5 Leading Characters of New Zealand Wine

New world wines don’t come any fresher than those in New Zealand where pioneers of the industry are only now hitting middle-age. This innovative crop of characters display colourful traits and are aging nicely with balanced acidity and flavour. Here are five vineyards and cellar door experiences well worth a visit.

1. Sir George and Gail, Lady Fistonich, Auckland
In the late 1970s George and Gail Fistonich made a momentous decision not to compete with the country’s rapidly growing wine companies which were all chasing volume growth. Instead, this pioneering couple decided to pursues quality over quantity. Today Villa Maria Estate is the country’s largest privately-owned wine company and their family a well-established wine dynasty with their daughter, Karen, now chairing the board.

The flagship winery, cellar door and café is a convenient post or pre-Auckland Airport stop overlooking vineyards planted along the contours of an extinct volcano and among the stone fields of early Maori settlement. The lines of vines following the gently rolling landscape and elegant café design (part of a large modern winery and headquarters complex) make this a very beautiful setting in which to enjoy some of New Zealand’s finest wines and innovative dishes.

Villa Maria Estate
118 Montgomerie Road, Mangere, Auckland
Opens 7 days from 09.00am until 06.00pm
A 30-minute drive from central Auckland and a 15-minute drive from the Auckland International Airport.

2. Clive Paton and Phyll Pattie, Martinborough
Back in 1980, dairy farmer Clive Paton sold his herd of cows to buy a stony paddock and plant some vines. He was one of a few daring lads to grow grapes on unproven land in Martinborough. He figured he’d give it a decade and then, if it didn’t work, he’d simply move on to something else. By the 1990s, Ata Rangi’s pinot noir was winning international awards and the world was taking note. Today, the skilled Ata Rangi’s family (multi-generational and including Clive’s wife Phyll and sister Allie) is one of the most well-established wine clans in the country.

A visit to the cellar door is an intimate experience as the rustic building was the original tiny winery. Clive is still hands-on and you may bump into him there, or any one of the small, family-oriented team still producing world class wines.

Ata Rangi Wines
14 Puruatanga Rd, Martinborough
noon – 04.00pm in summer (28 November – 28 February)
01.00pm – 03.00pm weekdays, noon – 04.00pm on weekends (in winter)
Closed: Good Friday, Christmas and Boxing day.
A 15-minute drive from Martinborough in Wairarapa.

3. Tim & Judy Finn, Nelson
From humble beginnings fermenting fruit in the washing machine of a student flat (which tasted just like the plum-concoction it was) this determined pair have refined their wine-making act over the past four decades. Neudorf vineyards remains at the forefront of the industry in quality, innovation and leadership with their most-loved wines made from organically grown, dry-farmed chardonnay and pinot noir grapes.

The cellar door is set in a pretty, sheltered garden in the heart of the artisan-filled Moutere valley, near Nelson. This gorgeous couple (now joined by daughter Rosie) has done a great deal to help develop an economic microclimate of producers and growers in the area. This picturesque lanes nearby are home to ceramic artists, mushroom growers, sheep’s cheese producers and olive oil groves.

Neudorf Wines
138 Neudorf Rd, Nelson
From 1 October, open 7 days from 11.00am until 05.00pm (except Christmas, boxing day, New Year and Good Friday)
Closed July – August
From June – September, open Monday – Friday, from 11.00am until 05.00pm
A 50-minute drive from Nelson city towards Moutere on the Coastal Highway

4. Chris & Phil Rose, Marlborough
The wine industry arrive on the dry river plains of the Wairau Valley near Blenheim under cover of darkness early in the 1070s. In a stealthy move to purchase potential grape growing land without paying a sky rocketing price, several real estate agents door-knocked local farmers at the same time, on the same night, and made hard-to-refuse offers for large parcels of land. Chris and Phil Rose, themselves sheep and small seed crop farmers at the time, pricked up their ears and nostrils, and were quickly into planting grapes on their land. Within a decade they’d stopped growing grapes on contract for other winemakers and were making their own wine.

Their story is still a work in progress, powered by their large, dedicated and skilled family with all ages playing either lighting the big fire at the restaurant, serving in the cellar room, making wine or pruning vines.

Wairau River Wines
11 Rapaura Road, Rapaura
Open 7-days from 10.00am until 04.30pm except Good Friday, Christmas and boxing day
Lunch – daily from noon until 03.00pm
A 20-minute drive west of Blenheim on Rapaura Road

5. Quintin Quider, Cromwell
Quintin’s love of diving, hunting and fishing is equaled by his passion for cooking and making wine. He follows a holy trinity gourmet lifestyle – catching food (both on land and in the sea), cooking it in a unique and clever contraption he designed himself and drinking his own wine to accompany it. His wine barrel converted into a smoker-steamer-grill barbecue is marketed as The Stoaker. The 2006 Wild Earth Pinot Noir was the overall winner at the London Wine Challenge. Little wonder then, that this former paua diver never made it back to love in his native California.

Wild Earth Kitchen and Cellar Door, right beside the historic Goldfields Mining Centre in the Kawarau Gorge, celebrates the best of Central Otago food with tasting plates served on French oak barrel staves, matched with award winning wines. A distinctive presentation for memorable food in fascinating setting.

Wild Earth Wines
803 Kawarau Gorge Road, State Highway 6, Cromwell
Open daily from 10.00am until 05.00pm
A 45-minute drive from Queenstown or 5-minute drive from Cromwell

Text and photos courtesy of Tourism New Zealand

Related articles:
1. 5 New Zealand Festivals You Won’t Want to Miss
2. 5 New Zealand’s Lesser-Known Gems
3. Luxury Escapade in New Zealand
4. New Zealand’s Top 5 Chocolate Destinations