Master of Wine Emma Jenkins takes us to Gisborne, the first region to see each new day and one that has a rich winemaking tradition.
New Zealand is blessed with a diversity of wine regions, each one a unique mix of climate, varieties and wine styles – and of course, people. Gisborne is the country’s third largest wine production area but often flies under the radar thanks to its more out-of-the-way location. But its setting is what truly contributes to Gisborne’s special character.
The first part of the country to see the sun each day – and usually the first region in the country to harvest grapes – Gisborne’s mild, sunny climate and fertile plains have long delivered rivers of generously fruited wines. The region’s rich winegrowing history (vines were first planted in 1850) and rugged remoteness have also left a colourful legacy of real characters and pioneering individuals amongst the producers who continue to shape its wines to this day.
You might be surprised at how many of your favourite wines are made using Gisborne grapes. Gisborne has long been home to many of our most popular wines, including the great value Lindauer sparkling wines. In fact, sparkling wine is one of the standout strings to the region’s bow, alongside chardonnay, gewürztraminer, viognier and increasingly the Spanish variety, albarino. But Gisborne also grows almost every other variety you can imagine, and some you probably can’t – the lesser known St Laurent, fiano, and verdelho are all found here. The hallmark of Gisborne wine is flavoursome ripe fruitiness, often generous in style but with lovely purity and balance.
Being off the beaten track, Gisborne has fewer cellar doors than most of our other wine regions, but you’re still assured of a warm welcome. Highlights are the pioneering organic, biodynamic Millton Vineyard – where vigneron James Millton is likely to engage you in an enlightening chat over their acclaimed wines; and the award-winning, historic Matawhero Wines, where the indefatigable Searle family has taken over from the inimitable Denis Irwin (a true wine industry eccentric).
To get a feel for what the region has to offer, head to the harbourside Gisborne Wine Centre, where almost every local wine is for sale and many are open for sampling. They have all the info on who, how and when to visit in the area, plus there’s a great food to enjoy with the wines, making it the perfect spot to spend an afternoon.
Gisborne offers a fascinating mix. Remote yet accessible, perennial home to our biggest producers, yet increasingly attracting attention for its smaller, innovative labels, it’s a region well worth exploring for a taste of special character.
The rich history and rugged remoteness have left a colourful legacy.