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New Zealand is a relative newcomer to the world wine stage, but it has quickly established itself as a producer of some of the best wines in the world.
The climate and geography of New Zealand create perfect conditions for grape growing, and as a result, New Zealand produces some truly fantastic wines.
In this article, we'll take a brief look at the history of wine in New Zealand, the most popular wine regions, and the most important wine varieties that are produced in this island nation.
A BRIEF HISTORY OF WINE IN NEW ZEALAND
New Zealand wines have only been recognised on the international stage since the 1980s, but the history of wine production in this island country goes back a lot further than this.
The first vineyards were planted in New Zealand as far back as the 1830s, when James Busby, the first British Resident of New Zealand, planted the first international grape varieties.
There was steady growth of the New Zealand wine industry throughout the 19th and early 20th century, but the majority of wine was used for domestic consumption rather than for export markets.
A number of different factors in the 1960s and 1970s changed this.
First, there was a relaxation of licensing laws across New Zealand, which allowed restaurants to sell wine, enabled more retail outlets to sell wine, and allowed more favourable production limits for wineries.
The relaxation of production limits for New Zealand wineries drew the attention of international investors, who funded the New Zealand wine industry significantly in the 1960s and 1970s.
When the UK joined the European Economic Community in 1973, it meant the end of favourable export agreements for New Zealand dairy, meat and wool - which had a positive inadvertent effect on the wine industry of the country, as in a restructure of the agricultural sector, more land was allocated for the planting of vineyards.
There were also some more subtle changes that helped New Zealand's wine industry in the latter part of the 20th Century, such as an increase in the number of New Zealanders travelling to Europe, experiencing European wines and helping to drive demand for domestic production.
Over the last three decades, there has been a huge increase in the export market for New Zealand wines. In 1990, it was estimated that the value of wine exports was around $12m USD. This increased to a huge $1.4bn in 2020.
The quality of New Zealand wines is also impressive. The average ratings of over 16,000 bottles of wine were sampled from Vivino, with New Zealand coming 4th in the world table, beating Australia, South Africa and Portugal.
WHERE IS WINE PRODUCED ACROSS NEW ZEALAND?
The production of wine across New Zealand is largely concentrated into 10 main wine regions: Northland, Auckland, Gisborne, Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa, Nelson, Marlborough, Canterbury, Waikato Valley and Central Otago.
By far the most famous of these regions is Marlborough, which is located at the North-Eastern tip of the South Island. Marlborough accounts for over 70% of all New Zealand wine production, and it is internationally recognised for the quality of its Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir.
Hawke's Bay is another important region for the New Zealand wine industry and is most recognised for quality wines of the red variety - specifically Merlot, Syrah and Pinot Noir. Hawke's Bay also produces white wine from Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc grapes.
Other key areas of note are the Central Otago wine region, which is known for producing some spectacular, internationally recognised Pinot Noir.
North Canterbury Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are also internationally respected.
WHAT ARE THE MOST POPULAR GRAPE VARIETIES IN NEW ZEALAND?
The official site for New Zealand wine estimates that over 90% of all New Zealand wine production can be broken down into four varieties:
New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is a firm favourite on the international stage, and this white wine is what New Zealand is most known for. Many experts claim that New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc is some of the best in the world.
This wine variety is grown across most of New Zealand's wine regions. It is generally accepted that Chardonnay from the North Island is more full of tropical fruit flavours, with Chardonnay from the South Island being a little more acidic.
The wines produced from the Pinot Gris grapes in New Zealand are closer to the French Pinot Gris style than the drier Italian Pinot Grigio. The production of this grape has grown quickly in New Zealand over the last twenty years. There are some plantings of Pinot Gris in Hawke's Bay, but the majority of plantings are in the South island.
Pinot Noir is also commonly found in the South Island, and is popular in Marlborough, Canterbury and Central Otago.
Although these four varieties make up over 90% of the countries wine production, New Zealand also produces some amazing Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah.
WHICH ARE OUR FAVOURITE WINES OF NEW ZEALAND?
Are you looking for a taste of what New Zealand has to offer?
Check out our full range of New Zealand wines, with our particular favourites being:
From the famous Marlborough region, this Sauvignon Blanc is crisp and refreshing.
This amazing Pinot Noir is from the Hawke's Bay region of New Zealand and has flavours of dark berry and cherry spice.
An amazing Chardonnay from the Sileni Estate in Hawke's Bay - easy to drink with hints of tropical flavours.