Australia is such a large wine region, and that’s where my Oceanic-wine-focus tends go go. But let us not forget their close neighbor, New Zealand. As you might expect, being a group of islands between the Tasman Sea and the Pacific ocean, the climate here is overall maritime—the asterisk goes here for Central Otago which, centered around the Southern Alps, actually maintains and continental climate.
Other key piece of info, when determining the difference between the two islands: Remember, NZ is in the Southern Hemisphere, so the South Island climate will be a bit cooler; the North Island climate, a bit warmer.
Thinking about the geography of the two islands, most of the vineyards of the South Island tend to be on the eastern side where the vines are protected from rain-bearing winds from the west by mountain ranges that span pretty much right down the center of the island itself—the Southern Alps. (Quick shout out to Nelson who braves it out over there on the left with its east coast pride.) But, again, this is a maritime climate situation—rainfall is inevitable and can be a concern during the growing process. However, it’s noted that most of the soils tend to be free draining, which is excellent for vine vigor. Of course there will be some vineyards located on flatter lands that can be overly fertile (this will happen closer to the ocean), resulting in a bit more greener, herbaceous notes on the wines (specifically in reference to the most planted grape, Sauvignon Blanc).
But it’s noted that due to this excessive vigor and having to work around wet, rainy conditions, New Zealand growers have become well-versed in the art of trellising and other canopy management techniques and that the Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand initiative has helped set winery standards and assist growers in achieving well-maintained and sustainable vineyards.
Pinot Gris is one of the new kids on the New Zealand wine block, making its first appearance just 30 years ago in 1990. Though it’s only responsible for 6% of the country’s total wine production, it is the third most popular white varietal. In the southern region, the Pinot Gris grapes are higher in acid, resulting in crisper wines. But winemaker Sam Weaver of Mt. Beautiful has a few interesting techniques that give this stereotypically lean white wine a bit of depth and multiple levels of flavor…
When I showed this bottle to my friends, the response I got was, “New Zealand Chardonnay? Really?” Yes, really. Though the country is well-defined by its Sauvignon Blanc, it’s by no means the only white wine grape. In fact, in the Canterbury region, where the Mt. Beautiful winery and estate vineyards call home, Chardonnay is the third most-planted grape variety just behind Pinot Noir and, yes, Sauvignon Blanc. So let’s take a taste, shall we, and see what the southern portion of New Zealand has to offer the Chardonnay style spectrum.
Until recently, I never considered Pinot Noir from New Zealand. My first was was the te Pa 2015 Pinot Noir from the Awatere Valley region, south of the Wairau Valley. I then tried the Mt. Beautiful 2015 Pinot Noir, harvested from the southern island’s coastal Canterbury/North Canterbury region. The difference between the two regions is remarkable. The Wairau River 2016 Pinot Noir offers yet a third variation, hailing from the heart of the Wairau Valley where the grapes are grown along the valley floor, influenced by the river’s soils, and the mountains protect the land from harsh weather conditions. Yes, the perfect place for the picky Pinot grape it seems — both on paper and in the glass…