So crucially are we now aware that geography and climate have an essential bearing on grape varieties and therefore wine itself.

The first planting of cultivated grapes was recorded in 1819. The grower Samuel Marsden wrote “New Zealand promises to be very favourable to the vine as far as I can judge at present of the nature of the soil and the climate, New Zealand will be the first country in the world for wine”.

In the world and specifically the New World of wine making, New Zealand can tell its own unique story which begins as recently as the latter half of the 20th Century.

Before that New Zealand and Australia shared the same penchant for sweet and fortified wines which were the mainstay of their local consumption. Some wines reached our shores but nothing to prepare us for New Zealand’s trump card to arrive.

Unlike Australia, New Zealand had a rather wobbly start in establishing her wine industry. After the reduction of fortified wines, grape growers were encouraged to plant a Riesling/Sylvaner hybrid grape Müller Thurgau, known after its German inventor Dr Müller. This variety planted across vast tracks of German farmland in the 19th Century was regarded as the supreme answer to cooler-climates and had the added advantage of ripening before seasonal autumn rainfalls. Today we see many distinct disadvantages in its rather bland taste profile. However in New Zealand it formed part of the transition from fortified wines in the middle ‘80’s.

So popular was the grape and its resultant still table wine that over-planting led to rigorous restrictions handed down from local government bodies. This then led to the grubbing up of acres of vineyard. In contrast and by the early ‘90’s, grapes were now in short supply mainly due to a patchy invasion of the country by the louse known as Phylloxera, the same pest that had devastated French vineyards a century earlier.

Rapid planting and vineyard expansion was the new call of the day and by the mid ‘90’s a whole host of grape varieties under the direction of young winemakers, who had watched the dramatic global increase in wine drinking, and the stage was set for New Zealand’s launch on to the world platform.

Nowhere was this launch more welcome than here in England, which became one of the largest overseas markets and to some extent still remains close to the top.

It was clearly no accident then that we took to our hearts wines that literally have to travel half way round the world to reach us. New Zealand climate, apart from being warmer, is very similar to our own, their language is the same as ours, and we have long since had an equable trade relationship with them. But one thing that appears constant in our reports of wine from New Zealand is that they create very much ‘our sort of wine’ style.

The British by now had begun to struggle with a number of ‘Old World’ wines, with lakes of shabbily made styles from Germany, Italy, Spain and France finding their way into off-licenses, and bistros. Yet the new style supermarkets had begun to wake up to more accessible New World wines, principally from Australia, with an easy drinking style, simple fruit-forward flavours and a distinct lack of tannins in the reds. The fact that they were so easy to drink and with straightforward labelling and grape varieties in evidence, they were simple to understand. It was no accident that when their export market began to build, New Zealand followed this simple Antipodean trend.

The first and now endearing wine that reached the modern palate here was a white called Sauvignon Blanc. A whole generation before us had worshipped Sancerre, Pouilly Fumé and Quincy, many unaware of the grape variety within, just hooked on the caché of French town and village names. When the grape variety was transported to both North and South Islands, bathed in warm sunshine and adequate gentle rainfalls, the fruit found its new home. Sauvignon with its elegant unctuous flavours and ripe mature style coupled with those hints of gooseberry and cut-grass offering a refreshing acidity, the wine was welcomed with open arms.

Sauvignon flourished in both North and South Islands as did Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon in due course.

Vineyards of note tended to offer their best fruit on the drier, eastern parts of both islands, with relatively predictable rainfall and a long, cool growing season. A new intense style of wine was now evident with the main red varieties, increasingly carefully selected, Merlot and Cabernet flourished in the North Island, whereas the cooler micro-climate conditions of the South Island successfully favoured Pinot Noir.

With renowned wines circling the globe, one would be surprised to note that on a list of wine producers to note that on a list of wine producing countries New Zealand only ranks around 34, the same regional size as Cyprus and the Czech Republic.


Situated at the Northern end on South Island, the glaciated valley of the Wairau river is New Zealand’s most famous, most visited and most photographed region. Marlborough’s notable reputation is based on Sauvignon Blanc and could not have a more universally desired name than that of Cloudy Bay. Almost overnight America, Britain and Australia embraced the produce of two household names amongst winemakers Kevin Judd and David Hohnen. Then and now this cult wine established Sauvignon Blanc as an elegant yet populist wine and until the launch of the hobbit on our screens, did more to place New Zealand on the world map than a million sheep had done in fifty years. In addition many of you will have enjoyed the other great supermarket brand, Montana, an enlightened winery who carefully pieced together small pockets of former grazing land to become on of the foremost wineries in the world.


Originally seen as the unglamorous volume producer of Muller-Thurgau, Gisborne now concentrates on its new found name of the “Chardonnay garden” where lightly-oaked wines have captured the imagination of wine drinkers well beyond its flat valley floors. Following on from such success, Gewurztraminer has found many followers of this North Island area with its wonderfully spicy renditions of this most famous of Alsace grapes.

Hawkes Bay

South of Gisborne on the eastern seaboard of North Island is Hawkes Bay. Although only a third in size of New Zealand’s major region Hawkes Bay wineries continue to entrance the wine consuming public. With delightfully warm seasons and well drained soils Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon have provided spectacular new styles of these Bordeaux varieties. Chardonnay too with a warmer climate than the south has created a benchmark in rich honeyed wines with distinct hints of tropical fruits such as melon and pineapple. One eminent producer is the Te Mata estate.


Near the southernmost tip of North Island is the Wairarapa region which has turned international heads with its carefully planted wines of Pinot Noir. For those who find these capricious and fickle grape variety too austere or unexciting, this region offers warming, ripe delicate reds with controlled hints of game and vegetation on the palate, and has been the introduction to Burgundian styled wines for a whole generation.