New Zealand’s winemaking history dates back to the colonial days, when the British first settled on the tiny island. But it wasn’t until the 1960s and into the 1970s that New Zealand became a presence 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.
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. And while the country’s “claim to wine fame” may be Sauvignon Blanc (indeed, nearly 70% of New Zealand’s vines are planted to the white grape, totaling about 200,000 tons harvested each year), there are certain regions where other grapes — like Pinot Noir — can claim a small kingdom.
I want to put New Zealand on the map as New World wines to watch. Previous to engaging with te Pa, I was sorely mistaken about the wines produced in this tiny country. Like many, I lumped NZ wines with neighboring Australian wines; like many, I assumed that overly fruit-forward white wines without body or texture were the norm; and like many, I came to these assumptions because of what the mass market puts in front of us on shelves and in restaurants. Let this not be the case and let te Pa make the case for New Zealand.
The Wairu Valley, another sub-region of New Zealand’s Marlborough wine country, is one the MacDonald family knows well, as their own little island of te Pa sits along the Wiaru Bar — where the Wairau River meets the sea. It’s a place the family has inhabited, land the family has cultivated, for the past 800 years.
Here, the land closest to the water is predominantly gravely riverbed soils, and the climate benefits from quite a bit of rainfall. Inland vineyards tend to be drier, and still cooler, and the soil quite stony, resulting in early-ripening grapes in some sites. The sub-region is known to produce fruit-forward wines. Of course that all depends on the vineyard and the vintner. te Pa Oke Sauvignon Blanc certainly takes a different approach.
The Maori have an expression for Marlborough: “Kei puta te Wairau,” or “The place with the hole in the cloud.” Indeed, it is one of the most sunny and warm-climates regions in New Zealand and, by no consequence, the country’s largest wine producing region with just about 5,000 acres planted to vines.
The larger Marlborough region is divided into three major sub-regions, and it is the Awatere Valley region, south of the Wairau Valley where te Pa has extended their vineyard property. This sub-region spans inland from the ocean and includes elevated areas as it reaches toward the Kaikoura mountain-scape. Here, with its cooler, drier climate and somewhat rocky terrain, the vines incur a lot of vigor, producing Pinot Noir with a noted strength of character. te Pa 2015 Pinot Noir is a beautiful expression of this New Zealand terroir.