There are vineyards all over New Zealand and there's never been a better time to visit them, writes Anna King Shahab
New Zealand's several thousand vineyards are dotted about in pockets large and small, from the frosty south right up to the subtropical north. Where grapes grow, so does tourism, as many regions in New Zealand demonstrate so well: with wine comes good food, scenery, accommodation and myriad other activities.
Right now, without hordes of international visitors, is the perfect time to plan a trip to one of our less-obvious wine regions.
A short drive north of Christchurch a warm embrace awaits between the rolling hills that graduate into the Southern Alps and an untamed coastline. The North Canterbury wine region includes the wine-growing districts of Waipara Valley, Waikari and Cheviot and the microclimates at play make this area fantastic for tasting wines that distinctly express the place in which they were made. Generally speaking, hot, dry summers and cool, dry winters lend influence to the wines produced here, of which pinot noir, chardonnay and riesling dominate.
The region has a long, rich history in food production and today boasts an incredible lineup of small-scale, artisan and organic producers. Black truffles are farmed here, and although the annual truffle festival in July has this year been quashed by Covid-19, there's still good news. "We are just about to start serving truffles in the restaurant, from our neighbours, Kings Truffles and Limestone Hills," says Penelope Naish, co-owner of award-winning winery and restaurant Black Estate.
With 90 or so vineyards, there are plenty of cellar doors to fill your time. Naish highlights the wine-tasting experiences at Pegasus Bay – the pioneering winemaker in North Canterbury – and Boneline. And for hungry tasters, Naish points out that "Greystone serves small plates, and Terrace Edge offers delicious toasties".
Black Estate's B&B is a comfy studio space is nestled in an architecturally designed building on the winery's Home Estate vineyard – handy to the restaurant for a delicious lunch served with wine from vines you can see, and with views over the working vineyard to the foothills and alps beyond. Blackestate.co.nz
A stay in the PurePod perched on a tucked-away hillside on Greystone vineyard is one you'll remember – this glass box is real-deal eco but superbly comfy: roll back the ceiling blind for incredible star-gazing as you lie in bed. purepods.com
The country's third-largest region in terms of wine production, Gisborne is a shoo-in for chardonnay fans. Sheltered by mountains on one side, the area gets the warm temperatures and high sunshine hours needed to grow good chardy, as well as other varieties, including viognier, arneis, gewurztraminer and albarino, as well as Bordeaux reds. It's said that breezes off the Pacific lend a maritime tang to wines here.
A drive up the evocatively named Pacific Coast Highway offers a roll-call of spectacular windswept golden beaches and corresponding townships to stop at for a pie and coffee (famous paua pies, even, at Tokomaru Bay's Cafe 35). Tolaga Bay-Ūawa affords the chance to walk the 660m-long wharf and the beautiful track to Cook's Cove. This is a great part of the country for keen cyclists, with trails, mountain bike parks, and the brilliant Gisborne Railbike Adventure – ride a tandem bike along disused rail tracks, no need to steer!
As it's one of the country's vital food bowls, one of the best things you can do when visiting Gisborne is get your hands on fresh produce to munch on or cook with. Fans of natural, organic and low-sulphur wines will love a tasting at the country's trailblazing organic and biodynamic winery, Millton.
The Blackhouse luxury lodge is set on a working farm and overlooks Wainui Beach, so you can count yourself among the first to see the sun rise, if you so choose. Blackhousewainui.co.nz
Stretching from Mangawhai in the south to Karikari Peninsula in the north, the Northland wine region is rather large. You might like to mosey along, spending nights in several different spots as you head further north to the remote and stunningly beautiful Karikari, or perhaps base yourself in the Bay of Islands, where there's a concentration of accessible vineyards. This is where the country's first grapevines were planted, by Samuel Marsden, and where Croatian gum diggers laid the foundations of a wine industry in the late 1800s.
Its warm climate makes for spicy shiraz, tropical chardonnay and lesser-known varieties like chambourcin – and also makes for a great destination year-round, as even a midwinter getaway can offer T-shirt weather and the chance to get out on the water – a fishing trip or morning spent parasailing followed by an afternoon visiting cellar doors near Kerikeri.
A visit to Kerikeri's Old Packhouse Market on a Saturday morning is a great way to meet local producers, including winemakers, and taste their wares. A trip over to Russell is a must, along with a booking at The Duke of Marlborough for lunch or dinner – you can't beat the local fish and shellfish on the menu there.
