Gisborne, New Zealand

Today we’re staying a little closer to home, just across the ditch to NZ. The Gisborne wine region is located to the very east of the country, and makes up the ‘heel’ of the North Island’s boot. Some would be surprised to know that Gisborne is New Zealand’s third most prolific wine region (after Marlborough and Hawkes Bay). Vineyards stretch inland from Poverty Bay on the east coast, with most viticulture taking place in the Ormond Valley and around the small town of Patutahi. The Waipaoa River, which originates in the mountains surrounding Te Karaka, snakes its way through the valley on its way to the ocean, providing all-important water for the vines.

The first most interesting point about Gisborne is that the varieties that it hangs its hat on are not the usual suspects for New Zealand. In basically every other region in the country, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir are the go-to varieties. Not so here in Gisborne; instead number one most-grown is Chardonnay (not exactly an unusual or rare variety), but second-most grown is Gewürztraminer! Chardonnay from Gisborne was the wine of New Zealand until the Marlborough Sauvalanche (explosion of NZ Sauvignon Blanc) in the early ‘90s. The styles of both Chardonnay and Gewürztraminer wines from Gisborne are plush, round, spiced and with nearly tropical fruit aromas (ripe peach, pineapple and honeydew melon), and the reason for the development of these styles over the usual suspects is due to the unique climate of Gisborne.


Viticulture in Gisborne was actually a bit of an accident. Back in the mid 19th century, vine-carrying settlers landed in Poverty Bay and set up, mistakenly believing it to be Hawke’s Bay! Once they realised they had landed further south than intended, the vines were planted, and the region was founded! It turned out to be quite a happy accident however, as the weather in Gisborne is very favourable for viticulture. The mountains on the north side of the Raukumara peninsula (the ‘boot heel’ of the country) are an effective rain shadow, and skies are usually clear in Gisborne, especially during the all-important spring and early summer months. This allows grapes to ripen fully, however this low-rainfall means the berries do not get big and bloated, but stay small and concentrated. This results in dense, concentrated wines with abundant complexity. The cold nights New Zealand is famous for, aided by cold overnight sea winds, ensure the retention of acid in these small, complex grapes. The soils are also perfect for these fuller styles of wine; the region is mostly silty brown loam with a thick under-layer of clay. This gives more density and power to the resulting wines by providing more nutrients (when compared to poor, high acid soils like limestone), which allows the development of a more diverse range of yeast, which give off more diverse flavour compounds. The other most-popular wines made in this region are Viognier and Chenin Blanc for whites, with Gisborne red wines usually made from Merlot or Malbec, though Gisborne Syrah is beginning to attract attention.


Another unique point about Gisborne is the structure of the industry. In most of the other New Zealand regions, the industry is either mass-production and commercial (Marlborough), or small scale and niche (Central Otago and Martinborough). In Gisborne, the split is 50/50. Half of the fruit grown is made in big vineyards that sell grapes to the big producers; Pernod Ricard had massive interests here until recently, and New Zealand’s biggest sparkling wine, Lindauer source the majority of their Chardonnay from here. The other half of the fruit comes from tiny ‘lifestyle’ producers that hand-tend their own small plots and only sell through cellar door as a form of semi-retirement. Doesn’t sound too bad!


A final point of interest about Gisborne Point is that it was here, not in the more Premium regions that a winery achieved full certification for Organic Viticulture. While today there aren’t as many Organic vineyards per capita when compared to regions like Martinborough and Central Otago, the even, dry conditions allowed Milton Vineyard to become the first certified organic winery in NZ. Today they have taken it even further by going fully Biodynamic.

Mark Faber
Wine Sales Manager