Although New Zealand’s winemaking history dates back to the colonial days, during Brittain’s settlement and development of the area, it wasn’t until the 1960s and into the 1970s that New Zealand was put on the winemaking map. At this time there was an influx of New Zealanders traveling abroad to Europe, experiencing the wines and vines of that continent, and bringing home with them the knowledge and the passion to put their own “kiwi” twist on the Old World’s drink.

But it seems that it’s only within this new millennium, that the rest of the world has taken an interest in what this little pocket of terroir has to offer the wine industry.

Map of New Zealand wine regions

Though the New Zealand wine industry is quite tiny, producing less than 1% of the world’s wine, it is home to 11 different wine regions — each, as you’d expect, with its own unique climate and soil. Obviously, New Zealand is an island, and the proximity of a vineyard to the ocean will play a major part in climate and soil-types. But the major wine growing areas, located on the East coast of the two major islands, are also home to mountainous terrain and rockier soil types. And as this unique Wine Country continues to develop, vintners are beginning to distinguish between sub-regions as well.

te Pa vineyard; courtesy of te Pa Wines

It’s the country’s success with Sauvignon Blanc that really gave New Zealand it’s winemaking “gravitas.” Nearly 70% of New Zealand’s vines are planted to the white grape, totaling about 200,000 tons harvested each year. But little do most wine consumers know, there are other grapes that thrive here. And it is with this notion that I connected with te Pa wines, one of the newer, and fastest rising of New Zealand’s successful vintners.

The MacDonald family can trace their New Zealand Maori heritage as far back as 800 years, around the time the indigenous people first settled along the Wairu Bar in Marlborough. Since that time, they’ve been cultivators of the land. According to an interview with, the most successful of the MacDonald’s crops was potatoes, and later French fries. (When life gives you potatoes, right?)

te Pa’s MacDonald family

In the early 2000s, Haysley MacDonald took a gamble when he turned his sites from the root vegetable to grapes, transforming some 200 acres of his father’s potato-land to vineyards. But history and experience (and maybe even genetics?) were in Haysley’s favor: his Sauvignon Blanc took up resident on the same ancient Maori ground his family’s been farming for the last 8 centuries.

And it is with this innate love of the land that their crop — and business — prospered and celebrated their first vintage just 6 years ago in 2011. Production continues to escalate: the still family-run winery produces over 300,000 cases annually, distributing all over the globe.

Unfamiliar with the kiwi interpretation of any kind of red wine, I was most curious about te Pa’s Pinot Noir — a most familiar varietal for us Sonoma-coasters. And when I heard they also offered a unique take on their country’s “heritage grape,” Sauvignon Blanc, I decided to use te Pa’s winemaking legacy to further my understanding of New Zealand wines.

So grab a glass and let’s taste and learn.

te Pa Oke 2015 Sauvignon Blanc

te Pa 2015 Pinot Noir

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