At first glance, the history of wine in New Zealand looks very short. Wines made from classic European grape varieties have only been widely available since the 1980s and only since the 1990s have the country’s Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Noirs carved out a significant presence in international markets.
Yet the grapevine was a common sight in the early colonists’ gardens, and by the time of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi in 1840, the first recorded New Zealand wine was already bottled. Samuel Marsden, an Anglican missionary, made the first recorded planting of grapevines at the Bay of Islands in 1819.
New Zealand wineries originally set out to serve the small domestic market, operating within a highly regulated economy. But in 1985 the government moved to speed up the removal of barriers against overseas wines, allowing Australian wineries to contest the New Zealand market on an equal footing by 1990.
Spurred into action by their heavy loss of domestic market share, the winemakers launched a sustained export drive. The value of New Zealand’s wine exports has skyrocketed from $NZ18 million in 1990, to a forecasted rise to $NZ2 billion in 2020. New Zealand’s wine industry is in good stead. Both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir is suited to New Zealand’s colder climate. Today and in future years, global warming will likely favour New Zealand wineries, as colder (and cooler) climate variates struggle in the Australian heat.
Thirty years ago, there were fewer than 100 New Zealand wineries; today there are over 670 (New Zealand Wine 2020).
Certified organic wine first appeared in New Zealand in the late 1980s but has never gained significant traction – today, representing no more than 3% of the market. As more and more consumers demand farming practices that are better for us and for our planet, this may well change in coming years.
If you are lucky enough to be visiting NZ, we strongly recommend you make time for at least one of these incredible wine regions – Gisborne on the easterly tip of New Zealand’s North Island and Central Otago at the bottom of New Zealand’s South Island.
In Gisborne – the third largest wine region in NZ – you will find sun, sea and fabulous Chardonnay. The Chardonnay is typically smooth-textured and moreish, with ripe peach and other stonefruit flavours. The Gisborne coast is also famous for its fresh crayfish. A perfect pairing for any of the aromatic white varieties on offer (Campbell 2018). Be sure to stop by The Millton Vineyards and Winery. Certified organic since 1989 and biodynamic since 2009, it’s truly a special place to visit. Owners James and Annie dedicate their passion to producing the best possible wine, a true representation of its terroir. Lush flower gardens, cattle grazing on the hillside, it’s picture perfect. The Chardonnay, Viognier and Pinot Noir are of the very highest quality and very reasonably priced.
Central Otago is renowned as New Zealand’s most beautiful wine region and has the country’s only continental climate with warm summer days and cool nights that ripen Pinot Noir to perfection. Sublime alpine scenery and the resort town of Queenstown – there’s so much to love about Central Otago and it’s a destination for the whole family. Pinot Noir accounts for more than 75% of plantings. Several boutique wine enterprises still experiment with a terroir not fully understood (Campbell 2018). Be sure to book ahead to experience the industrial, working winery cellar door at Quartz Reef Estate. Rudi and the team will warmly welcome you. Enjoy and purchase quality, certified biodynamic, hand-made, Methode Traditionnelle sparkling, Pinot Gris and of course Pinot Noir.
At The Organic Wine Cellar we have some wonderful organic and biodynamic wines from New Zealand, including of course the ones mentioned above. You can shop by wines from New Zealand by clicking this link or by searching for “NZ” in the search bar at the top of our Home Page.
New Zealand Wine 2020, ‘The New Zealand Wine Story’ <https://www.nzwine.com/en/media/new-zealand-wine-story/>, viewed 11 January 2020.
Campbell, B 2018, ‘Lonely Planet Food – Wine Trails Australia & New Zealand’, Lonely Planet Global Ltd, China.