Intense, expressive, and fruit-driven, the Pinot Noir grape has found a home in New Zealand, and this International Pinot Noir Day is the perfect time to celebrate this notoriously fickle grape. Wind the clock back 20 years and Pinot Noir was barely known, let alone grown, in New Zealand, but today it is the country’s leading red wine export, and 2nd largest export overall.
Although first planted in the Wairarapa region of New Zealand’s North Island back in 1883, it wasn’t until the late 1980’s that the popularity of the Pinot Noir variety started to bloom. It’s fruity, softer, and more expressive than wine produced in the grape’s native home of Burgundy, and thanks to the huge diversity in climates and soils throughout New Zealand’s Pinot Noir regions, there’s also a wide range of styles. Now New Zealand is home to more than 260 cellar doors with over 500 winery experiences.
Pinot Noir is predominantly grown in the cooler southerly regions: Wairarapa, Marlborough, Nelson, North Canterbury and Central Otago. The huge diversity in climates and soils enables a wide range of styles from these main Pinot Noir producing regions, while also offering experiences unique to each region.
Still considered the new kid on the block due to its rapid rise to fame, New Zealand Pinot Noir is now the country’s top red wine variety and the second-most exported wine after Sauvignon Blanc. Impressive growth in export sales over the past five years means more than 1.5 million cases of New Zealand Pinot Noir are exported annually. Shared below is specific information on different wine regions across both islands, and what makes each grape so significant.
Wairarapa, North Island
Wairarapa, meaning “land of glistening waters” in Māori, is compact yet diverse and is the main North Island region with a climate best suited to this heartbreak grape. With a fascinating early settler history, vines were first planted here in 1883 but fell victim to the temperance movement in 1905.
Wairarapa’s modern wine history dates from the late 1970s, and the region boasts some of New Zealand’s most sought-after Pinot Noir producers. Between sub-regions Martinborough, Gladstone, and Masterton, there are over 30 cellar doors. The region’s flagship red is richly flavoured and warm, with darker fruit aromas, often with a savoury component. Read more about the Wairarapa cellar doors here.
Marlborough, South Island
Although Marlborough is known for its Sauvignon Blanc, it is also the largest Pinot Noir growing region in New Zealand. The first plantings of the variety in Marlborough took place as far back as 1973, though for the next 20-plus years most of the Pinot Noir fruit grown in the region was used to make sparkling wine until serious growth began after the year 2000.
Marlborough is a wine-lovers dream destination, as visitors can choose from more than 40 cellar doors within minutes of touching down at the Blenheim airport. Read more about the Marlborough cellar doors here.
Nelson, South Island
The picturesque region of Nelson is found on the northern tip of the South Island, and because it is protected by mountain ranges on three sides, Nelson is blessed climatically. The region often leads the country in sunshine hours, while the dryness of the late summer months suits early ripening Pinot Noir.
Nelson has a vibrant artistic and café culture, and offers a wonderful sense of tranquillity and relaxation – add in a National Park and many cellar doors all on Nelson’s doorstep, and you have the perfect place to enjoy the wines and the scenery. Read more about the Nelson cellar doors here.
North Canterbury, South Island
In North Canterbury, Pinot Noir here ranges from perfumed and pretty, to dark and brooding. North Canterbury’s cool, dry climate with high sunshine and a long growing season gives this region’s Pinot Noir finesse and depth, with supple structure and good complexity.
Today, vineyards are dotted across the region, and North Canterbury is a great wine destination for those looking to discover some hidden gems. The cellar doors of North Canterbury are all within easy reach of the Christchurch Airport, ensuring you are sipping wine shortly after touch down. Read more about North Canterbury cellar doors here.
Central Otago, South Island
A spectacular landscape and popular tourist hub, Central Otago is also home to some of the world’s most well-known Pinot Noir and is the world’s southernmost wine region. Pinot Noir from Central Otago is fragrant, lush fruit underpinned by taut structure, silky texture and true intensity.
Easily accessible through Queenstown Airport, Central Otago is the perfect place to cosy up to the fire with a glass of Pinot Noir. Soaring snow-capped mountains and glistening rivers nestled deep within ravines (gold rush territory in the 1800s) draw visitors from far and wide, with a wide range of excellent cellar door facilities and wine tourism activities in the region. Read more about the Central Otago cellar doors here.