Meet a handful of 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.

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 six vineyards and cellar door experiences well worth a visit.

North Island

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 pursue 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 Māori settlement. The lines of vines following the gently rolling landscape and the 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 Estate118 Montgomerie Road, Mangere, Auckland. Open 7 days for lunch 9am - 6pm.

James and Annie Millton, Gisborne
In 1984 James and Annie Millton began planting grapes on the banks of the Te Arai River near Gisborne. All their vineyards are certified organic. Millton is one of the original biodynamic wine estates in the southern hemisphere and among the first 10 biodynamic wine estates in the world. They were certified Demeter in 2009 (Demeter International is the largest certification organization for biodynamic agriculture) and were also the first New Zealand winegrower to be certified organic with Bio-Gro in 1989.  The cellar door, in a beautiful garden sheltered by tall trees, is living proof of the potent power of the biodynamic process.

Millton Vineyards and Winery, 119 Papatu Road, Manutukue, Gisborne. Open weekdays 10am - 4pm and holiday weekends.

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 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. Open Noon - 4pm in summer: (November 28 - February 28) 1 - 3pm weekdays, Noon - 4pm weekends in winter

South Island

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 generous couple (now joined by daughter Rosie) has done a great deal to help develop an economic microclimate of producers and growers in the area. The picturesque lanes nearby are home to ceramic artists, mushroom growers, sheep’s cheese producers and olive oil groves.

Neudorf Wines, 138 Neudorf Rd, Nelson. Open from October 1, 7-days, 11am to 5pm (except Christmas, Boxing, New Year’s and Good Friday). Closed July-August. From June to September, open Monday – Friday, 11am - 5pm.

Chris & Phil Rose, Marlborough
The wine industry arrived on the dry river plains of the Wairau Valley near Blenheim under cover of darkness early in the 1970s. 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 a part either lighting the big fire in the restaurant, serving in the cellar door, making wine or pruning vines.

Wairau River Wines, 11 Rapaura Road, Rapaura. Open 7-days, 10am - 4.30pm except Good Friday, Christmas and Boxing Days Lunch - daily from midday to 3pm

Quintin Quider, Cromwell
Quintin’s love of diving, hunting and fishing is equalled 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 live 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, match Wild Earth Kitchen and Cellar Door, right beside the historic Goldfields Mining Centre in the Kawarau Gorge with award winning wines. A distinctive presentation for memorable food in a fascinating setting.

Wild Earth Wines, 803 Kawarau Gorge Road, State Highway 6, Cromwell. Open daily from 10am - 5pm.