Despite its relatively small size, the Waipara wine region is the fastest growing in New Zealand – and is threatening to step out from the shadows of Marlborough and Central Otago as home to the country’s premier vineyards.
Settled in picturesque valleys of New Zealand’s South Island, the region has rapidly built a reputation for producing internationally acclaimed Pinot Noir and Riesling from over 1,400 hectares of vineyards stretched across the country’s signature countryside. As part of the larger Canterbury region, which is straddled by the magnificent Southern Alps on one side and the cooling Pacific Ocean on the other, Waipara’s enviable conditions have always carried great potential for wine making.
The Waipara wine region has the highest summer temperatures and lowest rainfall of any New Zealand wine regions, while the sheltered, hilly valleys encourage distinctive flavours from a diverse range of wines that also include Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and the ubiquitous Sauvignon Blanc. However, it has only been over the last two decades that this potential has been realised, with over 75 wineries congregating to the area – most of which remain small, boutique estates preoccupied with creating high-end hand-crafted wines.
Waipara is also part of the so-called Alpine Pacific Triangle, which includes the main tourist centres of Hamner Springs and Kaikoura at its other apexes. Hamner Springs is a haven for adrenaline- fuelled activities such as bungy jumping and bush walking, which can be enjoyed before soothing your tired muscles in the natural hot pools. The picturesque seaside town of Kaikoura, meanwhile, is famed for its marine mammal encounters – with whales, dolphins and seals all frequenting the coastal waters.
It’s been the arrival of this new breed of wine maker that has transformed the fortunes of the Waipara wine region. Whereas 20 years ago, many of the region’s wine makers were born locally – now they have ventured from across the world, bringing valuable knowledge and experience with them. Despite interest from commercial scale producers – Pernod Ricard, Villa Maria, Constellation and Craggy Range have all invested in Waipara – the region will never be used for mass production and low yields of high quality wines remain its modus operandi.
The growing global popularity of Waipara wines have also brought an influx of wine tourism to the region, accommodated by its closeness to the Christchurch, which can be reached within an hour – while Marlborough is also within driving distance. Visitors to the area can enjoy sampling some incredibly good value wines surrounded by landscapes that have been used as fantastical scenery for the blockbusting Lord of the Rings films as well as fine dining experiences featuring fresh local produce at many of the wineries’ on-site restaurants.
Wandering the Waipara wine region on foot or by bicycle is an ideal way to explore the area, which is known as the ‘greenest wine area in the world’ courtesy of the collaborative efforts of many winegrowers to develop a sustainability project. The valleys are also strewn with olive groves, nut farms and fields of lavender, creating an almost surreal sense of natural beauty that is only enhanced by visiting the disused Iron Ridge Quarry Park which has been converted into an outdoor art gallery complete with enormous steel sculptures.
Waipara is also part of the so-called Alpine Pacific Triangle, which includes the main tourist centres of Hamner Springs and Kaikoura at its other apexes. Hamner Springs is a heaven for adrenaline- fuelled activities such as bungy jumping and bush walking, which can be enjoyed before soothing your tired muscles in the natural hot pools. The picturesque seaside town of Kaikoura, meanwhile, is famed for its marine mammal encounters – with whales, dolphins and seals all frequenting the coastal waters.
Marlborough and Central Otago should keep an eye over their shoulders as Waipara is gaining ground faster than anyone expected!If you are interested in exclusive tours of the Waipara wine region, contact our local expert for more information and inspirational ideas before planning a bespoke trip.
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