New Zealand belongs to the wine countries of the New World along with Australia, Argentina, Chile, South Africa, and the USA. Obviously, compared with the Old World wine countries (Europe and the Middle East), the history of winemaking in the New World is very short. In the case of New Zealand, it is only 200 years old. The first vine in New Zealand was planted by the Anglican missionary Samuel Marsden. This happened on September 25, 1819 in the town of Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands, an event which Samuel Marsden wrote about in his diary. It is known that he brought the vine from Sydney, where it had been imported from Europe.
As Marsden had supposed, the vine took root perfectly on fertile New Zealand soil, and winemaking spread to many regions of the country. Nowadays, New Zealand is known worldwide for its Sauvignon Blanc, grown in the Marlborough region, and Pinot Noir from the Otago region. According to statistics, the largest wine producers are the regions of Marlborough (26,850 ha of vineyards), Hawke’s Bay (4,771 ha) and Otago (1,884 ha). In total, as of 2019, 38,680 hectares of land were planted in vineyards in New Zealand in 2,019 wineries. In this review, we will tell you about the most interesting wineries in all three regions.
This region is in the north part of the South Island right across the strait from Wellington, the capital of New Zealand. At the centre of this region is the town of Blenheim. In the official guide to Marlborough you will find information about 33 wineries. Of course, these are the largest of those available. Of these 33, we will focus on the three most authentic.
Hans Herzog Estate. This boutique winery was founded in 1994 by a native of Switzerland. The main building is a charming one-story house surrounded by vineyards and white roses. Why is Hans Herzog Estate leading the top three Marlborough wineries in our review? First of all, because there is a wonderful restaurant that opens not only for lunch, but also for dinner (!) This may seem strange to note, but despite the huge number of wineries in the country, only a few of them have restaurants, and a very small number of these restaurants serve dinner. To be honest, the winery restaurant business is a large niche in New Zealand begging to be filled. Lunch and dinner at the Hans Herzog Estate restaurant must be booked in advanced, as there is no end to those who wish to eat there. As for the wine, the estate produces both white and red wines, but we recommend drinking Sauvignon Blanc and Gewürztraminer here. These wines are not supplied to the open market, and they can only be tasted at the winery itself.
Cloudy Bay is one of the largest wineries in the region, founded in 1985. The cellar door is a spacious room, where you can see long rows of wine barrels lined up behind a wall of glass. Tastings here are always fun and informative. Cloudy Bay, of course, specializes in producing Sauvignon Blanc, but we recommend that you also try the in-house sparkling wine. There is no restaurant at Cloudy Bay, but their garden has cosy swings, ottomans and benches, where it is pleasant to sit with a glass of good wine. Cloudy Bay wines can be found in stores around the country.
The Allan Scott Family Winery was founded in 1990 in Marlborough but has a branch in the Otago region near the town of Cromwell. This branch was named Scott Base – not to be confused with New Zealand’s Antarctic base named after the famous British polar explorer Robert Scott. Scott reached the South Pole 34 days after its Norwegian discoverer Amundsen then died with his whole team on the way back. Today, winemaker Alan Scott donates a percentage of his sales to the needs of Antarctic researchers. It is always a pleasure to visit an enterprise with traditions and a clearly expressed business philosophy. And the wine here is very tasty too! Allan Scott Marlborough Winery has a restaurant open for lunch. In summer, you can also have dinner here on Thursdays and Fridays.
Hawke’s Bay Wineries
The capital of the region is the port city of Napier, located on the eastern shore of the North Island and destroyed almost to the ground by the devastating earthquake of 1931. It was rebuilt in the Art Deco style and annually in February hosts a festival of the same name – the whole town dresses up and parties in 1920s style with jazz, vintage cars and tonnes of wine.
Mission Estate Winery positions itself as the oldest winery in New Zealand. It was founded by French missionaries in 1851, and the first batch of wine (a red) went on sale in 1870. The tasting room and restaurant are housed in a charming 19th-century wooden building overlooking a beautiful garden and vineyards. Mission produces both red and white wines. The cost of a bottle ranges from 20 to 300 NZD. Tasting of six blends of wine costs 10 NZD per person. The restaurant serves both lunch (11:30 am - 2:15 pm) and dinner (from 5:30 pm until late). Mission’s wines can be bought at almost all New Zealand stores.
Near Mission Estate is the authentic Church Road winery. Its founder, looking at the success of the missionaries, followed suit and opened a competing winery right next door. This place has an attractive cellar door – a huge hall lined with rows of barrels where you can take interesting photos. Church Road conducts daily wine tours of varying lengths and costs. If you are interested in the wine production process, be sure to check out one of their tours. The winery also offers three options for tasting menus at different prices. The restaurant is open only for lunch from 11:30 am to 2:30 pm. Church Road wines are also easily found on sale throughout New Zealand. By the way, this winery produces cognac.
