Wine making at a commercial scale in New Zealand is relatively recent. In the 1830’s there were a few small wineries for the local consumption of settlers, mostly british soldiers and a few missionaries. Wine only became a serious industry in the 1970’s. Until the 70’s the local population was relatively isolated from the rest of the world and wine was not part of their culture. However, as New Zealanders started to travel more and experience different lifestyles abroad, they brought back a taste for good wine and a few ideas on how to make it.
New Zealanders have proven to be quick learners and a decade after starting to develop the Marlborough region for larger scale production, Cloudy Bay was producing one of the best Sauvignon blanc in the world, according to wine critics including George Taber and Oz Clarke. New Zealand has become a member of the very select club of regions producing internationally acclaimed wines.
One particularity of the country is no wineyard is more than 80 miles away from the ocean so all grapes are grown under the salty sea breeze. Most wineries are settled in alluvial valleys, planting wine trees in sandstone alluvial deposits coming from the mountains. This soil stocks sun heat and creates a temperate microclimate balancing the cold wind. Cool nights and temperate summers affect the grapes acidity, often higher than in Australia.
Sauvignon blanc is dominating the New Zealand landscape due to its early success with New Zealand’s soil but producers have of course also fell for the king, Chardonnay. The oceanic climate with no heat or cold peaks has also proven to be the perfect place for the delicate Pinot Noir, which has become the dominant variety in the Canterbury region. Comparisons with Burgondy are unavoidable and for some oenologists the best vintages have reached good Burgondy’s complexity and finesse.