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: Canterbury region

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Canterbury Winegrowers Association: www.canterbury.co.nz

Canterbury region

Canterbury, which runs along the mid east coast of New Zealand's South Island was the region that first proved in the 1980s that the country could make some serious good Pinot Noir.

While there has been some sporadic viticultural activity since the 1840s the first substantial modern commercial vineyards were not established here until the late 1970s.

This is a bit surprising as it is seriously good cold climate wine country. The western fringe of the region is bounded by the snow covered peaks of the Southern Alps. However, the eastern half of the region is a series of huge alluvial river plains full of low yielding gravelly soils and stony glacial terraces that overlay a limestone base.

As a relatively new region there is still plenty of scope for experimentation with terroir. The biggest difficulty is achieving full physiological ripeness in such a cool climate - only in the north of the region around Waipara does the temperature reach 30 degrees even in mid-summer. This is mitigated partially by the sunny, dry autumns caused by the rain shadow effect of the Southern Alps that allow for stable conditions during the necessarily long ripening period.

David Jackson, from Lincoln College's horticultual department, established an experimental vineyard in the 1970s, and worked out that Riesling, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir were best suited to the region. The first commercial wineries were established just of the west of Christchurch, the major provincial city, and also on the Banks Peninsula.

A second cluster of wineries was later established at the warmer northern half of the region at Waipara, and recently at Kaikouru. As New Zealand's wine regions are only just becoming to be formally defined the northern wineries have sometimes to refered to as the North Canterbury region.

The area to the south of Christchurch has overly vigorous volcanic soils and seems to be too cold. Nevertheless tiny vineyards are popping up around Omarama in the south-west corner of the region.

Pinot Noir, was and continues to be the stand out variety for the region. The extremely long ripening period allows for intense black cherry/plum/raspberry fruit expression along with the complex stemmy and gamey nuances of great Kiwi Pinot. Central Otago and Martinborough (Wellington) Pinot Noirs now command the accolades of the global wine press with corresponding super-charged prices. Astute wine buyers realise that Canterbury Pinots are capable of being just as good without the hype and hit to the wallet.

The richly flavoured and textured Chardonnays are also well worth a try. Canterbury, along with Central Otago, has the Kiwi climate that most resembles Germany. If you are a fan of Auslesse and Kabinett style sweet (by Australian standards) Rieslings then there are plenty to try here.

There is some oaked and unoaked Semillon but of more interest to me is Muddy Waters with its Pinotage (a popular red variety from South Africa).

St. Helena is the oldest of the medium sized Canterbury region wineries but the overseas premium wine consumer is more likely to come across Giesen, Pegasus Bay and Omihi Hills. top

Bell Hill label

Bell Hill is an iconic Pinot Noir producer in North Canterbury

Shaw and Smith

The region's most famous winery, Pegasus Bay, has a very well made portfolio with the stars for me being the Pinot Noir and also the Sauvignon Semillon blend