And last but not least in our Hawke’s Bay list is the New Urban Winery. It was founded recently in 2017 by Tony Bish, who has dedicated his life to winemaking. New Urban Winery is located in a historic building that used to be owned by the National Tobacco Company. The building is an architectural masterpiece in the Art Deco style, and it is worth visiting its newest tenant, Tony Bish. Tony is an experimental winemaker, working with modern technologies. In one of them, the process of wine fermentation takes place in concrete egg-shaped tanks with the addition of yeast. The wine produced is unusual and if you are looking for new tastes, you should definitely visit this place. Jazz from vinyl records is played inside the cellar door, and the owner himself talks about his wine and the winery.
If you want to add a twist to your tasting trip to Hawke’s Bay, use the services of Hooters. Their guide will take you to the best local wineries in a vintage car from the Hooter’s collection, which is the largest in the country!
Otago's most famous city is Queenstown. However, the region extends to the eastern coast of the South Island, and Dunedin is officially considered its capital. The climate here is much colder than in Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough. In winter in central Otago the temperature drops to -15 ° C! But it doesn’t prevent vines from growing here and producing magnificent (mostly red) wine. The bulk of the wineries are concentrated in the Queenstown - Cromwell - Wanaka triangle. The 45th southern parallel passes through here.
Gibbston Valley Winery is located in the valley of the same name in 25 kilometres from Queenstown. This is the oldest winery in Otago. The first vine was planted here in 1983. Now Gibbston Valley is a winery, a cheese factory, a restaurant, and a boutique hotel. Visitors can take a wine tour into the Cave, where the wine is aged. It’s fascinating! The on-site restaurant is famous for its delicious cuisine. It is open only for lunch from 12:00 pm to 3:00 pm. In summer, outdoor rock concerts with large crowds of people take place at Gibbston Valley Winery.
Aurum Winery is a small family business located on just four hectares of land. However, its owners are not afraid to experiment. For example, they produce wine using an ancient method from Georgia! In fact, this is the oldest way to produce wine on the Earth. In this method grape skins and seeds are not removed but instead are included in the fermentation process. This gives the wine a bitter taste. The owners of Aurum are going to visit Georgia to learn the secrets of the local winemakers. However, they are already doing great with their Pinot Gris! There is no restaurant at this winery, but very friendly hosts and unique wines are waiting for you.
Amisfield Winery is located on the shores of beautiful Hayes Lake along the road that travels from Queenstown to Arrowtown. Amisfield was founded in the year 1988. The company owns 80 hectares of vineyards and is famous for its high standards of winemaking. There is a cozy restaurant with panoramic windows and tables right on the lawn, where it is pleasant to dine in fine weather (it is open only for lunch). It is especially beautiful here in the fall. The road to Arrowtown turns into a crimson-golden tableau. The local cellar door is tiny and can only accommodate groups of up to 6 people at a time. Please consider this when planning your trip.
When going for a tasting, please keep in mind:
1. Arriving without prior reservation, especially in the high season (December - February), you will meet many other visitors at the cellar doors and most likely you will have to wait in line to be served.
2. To avoid queues and get maximum attention at the winery, book a wine tour. An experienced guide will take care of you and you won’t need to drive.
3. In New Zealand the legal drink drive limit for those 20 years and over are a breath alcohol limit of 250 micrograms (mcg) of alcohol per litre of breath and a blood alcohol limit of 50mg of alcohol per 100ml of blood. This equals approximately two glasses of wine.
4. If you are traveling in a group of more than 6 people, we recommend that you contact the winery and book the tasting in advance.
5. Tastings are held in a cellar door. This means that with very few exceptions, you will not be able to sit at a table in the garden and wait for a selection to be brought to you. But still, check this detail upon arrival at the winery.
6. Tasting lists at New Zealand wineries usually include 5-7 wines. Costs range from NZ$5 to NZ$30 per selection for one person. Often, when you buy a bottle of wine, you’ll get a 100% discount on a tasting for one person.
7. They usually don’t change glasses during a tasting, and you have to drink both white and red from the same glass. This is different from the European tradition of wine tasting, but there's nothing to be done.
8. Normally they give only crackers as a snack during the tasting. In rare cases, they will offer bread with olive oil, cheese, and sausage (usually at an additional cost). Water, of course, is provided for free.
9. When describing wines, winery staff will talk about certain notes in its taste - berries, fruits, herbs. In fact, the wine contains only grape juice, and “notes” simply help describe its taste - fresh, tart, sweet, or conveying a particular fruit and its intensity.
And in conclusion
Wine is part of our New Zealand culture, and is one of the most powerful ways to discover our amazing country. In addition to the wine regions listed above, we also have wineries around Auckland and Waiheke Island, Martinborough, Gisborne, Wairarapa, Waipara, Canterbury, and the Bay of Islands.In almost every corner of New Zealand you can taste local wine, and each time it will be different. We produce Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Pinot Noir, Merlot, Shiraz, Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, Sauvignon Gris. We are sure you will find your favourite wine. JustGoThere and enjoy!