New Zealand has a relatively young winemaking trade that has made exponential strides in the last 30 years. Due to the fairly conservative and religious population and the emphasis on protein production that predominated through the mid-20th century, there was little want or need for a wine industry. In fact, up until the 1960s, bars were not open on Sundays and were only open for one hour after the work day ended. (This short time became known as the “six o” clock swill.”)
Some major cultural changes shifted this model. When Britain entered the European Economic Community in the 1970s, it marked the end of trade agreements between that country and New Zealand. Suddenly, the demand for protein products and dairy diminished significantly, and New Zealand had to rethink its approach to agriculture. It was then that previously weak grazing land was considered as potentially promising wine-growing areas.
Climate and Soil of New Zealand
The climate and soil of New Zealand make it particularly well-suited to growing wine grapes. Many regions are located in alluvial valleys with good drainage. The soil comes in several variations, from greywacke (similar to sandstone) to limestone.
The predominant climate in New Zealand is that of the seaside, with cool summers and relatively mild winters. The effect of this cool air on the grapes is that they are consistently high in acidity.
New Zealand does exhibit a wide range of climates and soils, owing to its diverse topography, which includes forests as well as snowy mountains. The area is likened to the wine-growing regions of Southern France and Spain.
The industry is a blend of smaller family-owned vineyards along with large-scale wineries. New Zealand vintners also exclusively use stainless steel to ferment their wines, a carry-over from the years of dairy production. (Aging in other countries is often done in oak and other traditional receptacles.)
Types of New Zealand Wines
Today, New Zealand produces some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. The Sauvignon Blanc from the Marlborough region in the northwest is particularly good.
Chardonnay is another important New Zealand white wine, with these varieties being planted from central New Zealand into the northern regions. New Zealand also grows the most southern-produced Chardonnay grapes in the world, making them the first wine crop to be picked worldwide – six to seven weeks before other Chardonnay grapes around the globe.