Wine Culture and Information - Volume 17
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  ABC Wine Issue 8, May 2003   
New ZealandNew Zealand  Contents 
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New Zealand

The renowned homeland of kiwi birds, in few years has become a reference model for white wines produced with its Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay

 According to an enological point of view, New Zealand can be considered as a sort of miracle. Within a little more than ten years the country got transformed from a mediocre wine producer into a quality wine producer, moreover, it was successful in adding its two most renowned wines, the ones produced with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, to the list of the most excellent and best white wines of the world. Particularly, wines produced with Sauvignon Blanc have characteristics so unique and extraordinary as to make one thinks that New Zealand it is the preferred land for this grape. If Sauvignon Blanc is now famous worldwide, often outclassing even the best exemplars of the world, there is another international grape, Chardonnay, which is certainly not anything less and is considered among the best examples of the world.


New Zealand
New Zealand

 When New Zealand started seriously thinking about the opportunities offered by the wine business, they mainly thought about investing on the most cultivated grape of Germany at those times, Müller Thurgau, it was chosen because of the similarities of the climates of both countries and therefore they believed it could give good results. Later they thought it was Pinot Noir the grape on what they should have paid the highest attention for the enological future of the country, at the end, unsuspiciously, they were Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay that surprised the whole world. Today Pinot Noir and Müller Thurgau, represent only a marginal part of New Zealand's viticulture. Currently the enology of the country is mainly paying its attention on Chardonnay which, in certain areas, has even surpassed Sauvignon Blanc in terms of production quantities, however, it is Sauvignon Blanc the grape that marks New Zealand in the world.

 History of viticulture and enology in the land of Maori, the local and ancient people of New Zealand, is a fact which is not even two hundreds years old. It was in 1819, after New Zealand was colonized by English as a result of the expeditions of captain James Cook, that the very first vine was planted in Kerikeri, in the far north-eastern area of the Northern Island, by Reverend Samuel Marsden, an Anglican missionary. The variety of vine he planted is still unknown and there is no sure information whether wine was ever produced with those grapes. It was only twenty years later, in 1839, that there are sure information about the very first wine ever produced in New Zealand, by Scottish James Busby, with the grapes he himself planted near Waitangi in 1836. Both Samuel Marsden and James Busby, left written documents where they expressed their undoubted trust in New Zealand as a land perfectly suited for the cultivation of the vine and for the production of quality wine. However their “prophecy” was proved and turned into reality only in the middle of the 1980's.

 The first wine producers of New Zealand were English who had no sufficient knowledge in this matter in order to allow them a production of quality wine. Other serious obstacles which opposed to the development of the enology of the country were the social prejudice towards wine and the rigid restrictions imposed by the authorities, they even established prohibitionism in the country. As a matter of example, it was only at the end of the World War Two that wine could finally be sold in shops and it was only in 1960 wineries could legally sell their wine to hotels and restaurants. Moreover, at those times there was a law in force that forbade wine, as well as any other alcoholic beverage, to be sold after 10:00PM. Even oidium and phylloxera opposed to the development of local enology; at the end of the 1800's, here as it was in other countries of the world, vineyards were practically devastated by these feared flagella.


 

 The development of New Zealand's enology did not certainly have an easy life. Because of the damages made by oidium and phylloxera, viticulturists started cultivating French-American hybrids, such as Baco Noir and Isabella, known for their resistance to those feared diseases, and they started selling the berries of the vine as fruit instead of making wine from it. As it was already known in other parts of the world, wines produced with these grapes were sweet and certainly quality was not their best asset. Wines produced with these grapes were usually fortified in the hope of obtaining a better product, the result was not worth the effort for making them. However, until the end of 1960's, Isabella was the most planted grape in New Zealand, when they finally decided to try again the cultivation of some species of Vitis Vinifera, the European vine used to make wine. The first vineyard of European vines was planted in the renowned Marlborough area only in 1973, whereas the official establishment of New Zealand Wine Institute was in 1975. The spreading of vine had, during those times, a rapid and increasing development until 1983, when the production was so high that they had problems because overproduction, with serious losses in the next years, and the government had to intervene in 1986 by setting new laws in order to promote the uprooting of vineyards and with the result that a quarter of the country's vineyards were uprooted.

 The production of wine boosted as a consequence of those years and from 1990's on, New Zealand enology is having a great time of success and fame; its white wines produced with Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay grapes have reached successful results and they are now considered as solid and proper reference models for many wine producers of the world.

