New Zealand has established itself as a wine-producing region, yet in too many people’s eyes is viewed as a one-trick pony. The incredible success of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc in capturing the imagination of the casual wine drinker has made getting the word out about all the wines this island(s) nation can produce a bit difficult.
February 6 is Waitangi Day, New Zealand’s holiday commemorating the signing of the country’s founding document in 1840, and it’s also a great reason to take a look at the state of New Zealand wine today! Over the next three days, we’re going to take a look at some of the fascinating facts behind New Zealand wine.
New Zealand is a wonderfully complex strip of land, or lands -- as it’s actually a pair of islands that has a fascinating vinous story. In general, these are young lands. What we see today has essentially been formed by the last cycle of glaciation, which ended some 10,000 years ago. The results tend to be rugged land and rustic soils, frequently made up of heat-retaining, easy-draining gravel and alluvial soils.
In addition to the soils, the second most important factor that governs New Zealand’s wines is, not surprisingly, the weather. New Zealand’s weather all comes from the west and thus has an unusual uniformity on a nation-wide scale. Of course, when you consider the fact that the nation, while 1000 miles long, is rarely much more than 100 miles wide, the simple fact that there is little time for weather fronts to change as they quickly pass over the landmass makes this uniformity a bit easier to understand.
Now, while I say in general there is uniformity, that length -- the same as the distance from Florida to New York -- ensures that there are many different climates along the way. This creates opportunities, virtually unmatched in the world, for virtually all wine grapes to flourish. This combination of soil and climate imbues the wines of New Zealand with a certain style. The unique interplay of ocean and land creates wines with uncommon purity and balance all built on firm, natural acidity.
Sauvignon Blanc has been the lifeblood of New Zealand’s wine industry, though that is changing. Nonetheless, the fact that New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc has found a large and deserving audience is undeniable. What is also undeniable though, is that when you get down to it, there is more to New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc than, well, New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc!
While the markets may not be ready for it, New Zealand is beginning to establish the unique character of its various regional Sauvignon Blanc; getting ready for the time when the market wants to move beyond the style that has gained attention and notoriety. That style is most closely associated with the Marlborough region and was popularized in the late 1980s and early 1990s, when relatively few producers were bottling the fresh yet fruity style typical of the region. The industry responded to the world’s seemingly unquenchable thirst for the wine and today New Zealand has a bit of a Sauvignon Blanc problem. There’s too much Sauvignon Blanc planted, some in less than ideal areas, and the nation’s wine industry has, in many ways, hitched its ride to what many consider a one-trick pony.
Time is a wonderful thing though. Even if one were to consider New Zealand only worthy of producing Sauvignon Blanc, there are actually many styles emerging on the market. It takes time and effort to suss them out, but there are distinct styles emerging from various regions.