Auckland is New Zealand's oldest wine region, but the humid climate, with high autumnal rainfall that encourages mildew, is inhospitable to the vine. Soils tend to be heavy clays, so good drainage is essential.
Although the total acreage under vine has diminished - the area now produces less than 4% of New Zealand's grapes - there are still significant growing areas in Henderson, Kumeu, Huapai and on Waiheke Island in Auckland Harbour. Auckland is largely a red-wine region, with Cabernet Sauvignon the main variety. While many wineries are based here, they rely more and more on grapes from other areas.
Waikato and the Bay of Plenty
Waikato and the Bay of Plenty, south of Auckland, are two distinct areas, but are relatively close to each other. This part of the country was settled later than others because of land wars in the 19th century between the Maori and the Europeans, but has long been associated with vinegrowing. At the end of the 19th century, an Italian viticulturalist Romeo Bragato, was invited over from Australia by the New Zealand government to assess existing vi -yards as well as the potential for new ones. He established an experimental vineyard here. The New Zealand government's wine research station used to be at Te Kauwhata.
Climatically, the risk is still from autumnal rainfall and the consequential loss of fruit through disease. Soils are mixed. The Waikato vineyards are near Hamilton and around the Firth of Thames, while the Bay of Plenty is further east. The most widely-grown varieties throughout.
Hawke's Bay - on the east coast of North Island between Napier and Hastings-has long been a pioneering area. The region is well suited to vine cultivation: it receives plenty of sunshine and low autumnal rainfall, so ripening is good. Spring frosts are a possibility, however. The best soils are well-drained gravel and shingle.
Chardonnay is the most widely planted grape, followed by Muller Thurgau, Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc. The region produces some of New Zealand's finest red wines. Other areas buy grapes from Hawke's Bay, North Island's second largest, premium-quality grape growing area after Marlborough
Wairapa, at the southern tip of North Island, is still relatively small, but is internationally renowned for red wines made from Pinot Noir. A latecomer to the wine scene, the first modern vineyards being planted in 1978, this is New Zealand's most fashionable "new" wine region. Some white varieties, including Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling, are also grown.
The heart of Wairapa is the town of Martinborough, which lies in the center of a small plateau called the Martinborough Terraces. This area is in the rain shadow of the Tararua Mountains, so annual rainfall is low. The only problem is wind, which necessitates the planting of windbreaks. The best soils are the well-drained, gravelly silt loams around Martinborough.
Gisborne South-east of the Bay of Plenty, used to be the New Zealand. Much of the wine went into casks for bag-in box products made by major producers located in other areas. As a result, there were for a long time only a few local wineries. Today most bulk wine is imported from Australia. Gisborne has rich, alluvial loam soils that give high yields. Rainfall does occur in autumn, but not usually enough to damage the crop. This is mainly a white-wine region, with Muller-Thurgau the chief variety, followed by Chardonnay, Dr Hogg Muscut, Reichensteiner and Sauvignon Blanc. The region is, in fact, now promoted as the "Chardonnay capital of New Zealand".
Although originally planted at the same time as North Island, most vineyards fell into disuse, and only during the 1970s did winemakers appreciate the potential here