Noirs Noir – with a variety of expressions produced from various sub regions.
Gibbston the so-called ‘Valley of the Vines’ has a reputation for producing award winning Pinot Noir from its elevated terraces, which create lighter-bodied wines without sacrificing the intensity of flavours. Martinborough, meanwhile, is the premier Pinot Noir growing area of the North Island. As part of the larger Wairarapa region, the rural town close to Wellington has risen through the ranks to become one of New Zealand’s most sought after wine destinations. The vineyards planted on high terraces of mineral laden soils are renowned for the distinctive quality of their Pinot Noir – attracting tens of thousands of visitors to the annual Toast Martinborough Wine Festival held in November.
The standard of New Zealand’s Pinot Noir is undoubtedly high, with many producers appearing to town down the wine’s exuberant ripe fruit flavours to create more complex and balanced expressions – while compared to rival Pinot regions such as Burgundy, the prices are very competitive. The United States has been particularly enamoured by New Zealand’s Pinot Noir, which has contributed towards the country moving up to third place in wine exports behind only Italy and France – an impressive accomplishment since it produces less than 1% of the world’s wine.
If you are interested in exploring Waipara wineries, contact Wine Paths’ local expert for more information and inspirational ideas before planning an exclusive bespoke visit to New Zealand.