Canterbury is the nearest New Zealand wine region to the tourist town of Christchurch in the South Island, which is famed for its shockingly beautiful scenery where the Southern Alps tumble toward pristine beaches edging the Pacific Ocean.
Canterbury vineyards are blessed with a temperate climate created by the surrounding glacial mountain ranges, which cool the sea breezes while simultaneously shielding the region from harsh weather systems and irrigating the soil with meltwater descending from their snowy peaks. Although Christchurch is the oldest city in New Zealand, commercial wine making in Canterbury did not begin until as late as 1978. In a relatively short space of time, however, the region has earned an international reputation for producing a range of elegant and expressive wines, particularly from Riesling, Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. There are now over 75 Canterbury vineyards spread across 1,200 hectares of the region, which attracts both serious wine travellers and day-trippers seeking to explore the lush, verdant countryside as a brief escape from the city.
At Wine Paths, our local expert can organise exclusive tours of the finest vineyards Canterbury has to offer, including elaborate tastings, luxury stays, fine dining experiences and some unique outdoor activities.
Canterbury wine regions
The Canterbury wine district can be divided into three main sub-regions, all of which are easily accessible from Christchurch and each with their own distinctive wine growing characteristics. Closest to the city is the Waipara Valley, a beautiful sun-kissed area that is one of New Zealand’s fastest growing wine regions. Exquisite Riesling and Pinot Noir are grown from Canterbury vineyards resting on sheltered hills that are perhaps best explored on foot – with several scenic walking trails that include passing through an outdoor art gallery.
To the south of Christchurch, the Canterbury Plains is where the first vineyards in the region were planted. The soft, gently contoured landscape encourages the production of some notable cool climate classics such as Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Riesling.
The Waitaki Valley, meanwhile, is the newest wine growing sub-region in New Zealand where Pinot Noir and several aromatic styles are showing great promise.
Canterbury vineyard wines
There is no escaping the ubiquitous Pinot Noir in Canterbury, and the region’s expressions are noted for their definite dark berry flavours and tobacco undertones, which relate particularly well to meat dishes. Canterbury vineyards also produce award-winning Riesling, which is outstanding value by comparison. The aromatic wines are renowned for their well-balanced acidity that ages them gracefully. New Zealand’s signature Sauvignon Blanc is also grown in the area, alongside other white grape varieties including Chardonnay and Pinot Gris – while red styles are represented to a lesser extent by Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are often used to create Bordeaux style blends.
Canterbury attractions and activities
Although Christchurch is gradually recouping after being rocked by earthquakes between 2010 and 2012, it remains an exciting and ever-evolving city that was listed as one of the top 10 cities to visit by Lonely Planet in 2013, and ranked second in the New York Times’ 52 Places to Go in 2014.
In settings straight from the Lord of the Rings, Arthur’s Pass National Park providing a paradise for nature lovers, hikers, rock climbers and even skiers, while other attractions include: arts, culture and sensational food at Banks Peninsula; soaking in thermal pools at Hanmer Springs; watching whales off the coast of Kaikoura; gazing at stars in Mackenzie; and white water rafting the Rangiata River in South Canterbury.
If you are interested in visiting a Canterbury vineyard, visit our New Zealand destination page for more information and inspirational ideas before planning a bespoke trip – all of our private tours can be tailor made to meet your exact requirements, ensuring every detail is taken care of so that you can relax and enjoy the matter at hand.