European influences on New Zealand wines

Begun by European migrants, New Zealand's wine industry has grown rapidly, achieving great international success and a fine reputation in a relatively short time.

A premier new world wine country, New Zealand produces award-winning wines that reflect a unique combination of soil, climate and water, and the pioneering 'can-do' Kiwi attitude that thrives on hard work, experimentation and innovation.

Early vineyards

Early European arrivals planted vineyards from cuttings they had brought from their homelands, but it was not until the latter part of the 20th century that the industry really began to develop.

New Zealand's oldest winery, Mission Vineyards - in Hawke's Bay, on the North Island's east coast - was established in 1865 by French missionaries from a Roman Catholic order. In the South Island, other French settlers planted small vineyards at Akaroa, a little seaside settlement near Christchurch.

German settlers in the Nelson region, at the western tip of the South Island, were among the first to introduce commercial winemaking - as well as cultivation of hops for beer - into New Zealand. The areas they settled are still known for their orchards, vineyards and horticulture.

By the close of the 19th century small commercial vineyards had also been established in Hawke's Bay, west Auckland and Northland regions by Dalmatian immigrants. Many Dalmatian family names are still linked with the modern wine industry, and read like a who's who of New Zealand wine.

The Dalmatians introduced single varieties that produced higher quality wines. They also helped form the Viticulture Association, which lobbied successive governments to deregulate the wine industry.

Changing attitudes

Europeans also significantly influenced New Zealand's social culture preparing the way for development of the wine and food industries.

In the 1950s when New Zealand's young melting-pot culture was still a work in progress, a wave of post-war Dutch migrants brought new ideas and ways of doing things. Their influence helped set the scene for the country's contemporary hospitality scene.

Their influence also challenged the core of the nation's social drinking culture.

When young Dutchman Otto Groen arrived in 1952, he was amazed to find that since the bars closed at 6pm, the European custom of drinking wine with meals in restaurants was impossible.

Destined to become the doyen of the Auckland hospitality scene, Groen campaigned for seven years before his restaurant, The Gourmet, became the first New Zealand restaurant granted a liquor licence.

The change in licensing laws was a key factor in the development of the hospitality industry, especially wine production which until then had been limited to a few small regional producers.

Top quality wines

These days top quality New Zealand wines are exported worldwide.

Sauvignon blanc from the Marlborough region is rated internationally as the definitive benchmark for this varietal. There's also growing recognition for Central Otago pinot noir, and New Zealand pinots have received top awards in several major international contests.

Additional varietals including chardonnay, méthode traditionelle, riesling, cabernet sauvignon, syrah and merlot blends are also receiving acclaim.

And, in tune with New Zealand’s 'clean green' image, many winemakers are embracing innovative practices that deliver quality in a sustainable and environmental manner.

Land of physical contrast

New Zealand is a country of physical contrast from dense native forest to snow-capped mountains, and spectacular coastline. With wine growing regions spanning 36 - 45 degrees latitude and 1600km of landscape, grapes grow in a vast range of climates and soil types, producing a diverse array of styles.

New Zealand's temperate, maritime climate has a strong influence on the country's predominantly coastal vineyards. Vines are warmed by strong, clear sunlight during the day and cooled at night by sea breezes. The long, slow ripening period helps to retain the vibrant varietal flavours that make New Zealand wine so distinctive.

The major grape growing areas are in the dry, sunny eastern regions. Leading wine producing regions include West Auckland, Gisborne, Wairarapa and Hawke's Bay in the North Island, and Marlborough, Central Otago and Canterbury in the South Island.

Wine culture

Nowadays visitors can experience the growing wine culture by visiting one of the many cellar doors or vineyard restaurants that are common in major wine regions.

Several established wine trails and many guided tours exist, and regional food and wine festivals are a permanent fixture on New Zealand's event calendar.

Classic New Zealand Wine Trail

The Classic New Zealand Wine Trail - from Hawke’s Bay and the Wairarapa in the North Island to Marlborough in the South Island - is a gourmet self-drive holiday. As well as fantastic food and wine, it serves up cultural and adventure experiences in five of New Zealand’s most scenic regions, including three major wine-growing areas.

More information

Journey of the senses on the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail