GO NZ: Discover New Zealand’s Oldest Vineyards and Wineries


Sauvignon Blanc has the wow factor in Marlborough. Photo / MarlboroughNZ

Drink in New Zealand’s rich history with a trip to one of our venerable wineries, writes Jo Burzynska.

On September 25, 1819, Anglican missionary Reverend Samuel Marsden reported planting New Zealand’s first vines on the Stone Store grounds at Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands. Unfortunately, these never produced wine, allegedly gobbled up by local goats. Nonetheless, the promise Marsden saw for wine in Aotearoa has now been amply proven and can be lived alongside its history at wine milestones that span the length of the country.

Bay of Islands – Vine Zero

Greater wine success was achieved with the arrival of British wine lover James Busby to the Bay of Islands. He made New Zealand’s first recorded wine from vines planted on his land in Waitangi in 1833, described by French explorer Dumont d’Urville as “delicious”. While the wine industry has followed more auspicious climates and moved south, good wines still come from this historic region. Head to Marsden Estate in Kerikeri, established 176 years after its namesake planted his vines. Select six wines to try at his cellar door, or grab a drink to savor in his subtropical vineyard gardens – and goat-free – or in his restaurant.

Taste: Rich and creamy Black Rocks Marsden Estate Chardonnay.

Marsden Estate in Wiroa Road, Kerikeri.  Photo / Supplied
Marsden Estate in Wiroa Road, Kerikeri. Photo / Supplied

Gisborne – Organic pioneer

Long before New Zealand’s wine industry promoted its wines as the bounty of a clean, green land, James and Annie Millton spoke out. The couple created the country’s first organic and biodynamic winery in 1984 with the planting of their first vineyard near Manutuke where the first settlers planted vines in 1871. They now combine classic wines like their Chardonnay with more cutting edge examples. in fermented whites with the skin of the Libiamo Range influenced by the younger generation of Millton. Taste them at the door of their cellar, located in a beautifully landscaped park with an olive grove.

Taste: Take a walk on the wild side with the intriguing Libiamo Amphora Chenin Blanc.

Millton, New Zealand's leading biodynamic vineyard.  Photo / Supplied
Millton, New Zealand’s leading biodynamic vineyard. Photo / Supplied

Hawke’s Bay – The oldest winery

Christian orders helped spread the vine and their religion around the world, and it was Marist missionaries who transplanted vines from Bay of Islands to Hawke’s Bay and, in 1851, built the oldest vineyard in the country, Mission Estate. Its cellar door, housed in an imposing former seminar building, offers seated tastings that include a glimpse of its history. Visitors can then stroll through its underground cellar and extensive gardens overlooking the sea, with the option to dine in its recently renovated restaurant.

Taste: the blends of Bordeaux Mission Estate, such as the very good Jewelstone Antoine.

Mission Estate Winery in Hawke's Bay.  Photo / Domaine de la Mission
Mission Estate Winery in Hawke’s Bay. Photo / Domaine de la Mission

Wairarapa – The first place of Pinot

New Zealand’s potential for pinot noir dates back to Wairarapa, where in the early 1880s, Frenchwoman Marie Zelie Beetham and her husband William planted the country’s first pinot vineyard near Masterton. Temperance put an end to this effort, but Pinot Noir is growing again on one of their vineyards, now Lansdowne Estate. Martinborough pioneers, such as Clive Paton of Ata Rangi, then founded the modern pinot industry in the 1980s. Ata Rangi continues to produce some of the country’s best examples, which can be explored, along with its history, through intimate tastings organized in their charming old cellar door.

Taste: Martinborough’s classic Pinot Noirs from Ata Rangi

You can soak up the sun in the Ata Rangi vineyards in Martinborough.  Photo / Pete Monk
You can soak up the sun in the Ata Rangi vineyards in Martinborough. Photo / Pete Monk

Nelson – South Island Pioneers

In the early days of New Zealand wine, most of the vineyards were planted in the North Island, as it was considered that the grapes could not ripen further south. However, in the 1970s brave souls began planting grapes on the continent, including Tim and Judy Finn who founded Neudorf in Nelson when no one knew what varieties could thrive there. Today, they make some of the best Chardonnay and Pinot Noir in the country. These can be tasted at their pretty cellar door overlooking their first Home Block vineyard, where picnic dishes can also be selected from the “baby deli”.

Taste: The elegant Chardonnay Neudorf Rosie’s Block Twenty Five Rows fermented in amphorae.

The Neudorf cellar, Nelson.  Photo / Supplied
The Neudorf cellar, Nelson. Photo / Supplied

Marlborough – Sauvignon Country Roots

Our flagship Marlborough sauvignon blanc is a fairly new phenomenon. Planted there in 1973, on what is now Brancott Estate Vineyard, it wowed the world when Hunter’s Sauvignon Blanc won the UK’s prestigious Sunday Times Vintage Festival in 1986. Hunter’s still excels in sauvignon, as well as sparkling wines, which are shared in its farmhouse tasting room set in tranquil native gardens. The new generation continues to innovate, with the experimental Offshoot range which includes a naturally sparkling “pet-nat” sauvignon. Marlborough’s earliest history can be found at Auntsfield Estate, the site of the area’s first commercial vineyard and winery founded by David Herd in the 1870s. Visit historic sites, such as the restored clay cellar from 1873, on a wine tour and taste the impressive wines produced by the Cowley family who reestablished the vines on the property.

Taste: Hunter’s benchmark Sauvignon Blanc and Auntsfield Ancestral Method, a sparkling wine made from the same Muscat clone planted by Herd, grown on his original vineyard, using an ancient method.

Sauvignon Blanc has the wow factor in Marlborough.  Photo / MarlboroughNZ
Sauvignon Blanc has the wow factor in Marlborough. Photo / MarlboroughNZ

Canterbury – Small beginnings

An important chapter in the contemporary history of Canterbury wine began three decades ago in a garage in Christchurch. It belonged to neurologist Ivan Donaldson, whose wine hobby culminated in Pegasus Bay, which has become a flagship vineyard in the region. The knowledgeable staff at the door of their Waipara winery can tell you about their exciting range of wines. These can also be enjoyed in the cellar’s fabulous gardens or indoors by the fire as part of a picnic of local dishes from the mini grocery store it launches in December.

Taste: Pegasus Bay’s world-class rieslings.

Take a trip to New Zealand's oldest vineyards and cellars.  Photo / Graeme Murray
Take a trip to New Zealand’s oldest vineyards and cellars. Photo / Graeme Murray

Central Otago – Natural Succession

Rarely does a family spend more than a century cultivating their land, let alone nearly 40 years in the New Zealand wine industry – and even rarer in Central Otago, where the wine industry does not ‘has only taken off in recent decades. However, Rippon has long and strong ties to their particular land, now managed biodynamically by second-generation winemaker Nick Mills. The views from Rippon Hall, where his cellar door is located, are iconic, overlooking its sloping vineyards to Lake Wānaka and the mountains. Equally spectacular are Rippon’s expressive wines.

Taste: Rippon’s Mature Vine pinot noir

Overlooking its sloping vineyards to Lake Wanaka, the views of Rippon Vineyard are iconic.  Photo / David Wall
Overlooking its sloping vineyards to Lake Wanaka, the views of Rippon Vineyard are iconic. Photo / David Wall

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