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What wine to pick at Auckland's Duty Free shop?

© by Mike Keenan

Wines aboard Holland America MS Noordam, photo by Mike Keenan

Wines aboard Holland America MS Noordam, photo by Mike Keenan

We are in Auckland Airport's Duty Free shop, and our plane soon leaves for the long flight home. We want to purchase two bottles of wine to celebrate our recent cruise around New Zealand, but we have never encountered so many bottles of wine before in a Duty Free shop.

We drank our favoured sauvignon blanc aboard the Air New Zealand flight from Vancouver. And onboard our Holland America cruise ship, we sampled other varietals. On our daily excursions, there was always an excuse to "perform more research," and so we learned a great deal about New Zealand wine.

Missionary Samuel Marsden got it started by planting the first vineyard at his Kerikeri mission station in late 1819 in the Bay of Islands in the northern end of the North Island.

A long growing season and a cool maritime climate make conditions ideal for grape growing in New Zealand, producing distinctive, premium, quality wines in the dry, sunny eastern regions at Gisborne, Hawke's Bay and Marlborough as well as in Auckland, Martinborough, Nelson, Waipara and Central Otago regions which span latitudes 36-45 degrees and cover 1,600 kilometres.

A diverse range of products developed, but sauvignon blanc accounts for more than two-thirds of all of New Zealand's output. Bob Campbell MW (Master of Wines), claims that New Zealand produces the world's best sauvignon blanc, and my spouse and I heartily agree.

Hawke's Bay, Gisborne and Marlborough are also well known for their chardonnay, although each region produces its own distinct style. Gisborne Chardonnays, for example, tend to be softer, with ripe peach, melon and pineapple flavours. Hawke's Bay produces a more concentrated wine, with peach and grapefruit flavours. Marlborough, New Zealand's largest chardonnay-producing region, tends to produce zesty wines with good acidity and strong white-peach and citrus flavours.

New Zealand's pinot noir, gaining a strong international reputation, is the country's second-most exported wine after sauvignon blanc. Pinot noir relishes the cool temperatures and low rainfall, so it performs particularly well in the Martinborough region and in Central Otago.

New Zealand excels in a number of other varieties such as Riesling, pinot gris, Syrah and Bordeaux-style reds and as is the case here in Niagara, and larger wineries run either restaurants or cafés as part of their business, offering both retail and online wine sales.

Tohu Wines was the first indigenous branded wine to be produced for the export market, a wholly owned Mãori company. Tohu vineyards are certified by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, a management system that promotes environmentally responsible practices in the country's vineyards and wineries.

"Sustainable winegrowing" has been embraced by Pernod Ricard, one of the largest wine companies and the producer of top-selling labels including Church Road and Montana. Grove Mill Winery in Marlborough, became the first winery in the world to achieve carbon zero certification. Yealands Estate is home to New Zealand's largest privately-owned and carbon neutral winery. Innovative practices include the use of rare 'mini' sheep to help mow the vineyard. These babydoll sheep, imported from Australia for NZ$3000 each, are too small to damage the vines yet naturally harvest grass and withstand predator attack.

Yealands calculates that they save NZ$1.3 million yearly in mowing and spraying costs, not to mention the added returns in terms of meat and wool. Matt Dicey, GM and winemaker at Mt. Difficulty, Central Otago, sounding like Canada's chief environmentalist David Suzuki, says, "the long term benefit of treating the land better is that the land treats you better."

Most of New Zealand's 500 + wineries are boutique, small scale operations but export income has seen a phenomenal increase in the past 20 years, growing nearly 24% each year. The wine industry contributes more than NZ$1.5 billion a year to the national economy and supports more than 16,500 full-time jobs.

We discovered that New Zealand's two islands are relatively narrow, and Steve Smith, founding director of Craggy Range, Hawkes Bay says that New Zealand's youthful soil and maritime influence with "every vine touched by the ocean" makes them unique in the world of wine. The distinct landscapes yield some of the new world's most invigorating wines.

Ian Morden, Estate Director at Cloudy Bay, Marlborough, says that an example of their innovation was the planting of sauvignon blanc grapes in stony soil, the grape expressing itself in a new, distinctive way. It has the essence of New Zealand in it. "When you taste a glass of New Zealand sauvignon blanc, you know exactly where it comes from. To me that defines a great wine region in the world."

What bottles did we ultimately choose at the Duty Free? We finally narrowed it down to Marlborough's Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc and Dog Point Sauvignon Blanc, the former overpriced at $42, but it ignited New Zealand's international rise to wine stardom. The latter is a comparative youngster, its first vintage in 2002.

Bottle of Rose, Mahurangi River Winery & Restaurant, New Zealand, photo by Mike Keenan  Herrons Flight, Matakana, New Zealand, photo by Mike Keenan  John Crone, owner & winemaker, Hyperion Winery, Matakana, New Zealand, photo by Mike Keenan  Mahurangi River Winery, New Zealand, photo by Mike Keenan  Mary Evans, co-owner, Herrons Flight, Matakana, New Zealand, photo by Mike Keenan

For more pictures, go to: https://www.pinterest.com/mustang6648/new-zealand/

Wellington Harbour and city viewed from Mount Victoria at twilight, photos by Russell Street

Wellington Harbour and city at twilight

Besides writing for the five Niagara Postmedia newspapers, Mike has been published in every major newspaper across Canada including the Globe and Mail, Toronto Star, and Toronto Sun. He has been published in National Geographic Traveler, Buffalo Spree, Stitches, West of the City, Seniors Review and Hamilton-Burlington's View Magazine. With hundreds of reviews, photos and helpful votes, he has earned Trip Advisor's "Top Contributor Badge" and is considered an "Expert" in both Hotels and Restaurant reviews. Mike posts photos to Pinterest where he has a following of four thousand viewers.

Photo Credits
Mike Keenan

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