Touring wineries in New Zealand is easy, as vineyards stretch virtually the entire length of the country. You're never far from a tasting room. Here are a few of our favorite stops, from grandiose modern wineries to rustic barns.
Visiting New Zealand Wineries
Many wineries have tasting rooms where wines can be sampled for free or for a nominal fee. Facilities vary from grandiose buildings to rustic barns. Most larger wineries are open daily, all year round, while boutique vintners may close from Easter until Labour Weekend (end of October). If a winery is closed, you may still be able to make an appointment. Regional winegrower associations publish wine trail guides detailing opening hours and other attractions, such as tours, dining options, and vineyard accommodations. Pick up a guide at a visitors center or local wine shop.
The largest, most well-known region is Marlborough, on the top of the South Island, which produces nearly half of the national crop. Marlborough produces fine sauvignon blancs, as well as unique Rieslings and pinot noirs.
Herzog. Therese and Hans Herzog produce a superb range of wines off their organically managed estate vineyard. Pinot grigio, pinot noir, and montepulciano are standouts, along with their wonderful merlot- cabernet, aptly named "The Spirit of Marlborough." The tasting area invites you to spend a long sunny afternoon exploring the delights of the cellar. You can enjoy an elegant bistro lunch in the tasting room, or, if you've made reservations, you can have a full meal at the adjoining restaurant—widely considered one of the best in the country. www.herzog.co.nz
Highfield Estate. This magnificent place sits high on the Brookby Ridge, with spectacular views over the Wairau plains all the way to the North Island. The winery building is signposted by an iconic Tuscan-inspired tower that visitors are welcome to climb. Highfield specializes in sauvignon blanc, with interesting pinot noir, chardonnay, and rieslings; their best, however, is a sparkling Elstree Cuvée Brut. Their indoor–outdoor lunch restaurant is popular and bookings are recommended in summer, when they also have a brunch menu. Cuisine is a blend of Mediterranean and New Zealand methods and ingredients; try their juniper marinated rack of lamb with treacle-sauteed sweetbreads. Grab a table outside on the terrace and enjoy your lunch in the Marlborough sun. www.highfield.co.nz
Hunter's Wines. Jane Hunter has been described by the London Sunday Times as the "star of New Zealand wine," with a string of successes as long as a row of vines. Building on the success of her late husband and now employing a top-notch winemaker, her wines are impressive; the fume blanc (oak-aged sauvignon blanc) and pinot noir are legendary. The riesling, gewürztraminer and mirumiru (Maori for bubbles) are also big sellers; mirumiru is a sparkling blend of pinot noir, chardonnay, and pinot meunier grapes. There's also an on-site café, an artist-inresidence and an interesting walk-through sculpture and native garden. www.hunters.co.nz
Hawke's Bay is the second largest region, located on the east coast of the North Island. New Zealand's premiere food and wine destination is known for chardonnays, cabernet sauvignons, syrahs, and merlots.
Craggy Range Winery. Situated by a small lake with the towering heights of Te Mata Peak beyond, this vineyard has a stunning backdrop for wine making and tasting. The wines include single-varietal chardonnay, merlot, and syrah; a predominantly merlot blend called Sophia; and a cabernet sauvignon blend known as the Quarry. You can sample wines at the cellar, tour the facility by appointment, or enjoy a meal at the Terroir restaurant overlooking the lake. www.craggyrange.com
Mission Estate Winery. Surrounded by gardens this classic winery stands in the Taradale hills overlooking Napier. As the country's oldest winery, dating back to 1851, it should be added to your "must-see" list. Award-winning wines, including the Mission Jewelstone range, can be bought or tasted at the cellar door. Join one of the tours for a look at the underground cellar and a discussion of the mission's history. A gallery sells local handmade pottery and crafts. If you stay for a meal, get a seat on the terrace for a terrifi c view of the vineyard and Napier. To reach the vineyard, leave Napier by Kennedy Road, heading southwest from the city center toward Taradale. Just past Anderson Park, turn right into Avenue Road and continue to its end at Church Road. www.missionestate.co.nz
Te Mata Estate. This is one of New Zealand's top wineries, and Coleraine, a rich but elegant cabernet–merlot blend named after the much-photographed home of the owner, John Buck, is considered the archetypal Hawke's Bay red. Bullnose Syrah-Elston Chardonnay and Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc show similar restraint and balance. If there's any viognier open (it's made only in tiny quantities), try it—it's excellent. From Napier head south on Marine Parade through Clive and turn left at the Mangateretere School. Signs will then lead you to Te Mata Road and the estate. www.temata.co.nz
Auckland has about 100 vineyards and wineries. It is known for rich, Bordeaux style reds, as well as the boutique vineyards on Waiheke Island.
