New Zealand – The Land of Diversity and Innovation

Kia Ora! (Maori greeting literally meaning “be well,” but more commonly used to mean “Hi”)

On a wine trip to New Zealand earlier this year, I fell in love. No, I didn’t meet Mr. Right, but I did fall for the wine region of my dreams! New Zealand is most famous in the US for Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and while it fully deserves that fame, there’s so much more to love across both islands.

Not too far from Auckland is probably my favorite producer of Chardonnay in the world, Kumeu River. This is a family-owned winery that dates back to 1949, which makes the Brajkovich family pioneers in the relatively young NZ wine world. These wines are critics’ darlings, often compared to Burgundy in style and stature, but without the price tag.

The Brajkovich crew
The Brajkovich crew

The famous Marlborough region, at the top of the South Island, itself is very diverse. It’s important to note that there is a wide range of terroir in the sub-regions of the Awatere and the Wairau, and styles of Sauvignon Blanc vary widely from grassy to tropical, and everything in between. While Sauvignon Blanc is by far the predominant grape grown here, there are some top-notch Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and aromatic whites of which to take note. Don’t miss Dog Point, Loveblock and Astrolabe, among many others.

Here I am with my new idol Erica Crawford, proprietor of Loveblock, and wife of famed winemaker Kim Crawford
Here I am with my new idol Erica Crawford, proprietor of Loveblock, and wife of famed winemaker Kim Crawford

I also visited the absolutely stunning region of Hawkes Bay, where Syrah and Bordeaux blends are so good, they rival Northern Rhone and Bordeaux. I was treated to a traditional Maori welcome ceremony, which really set the stage for the vast history and culture of the area. Keep an eye on this region, as I think we will see more and more great things!

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I was already falling for this incredible country, but Central Otago, in the middle of the South Island, sealed the deal. This wild terrain is being tamed by young, talented, driven, risk-tasking (and fun!) winemakers and vineyard managers. Pinot Noir reigns, but just like Marlborough, they are also making world-class Chardonnay, Riesling, and even impressive Sparkling. Don’t miss Peregrine, Quartz Reef and Two Paddocks. Organic and biodynamic practices are common, and these guys are passionate!

See Felton Road Winemaker Blair Warner, with one of the chickens that enjoyed pecking on my red toenails
See Felton Road Winemaker Blair Warner, with one of the chickens that enjoyed pecking on my red toenails

As if it couldn’t get any better, my final visit was to Canterbury/Waipara, just outside of Christchurch. I was struck most by the friendships and camaraderie between all the people working to bring attention to the incredible wines being made here. Taking ‘local’ to a whole new level, seven wineries, including Pegasus Bay, got together to create the first ever “North Canterbury Forage.” They divided us into seven groups that collected an incredible array of food from the estuaries, seashore, mountains, hills, ocean, rivers, vineyards, orchards, roadsides and farms of North Canterbury. Chefs from Christchurch not only helped us forage for the ingredients but cooked it all that evening, to be paired with wines from the participating wineries at the dinner of a lifetime!

By the way, I can now cross raw venison heart with elderberries off my list
By the way, I can now cross raw venison heart with elderberries off my list

Watch this incredible forage video, produced by Dan Watson from Canterbury based Motion Design.

In short, New Zealand is not only a country of extreme natural beauty (and extreme sports – did you know bungee jumping originated in Central Otago?), unbelievably delicious wines, and the most local food you can get, but wonderfully welcoming people who love their country and what it has to offer, and can’t wait to show you a good time!

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