On 1200ha with wetlands, beaches, a golf course, and vineyard, Carrington Estate on Karikari Peninsula is a luxurious way to immerse yourself in a magical corner of Northland. carrington.co.nz
A geologist's dream, decked out with limestone outcrops, pinnacles and ancient marine fossils, the Waitaki Valley – just inland hop from Ōamaru, three hours' drive from Queenstown or two from Dunedin – is also building a name for its wine. Challenging weather, silts from the Waitaki River, and the latest harvests in the country lend a unique flavour to its pinot noir, aromatic whites and chardonnay.
As our newest wine district, the Waitaki isn't yet peppered with cellar doors but there are several – Ostlers and River T's are loved by locals. To get a handle on the stories of the area and taste a wide range of the wines made here, booking a Waitaki Wine Tour with guide Sue Mansworth is an excellent idea. "For a long time we weren't on any of the maps, or we were lumped in with Central Otago, Otago but a couple of years ago we were given the status of a distinct wine district." Not many of the boutique wineries here can keep a cellar door open (there are a few, read on), so Sue does tastings on behalf of some wineries as well as a couple of cellar door visits each tour. "I plan each tour separately," says Sue. "I take people off-road, down back roads, and talk them through some history. We do a bit of scenic geology too - the scenery around here is spectacular."
In Ōamaru, Scott's Brewery is great for pizzas and craft beers (including gluten-free beer), and Cucina for an upmarket dining experience. Try the feasting menu at Bevan Smith's Riverstone Kitchen – beautifully prepared hyperlocal, ethical fare – and make time for a wander through the gardens (look out for the castle). Fleur's Place at Moeraki isn't too far a drive for the country's best seafood on the menu but do make sure to book.
Luxury lodge Pen-y-bryn is a stunner, and dining there is a great way to taste local; the restaurant belongs to the Slow Food Movement and much of the food on the menu is grown onsite and other ingredients are sourced within 100km. penybryn.co.nz
With more than 20 cellar doors and growing, and easily accessible from our capital city, the wine region of Wairarapa contributes just one per cent of the country's production, yet boasts some of the country's most-lauded boutique wines.
This winter is a wonderful time to plan a visit – Greytown is putting on a Festival of Christmas all through July to welcome visitors back to the region with special accommodation, dining and store promotions, community-driven events and the already-pretty Victorian village decked out in sparkly lights.
Peppers Parehua is running a tasting of Escarpment wines – four premium wines paired with canapes. Boutique gin-distilling duo Reid+Reid are set to open a new tasting room (co-founder Chris Reid says it's scheduled for August) showcasing their range of gins made with native botanicals. Te Kairanga cellar door has reopened and has a calendar of events planned over the winter weekends as well as an exciting new build beginning this year – a multimillion-dollar hospitality destination for Foley Wines' brands (Te Kairanga, Martinborough Vineyard and Lighthouse Gin) featuring a restaurant, tasting room, underground barrel hall, and gin distillery.
Martinborough is at the heart of the winegrowing district and with its neat grid of flat roads radiating from the town square, the most fun way to explore its cellar doors and scenery is by bike. Green Jersey Explorer Tours offers bike hire (including e-bikes, tandems and kids' bikes) and tours of what they like to call this "haven for no-Lycra cycling".
Peppers Parehua is a boutique hotel nestled among vineyards a short walk from the Martinborough's centre. Pavillion restaurant serves the best of Wairarapa produce, or you can order picnic hampers to take on your merry way. peppers.co.nz/parehua
No introduction needed…
Deserving of the international fame they enjoy, our leading wine regions are always a good time.
In Marlborough, virtually everyone you meet is either growing grapes, making wine with them, or running a business that thrives on the flourishing industry here. Don't miss the beautiful food at Arbour, a history lesson in the world-leading business of sauvignon blanc at Brancott Estate's cellar door, and a day soaking up the tranquil serenity of the Marlborough Sounds.
A hike up Te Mata peak, forest bathing among the tall trunks in The Great Redwood Forest, a behind-the-scenes tour with rescued penguins at The National Aquarium – there's plenty to enjoy before and after leisurely wine-tastings and lunches in Hawke's Bay.
Hunkering down by a roaring fire with an exemplary pinot noir in the very place it was made – Central Otago nails the juxtaposition of comforting luxuries and rugged landscape. With a drop in visitor numbers, now is a great time to plan for the Central Otago Rail Trail, with its many accommodation and dining options en route.
An island a short ferry ride away from the country's biggest city, dotted all over with wineries, top-class restaurants and fringed with white-sand beaches. It's no wonder Waiheke is a first port of call for many wine-loving international tourists but now, with only domestic tourism allowed, it is the perfect time to find this island unusually quiet, in a good way.
For more New Zealand holiday ideas, go to newzealand.com/dosomethingnew
This article was first published on the NZ Herald and is republished here with permission.