New Zealand’s Winning Way with Wine

North Island’s palate-pleasing wines shine

I’ve been in New Zealand eating and drinking, so I haven’t written a post about eating and drinking in days. You might say I’m walking the culinary walk. The Kiwi wine experience began on Air New Zealand Flight 1 from Los Angeles  to Auckland with a choice of inflight entertainment including five informative videos to introduce the most popular wines in the country. The airline has also been sponsoring the highly regarded New Zealand Wine Awards for 30 years.

In the course of three Lucullian days in and around Hawke’s Bay on the North Island’s east coast, we visited New Zealand’s second-oldest winery (Mission Estate, founded by the Marist Brothers in 1751) and one of its newest (Elephant Hill, established in 2008 by a German couple with a taste for New ‘Zealand and its wines).  The former is located in a historic wood building from which the Brothers once embarked on their missionay work. The latter, a “proudly 100% accredited by the Sustainable Winegrowers of New Zealand” handpicks its grapes and is an up-to-the-minute biodynamic winery.

Mission Estate Winery, traditional architecture suits a very old winery.

The ultra-modern Elephant Hill winery was designed by Central Otago architect John Blair, who specializes in winery designs.

New Zealand wines — primarily Chardonnays, Pinots, Syrahs, Rieslings and blended reds are produced along a 1,000-mile “wine road” that stretches from the South Island’s Central Otago Valley to the North Island’s Northland’s region. Many wineries are open to the public. The Kiwi term for “tasting room” is “cellar door,” which I find quite charming. Many of them also have excellent restaurants whose chefs and winemakers collude to produce outstanding pairings. And a number have outdoor stages that host concerts by international stars. Steely Dan was at Church Road Winery just the other evening.

John McDonald, called the "Father of the Red Wines of New Zealand," actually leanred wine-making from the Marist Brothers. The Church Road Winery tht he established in 1897, uses both giant steel vats and unusual concrete ones in the fermentation process.

Entrance to Church Road Winery's museum, set up in very old concrete vats.

An old wine press in the museum "staffed" by a mannequin.

According to Wines of NZ, New Zealand’s wine business is booming  in the country’s eight wine regions. In just 15 years, it has exploded from 238 wineries 15 years ago to 678 last year. Many export product overseas, but many others wines never leave the islands, and a number of them are available only at the wineries or elsewhere locally, which is a very good reason for wine lovers  to visit.