Gisborne Winegrowers: www.gisbornewine.co.nz
New Zealand has not only the world's most southerly wine region (Central Otago) -it also has the most easterly (Gisborne). Gisborne is located on the north-east corner of the North Island and has the closest vineyards to the international date-line.
Until recently Gisborne was known as the cask wine region of New Zealand with a similar role to that played by South Australia's Riverland and NSW's Riverina. The fertile soils and relatively warm and stable climate provide a safe haven for the wine corporations to churn out vast amounts of solid but uninspiring wine for cask and cheap table wine consumption.
In the late 1980s Gisborne was responsible for a nearly a third of New Zealand's wine production. The changes to the New Zealand wine industry in 1990s have led to Gisborne falling to less than 15% of national production, and a new orientation to competing in mid-price wine range. The major viticultural hazards are autumn rains and the periodic appearance of phylloxera that has forced a substantial replanting with resistant rootstock.
Missionaries experimented with Gisborne wine-making in the mid 19th century. The sole commercial winery in the region until the 1960s was Frederick Wohnsiedler's winery in the Waihirere Valley. A few years after his death in 1956 Montana bought his vineyards and started the corporate push into the region.
The fairly bland German variety, Muller Thurgau, was the main staple due to the perceptions at the time that New Zealand was closest in viticultural terms to Germany. Gisborne wine mainly used as anonymous blending material for mass commercial whites of the Auckland-based wineries.
Fortunately another white variety, Chardonnay, was capable of really thriving here. In the early days the yields were set too high to show the potential for the variety. However, the re-orientation of the region to increased quality, heavy cropping and lower yields has led wine buffs to rethink their dismissal of the Gisborne as a serious wine region.
Gisborne Chardonnay had been used as the major component in a number of award winning wines, and in the nineties Corbans and Montana began to identify some of the premium wines by the region. The Chardonnays commonly have an element of botrytis about them although the percentage varies considerably.
While Chardonnay makes up about overwhelming bulk of the plantings there is some still some Muller Thurgau for blending, and more importantly Gerwurztraminer.
For some reason the variety finds excellent expression here - full of lychee, spice and rose petals. The limited interest in the wine market for this variety means it will never challenge Chardonnay as the region's biggest selling variety but the modest prices reflect excellent value for fans of this Alsatian variety. There is a specialist Gerwurztraminer producer, Vinoptima,that has been producing examples that have been drawing deserved comparisons with Alsatian Grand Crus.
There are relatively few regionally-based wineries and local cellar doors with the most prominent being the Gisborne-based Longbush Wines and the Gisborne Wine Company. top