Villa Maria Winery. This winery has grown from a small company founded by the Fistonich family to one of the country's biggest producers, with a wide range of wines using different grapes. It is recognized for its consistency, and George Fistonich, the founder, has done much for the grape industry in New Zealand. The Auckland winery is close to the airport and is a purpose-built facility; in addition to making wine and holding tastings it also hosts outdoor concerts in summer with anything from jazz to classical music. The tasting room offers selections from most of the company's vineyards. There are two tours a day, and it's a good place to stop on the way to the airport on your last day. Villa Maria can arrange shipping if you decide after tasting to buy. www.villamaria.co.nz
Artisan Wines. This producer of high-quality wine using grapes sourced from around New Zealand is open daily, but Saturday is best because there is a farmers' market. You can try a wide range of Artisan wines alongside local produce, much of it organic. There's a busy restaurant on-site and tasting and sales. From time to time the vineyard also provides courses in things like cheese making so check ahead. www.artisanwines.co.nz
Babich Wines. The Babich family has been making wine in New Zealand for nearly 100 years beginning first in the far north where Josip Babich joined his brothers from Croatia and planted grapes near the gum fields. The Henderson cellar site has a range of tastings and snacks. The 72-acre site is unique; years ago it was amid farmland but now is almost surrounded by houses as the population in west Auckland has grown. www.babicwines.co.nz
Gisborne, also on the east coast of the North Island, is the fourth-largest wine region, produces buttery-rich tones in its tasty chardonnays.
Bushmere Estate. In the Central Valley region of Gisborne and only a few minutes drive from the city center, this small estate grows mainly chardonnay grapes along with some gewürztraminer, viognier, pinot grigio and merlot. In the summer, along with the tasting, light food is available. www.bushmere.com
Kirkpatrick Estate Winery. One ofGisborne's unique boutique wineries, Kirkpatrick Estate Winery is located on the Patutahi Plateau in a lovely environment with fabulous views out to the hills. Their range includes chardonnay, merlot, malbec, gewürztraminer, and viognier. Antipasto plates are available during the summer. www.kew.co.nz
Millton Vineyard. This lovely vineyard has a garden area, where you can sit with a picnic lunch and sip barrel-fermented chardonnay. The Te Arai Vineyard Chenin Blanc and Malbec are wonderful wines, and the award-winning Opou Riesling is also recommended. James and Annie Millton grow their grapes organically and biodynamically, following the precepts of philosopher Rudolf Steiner. The vineyard is signposted off State Highway 2, about 11 km (7 mi) south of Gisborne. www.millton.co.nz
Nelson, another small, idyllic wine region in the north of South Island, is known for light reds as well as its artistic flair.
Neudorf Vineyard. This tiny winery has established an international reputation for its pinot noir and chardonnay, but riesling, pinot grigio, and sauvignon blanc are also highly regarded. Owners Tim and Judy Finn will gladly talk at length about local food and wine. The top wines wear the Moutere designation on the label, as the winery is in a valley surrounded by acres of vineyards and hop gardens. Artisan cheeses are served in summer, and they also stock olives, cheese, and oat crackers in their small deli. www.neudorf.co.nz
Canterbury, in the east of the South Island, is the country's newest wine region, but its rieslings and pinot noirs stand out.
Pegasus Bay. This family-run winery has one of the region's best reputations for wine and food in Canterbury, and the helicopters lined up on the lawn at lunchtime will confirm that. Taste the award-winning Rieslings, chardonnay, and pinot noir while you look through a window at floor-to-ceiling stacks of oak aging casks. It has been ranked among the top five wine producers nationally by Robert Parker's buyer's guide, and the restaurant was named Best Winery Restaurant in NZ by Cuisine magazine for the second consecutive year in 2009. In good weather, dine outdoors in the garden or picnic in a natural auditorium by a small man-made lake. It's best to book if visiting for a meal or large group tastings. There's a helipad if you're in a hurry. www.pegasusbay.com
Waipara Springs Winery. One of the valley's oldest wineries is the perfect place to stop for lunch along with a wine tasting ($4). The café, in converted farm buildings, serves tasty dishes made with local foods such as olives, goat cheese, asparagus, and bacon. Try their antipasto platter for some of each. These match well with the vineyard's sauvignon blanc (their biggest seller), pinot noir, botrytized Riesling, gewürztraminer, and barrique chardonnay (the signature wine). The wine bar and cellar door are open every day from 11 to 5. The café is open for lunch every day, August to May, but only open on the weekend through June and July. www.waiparasprings.co.nz
Other Regions to Explore
Central Otago, located near Queenstown in the South Island, wins the most handsome wine region award: vineyards are hemmed in by staggering white-capped mountain ranges, producing earthy rich reds.
The Wairarapa features small wineries, most of which are located within walking distance of the town square. This is pinot noir country, and it produces some of New Zealand's best.
Photo credits: (1) Couple in vineyard courtesy of Tourism New Zealand (2) Morning vineyard courtesy of Villa Maria Winery