Have you ever felt like you were on an island? Isolated? Alone? You are not alone. Many of us have felt this from time to time, but think of yourself as a grape, trying to survive on an Island. How would you adapt to your surroundings? Would there be enough for you to survive?
New Zealand, known as “The Land of the Long White Cloud” is made up of a North and South Island. Surrounded by the Tasman Sea to the west and the Pacific Ocean to the East, these islands are approximately 1200 miles east of Australia. The country’s oldest winery, Mission Winery, was established in 1851 and still exists today. The first production of grapes dates back to the 1830’s when James Busby planted small cuttings in Northland which is located on the North Island.
The two islands are quite diverse. The North Island is warmer and less mountainous than the south, and the climate is a bit rainier. It contains the regions of Northland, Auckland, Waikato/Bay of Plenty, Gisborne, and Hawkes Bay.
The South Island is more familiar to most of us and was first to catch the world’s attention. The South is larger than the north. It is divided along its spine by the Southern Alps which help with a rain shadow effect. There is an abundant amount of sunshine which aids in the ripening of the grapes and the cool evenings help the wines retain a natural acidity. The South Island includes the regions of Nelson, the Northernmost region in the South Island; Marlborough, Canterbury which is the fastest growing wine region, and Central Otago which is the Southern most wine region in the world.
No area in the world has become so distinctive in its varietals and its flavors. Marlborough, the major wine producing area, produces varietals of Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Riesling and Cabernet. The fortune grape is the beloved Sauvignon Blanc grape which is the dominant varietal grown in this region. Sauvignon Blanc from this area made its first impact in 1973 when Montana, now called Brancott outside of New Zealand, established its first commercial vineyard and released its country’s first varietal wine called Gisborne Chardonnay.
Kim Crawford was the first to release a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc commercially, but it was Cloudy Bay that really put the region on the map in 1985. Producing a racy structure Sauvignon Blanc with high intense fruit, ripe grapefruit and a mouthful of flavor, this wine was an international sensation. In 2008 more than one-half the vineyard acres located in Marlborough were devoted to planting Sauvignon Blanc. Villa Maria was the first to do extensive research with Stelvin Closure, a type of screw cap enclosure which has become the norm for most New Zealand Whites. Their extensive research has shown that wines can age in this type of twist off enclosure and is also good for immediate consumption.
Outside of Sauvignon Blanc being a world-wide phenomenon, the Pinot Noir varietal has done quite well. Marlborough is the largest producer of Pinot Noir and much of it is used for sparkling wine. In Central Otago, the farthest south reach of the South Island, the vineyards are planted on Northern Hillsides for maximum exposure and features some of the highest altitude Pinot Noir vineyards in the world. Pinot Noir grown here is associated with red fruits, raspberries and herbs. This up and coming region that is rapidly gaining attention and acreage nearly doubled from 2003 to 2010.
Being on an island really isn’t all that bad. When you surround yourself with a support system, and give yourself the right nourishment, you will be sure to flourish. The Sauvignon Blanc wines of New Zealand are not only considered excellent in quality, but are unlike anything else grown in the world. Why not seek solitude? You will be amazed of what you will find when you give yourself some space and time.
Kimberly Fisher is director of Fine Wine sales for Badger Liquor – Wine & Spirits