Land of the Big White Cloud, New Zealand has become one of the most important wine producing countries in the World, with the majority of its success coming from a single wine - Sauvignon Blanc, and with one region in particular, synonymous with that grape - Marlborough. Go back 60 years and it was hard to see how this could happen. In the late 1960's no vines were planted in Marlborough, and New Zealand wine was being produced in small pockets around Auckland, Hawkes Bay and Wellington, though much of the wine being produced at that time was 'unfit for human consumption' according to Oz Clarkes Wine Atlas ( page 296 ). Leap forward several years, and the classic varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay were planted on local vineyards by 'new' pioneers of wine, often those who had travelled or worked in Europe and Australia and brought knowledge (and thirst!) back to NZ.
From these first 'new wave' winemakers, the foundations of success were laid, with a surge in quality and export-driven sales throughout the 1990's, with the emphasis on cashcrops (as the winemakers called it), of quick release wines such as Sauvignon Blanc, unoaked Chardonnay and Bordeaux-style reds. Small pockets of Pinot Noir, Riesling and aromatics such as Gewurztraminer etc, were being grown around outposts such as Central Otago, Wairapa, Canterbury and increasingly Marlborough and its surrounding valleys. More and more of the wine produced was being exported. Now, New Zealand has a World class reputation for its aromatic dry whites and most notably Sauvignon Blanc. It is even more notable that a country long associated with Bordeaux- style reds has become famous for the quality of Burgundian Pinot Noir and Chardonnay also. It is testament to New Zealands climate, soils and vision that so many top wines are produced there, along with the openness of the winemakers to share, and work together, to make regions and grapes successful in their own right. Top regions are spread throughout the country, with Marlborough top for both red and white wines, Hawkes Bay, once famous for its Bordeaux planted reds, is now known for Burgundian Chardonnay as well as plots of Albarinho, Chenin, Syrah and Pinot Gris to name but a few. The Wairapa, near Wellington is known for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay especially, with areas around Auckland and the Waikato planting Albarinho, Chenin and Palamino of all things. Gisborne is synonymous with Chardonnay and increasingly Syrah. In the South Island the major grapes are Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, grown in almost all regions - Central Otago, Marlborough, Napier and the Canterbury Plains.