While some wine enthusiasts have heard about the great wines being made in New Zealand’s South Island, particularly in the Marlborough wine region, few are aware of the North Island’s long tradition of winemaking. Offering a varied terrain and unique climate, the North Island produces high-quality wines that have gained international acclaim.
Following are the three of the best wine regions on the North Island:
The second largest wine-producing region in New Zealand, Hawke’s Bay is located on the east shore of North Island. The region is also the second-oldest wine region, with vines planted by French missionaries at Mission Estate in 1851. Since then, the region has grown to include over 70 wineries, which produce a diverse array of grape varieties due to the region’s terroir and climate. With a similar climate to that of Bordeaux, France, Hawke’s Bay produces excellent Bordeaux-style red blends. The region also produces Malbec, Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Syrah, as well as a variety of white wines, such as Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Gris.
One of the most widely acclaimed wineries in Hawke’s Bay, as well as in New Zealand, Craggy Range Winery appeared on US Wine & Spirits’ list of Top 100 Global Wineries for 2017 and was named the best winery in the country in 2017 by Bob Campbell, Master of Wine. Craggy Range offers great views of the Te Mata hills and rustic fields that resemble the French countryside. Visitors should try the newly released 2017 Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay and the 2016 Gimblett Gravels Syrah.
Another top winery in Hawke’s Bay is Mission Estate, the oldest winery in New Zealand. Located in an old seminary building, the winery dates back to 1851, when French missionaries sailed to the country with just a few vines. Mission State produces a truly diverse array of both red and white wines that are produced on-site in Taradale, Napier.
New Zealand’s third-largest wine-producing region, Gisborne is located on the east coast of the island and is known as the place where Captain Cook reached land in 1769. The region mostly produces Chardonnay and other white wines, including Pinot Gris and Viognier, as red wine grapes are unable to withstand the coastal climate.
One of the most popular vineyards in Gisborne is Millton Vineyards & Winery. Known for its sustainable practices, Millton Vineyards stands out as the first winery in New Zealand to achieve BioGro certification. The winery produces excellent Chenin Blancs, Rieslings, and dessert wines. Moreover, it plants, harvests, and bottles its wines following the phases of the moon.
Visitors to Gisborne should also stop by Bushmere Estate, a family-owned vineyard for more than 40 years. In addition to trying producing Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Merlot, and Montepulciano, Bushmere Estate operates a restaurant called The Vines, which features a bold menu with a variety of options, including cured king salmon and smoked lamb rump. In the summer, Bushmere also features live music on Sundays.
Located near Wellington, Wairarapa attracts visitors looking for a wine experience near the water. The term “Wairarapa” comes from Maori and means “glistening waters.” Although the region produces less than 3 percent of New Zealand’s wine, it makes some award-winning Pinot Noirs and high-quality Sauvignon Blanc, Syrah, and dessert wines.
Given the region’s proximity to Wellington, it has become a popular destination for a weekend getaway. Visitors especially enjoy the small towns, such as Martinborough, which features 30 vineyards, many of them with a quaint, boutique feel.
One of the top vineyards in the Wairapa is Dry River Wines in Martinborough. The vineyard’s owners strive to produce wines that reflect the vineyard’s land and soil. To this end, they use old vines, avoid irrigation, and use techniques that ensure phenolic ripeness, such as leaf plucking and shoot positioning. While Dry River is known for its Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, and Riesling, it also produces Pinot Noir and a selection of other wines that tend to sell out quickly.
Wairapa is also home to Ata Rangi, a winery whose name translates to “dawn sky” or “new beginning.” Also located in Martinborough, Alta Rangi produces a widely celebrated Pinot Noir, which in 2010 was given the Tipuranga Teitei o Aotearoa, an honor that means “Great Growth of New Zealand, at the international Pinot Noir event. After trying the famous Pinot Noir, visitors should sample Ata Rangi’s Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and summer Rosé.
Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, and Wairarapa represent the North Island’s long tradition of excellence in winemaking, and these wineries are just the starting point for visitors. The regions offer beautiful villages with vineyards that continue to produce award-winning wines while maintaining their boutique feel. The North Island is well positioned to continue producing widely acclaimed wines as its vines continue to mature and as its winemakers continue to improve their craft.