New Zealand’s grape-growing and winemaking history is a fairly recent one. Indeed, it wasn’t until the 1960s and into the 1970s that New Zealand was put on the winemaking map. And this is when the Rose family of Wairau River took their first steps into the world of wine. Recognizing the potential of the then untapped region of the Wairau Valley, Phil and Chris rose planted their first vines in 1978. They started their career selling grapes to other winemakers, but in 1991 created the Wairau River label and began crafting their own wines. Today the family owns estate vineyards containing some of the oldest vines in Marlborough, which result in a bodied, often textural wine experience — even with their whites.
I’ve recently been tasting more and more wines from New Zealand (with many more to come in the near future, I assure you), and while I did stumble across a beautiful expression of Pinot Noir from Mt. Beautiful hailing from the North Canterbury region, it seems that many, if not most, wines produced are coming from the Wairau Valley. As Mudhouse Vineyard Manager Nev Gane says, “In Marlborough’s Wairau Valley most vineyard rows run perpendicular to the old braided riverbed deposits […] slight humps and hollows often lead to differing canopy densities, producing great depth and diverse flavors in the fruit.” This depth and diversity takes any of the “wishy-washy” stereotypes out of the region’s Sauvignon Blanc and certainly showcases itself in the Pinot Noir.
This week I’m showcasing the “perfect pairings” or “great wine couples.” For California wine lovers, we know that, oftentimes (though not all the time), if a winemaker finds a great region for Pinot Noir, they’ve also found a place to source Chardonnay — and vice versa. Despite the great wine grape diversity in our Golden State, it seems that these two varieties are the most popular and tend to go hand-in-hand. But when it comes to New Zealand, the great white grape is, without a doubt, Sauvignon Blanc. And so it is with this varietal that we will take our romantic journey to the kiwi isles.
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.