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New Zealand

Since the modern wine business got started in New Zealand in the late 1950's, this country is near the top regarding accomplishments in quality improvement. The first steps for the New Zealand wine industry were actually mis-steps. The first plantings were of Muller-Thurgau grapes and other suggested varieties based on New Zealand's cool climate. It was thought that most of the 'noble' varieties like Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon would have problems getting ripe. In the early 1970's, advances in vineyard practices (especially canopy management) brought about the ability to ripen the 'noble' varieties. Since that time the vineyards have been shifted toward better (and more marketable) grape varieties and the New Zealand wine business has been shifted into high gear. In the '90's, New Zealand entered the world market and has become known for its high quality. It is especially known for its Sauvignon Blanc, some of which have an "in your face" style.

 

Geographically, New Zealand is an island country positioned about 1800 miles east of Australia. There are two main islands (North Island and South Island). The country is mountainous and gets very high amounts of rainfall. This heaviest of the rain is confined to the western slope of the mountains. Most of the grape growing is on the eastern side of the islands and often takes place in the beds of dry, ancient rivers.

 

On the North Island, there are two primary wine producing areas. They are the Martinborough region near the capital city of Wellington and the Hawks Bay region farther south. Sauvignon Blanc and Cabernet Sauvignon are the two dominant grapes with Pinot Noir plantings rising rapidly.

 

The best known growing region on the South Island is Marlborough. It has become widely known for the stunning Sauvignon Blancs which are made there. Pinot Noir is the other 'up-and-coming' type among several other grape varieties grown in Marlborough. No other type has achieved the international acclaim that has been given to the Sauvignon Blanc. The Marlborough region has a long, dry, cool growing season in which grapes achieve complete ripeness with long 'hang time' on the vines. These wines usually have pronounced bouquet and can range from very assertive in style (like Cloudy Bay) to very balanced and seductive (Montana/Brancott).

 

One notable difference that exists about growing grapes in New Zealand versus many other countries is that almost all the grapes are grown on the flat bottoms of expansive valleys rather than on the slopes. The original reason was that the type of farm equipment required to farm on the slopes was not available in New Zealand. As a result of the original plantings, growers found that the volcanic soil of the country created very good drainage even on the flatlands.

New Zealand is an underpopulated country in spite of it's many attractive qualities and healthy lifestyle. As a result of a limited labor force, mechaniztion has been extremely important in the New Zealand wine industry. The top photo on the right shows a mechanical harvester in use. The wine industry would not be as successful in New Zealand without a high degree of mechanization. Most producers have incorporated this efficiency and still deliver very high quality in their wines.

Another serious challenge faced by growers in New Zealand is the loss of crop to the very great number of birds that are found there. A variety of different methods are employed (usually in combination) to protect the fruit from the birds until harvest. The photos to the right show the use of nets, decoys and soundmakers.

New Zealand