 

The Quality System of New Zealand

 New Zealand's quality system does not have rigid laws about the cultivation of grapes and the production of wine, there are no indications about the species of grapes that can be planted nor about areas where the many species can be cultivated. There are not even indications about the yields per hectare nor aging times for wines before they can be released on the market. The only laws set by the system regulate only wine labeling aspects and, therefore, some rules about wine making. The quality system of wine production in New Zealand is regulated by the Food Act and Food Regulations which sets the following:

 

  • In case the variety of the grape is mentioned in the label, at least 75% of the wine must be produced with the mentioned grape.
  • In case two varieties are mentioned in the label, they must be indicated according their importance. In case a wine has “Chardonnay-Sauvignon Blanc” written in the label, this means that Chardonnay is present in higher quantities than Sauvignon Blanc.
  • In case the area of origin of the wine is mentioned in the label, as well as a district or region, at least 75% of the wine must be from the mentioned area.

 It should be noted that the current production of mono-varietal wines of New Zealand, that is the ones produced with only one variety of grape, is usually made of 85-100% of the same variety, a quantity far greater than the one set by law.

 

Production Areas

 The viticulture of New Zealand is mainly oriented towards white wines where Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay are the most important grapes in the enological scenario of the country. Sauvignon Blanc was the grape that made New Zealand famous worldwide by arousing a great interests for its wines, however nowadays the country is mainly interested to the production of wines made of Chardonnay that currently represents the most planted grape in New Zealand.

 No matter Chardonnay is the grape that is currently having most of the attention by producers, it is Sauvignon Blanc the grape that made New Zealand famous worldwide and it probably is the grape that marks the country according to the enological point of view. However wines from Sauvignon Blanc produced in this part of the world do not have equals in any other country of the world, their characteristics are such that practically make them inimitable. These wines are an explosion of fresh and intense aromas, from citrus fruits to aromatic herbs, from exotic fruits to charming herbaceous aromas. According to the typical enological practice used for this grape, New Zealand's Sauvignon Blancs are made in steel tanks and do not have any aging in cask, a production characteristic that rightly exalts their fruity, fresh and aromatic character, both to the nose and to the mouth.

 New Zealand is divided in two islands, Northern Island and Southern Island, and the wine production is present in specific areas of both islands. A characteristic of New Zealand is its climate, particularly cool, also thanks to its stretched shape which is strongly influenced by the effects of the ocean. New Zealand's climate allows grapes to ripe homogeneously, with the result of producing wines rich in aromas and rich in natural acidity, something which can be found in the northern hemisphere of the world in Germany only. However the climate of the country is also characterized by rains that, as a matter of fact, represent one of the main problems of New Zealand's viticulture.

 The viticulture of New Zealand is mainly oriented towards the cultivation of the so called “international” species and, among white grapes, there are Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Müller Thurgau and Gewürztraminer, whereas among red berried grapes there are Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Pinot Noir, the most cultivated red berried grape in the country which is also used for the production of sparkling wines. More than 40% of New Zealand's vineyards are located in the Northern Island, particularly in the areas of Gisborne and Hawke's Bay. Gisborne is known for the production of excellent wines made of Chardonnay grapes, as well as a good production of Müller Thurgau, whereas Hawke's bay, thanks to the characteristics of its soil as well as to the particular climate conditions, is considered one of the best areas of the country and it is from this area where the best Sauvignon Blancs and Chardonnays of New Zealand are from. In this area, moreover, there is also a good production of red wines produced with Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Another interesting area of the Northern Island is Auckland, where there is the highest number of wineries. The area of Auckland is the only one to have sub-areas, Kumeu/Huapai, Henderson and Waiheke Island, all of sure interest. In the southern area of the Northern Island there is another interesting area, Wairarapa/Martinborough, particularly suited to the production of wines made of Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon.

 Even the Southern Island is rich in interesting areas according to an enological point of view. The most renowned one is certainly Marlborough, the largest wine area of the country, which is located to the northern part of the Southern Island, and, alone, has a surface planted with vines which represents almost the 40% of New Zealand. Marlborough is famous for its excellent wines produced with Sauvignon Blanc which is also the most cultivated grape of this area. North-West from Marlborough there is the small area of Nelson, a rather hilly area where are mainly produced wines made of Chardonnay, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc grapes. South from here there is the area of Canterbury, characterized by a rather cool climate, where are mainly produced wines made of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as wines made of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The farthest southern wine area of the country is Central Otago, which is located below the 45th parallel, where are produced wines from Pinot Noir and Gewürztraminer.

 




 Editorial  Share this article   Share on Google+   Summary of ABC Wine column Wine Tasting 
  ABC Wine Issue 8, May 2003   
New ZealandNew Zealand  Contents 
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