edited by Sue Courtney
e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org
New Zealand Wine Regions -
Panorama of the Waipara Valley taken from the limestone hills on the eastern side of the valley above Black Estate, looking to the west and south west.
When the Waipara Winegrowers invited me to the 2002 Waipara Valley Wine and Food Celebration as the 'guest winewriter' for the weekend, I found an exciting and expanding wine region with dedicated and passionate wine producers.
Waipara is part of rural Canterbury just 40 minutes drive north of Christchurch. While there was an unsuccessful foray with grapes in the 1960's most historians record the first grapes in the region as being planted in 1981. Sheep farmers chose grapes to trial as a diversification crop because grapes don't eat grass.
From those testy beginnings, the region has burgeoned to 17 producers who own their own vineyards (see map). Other producers, e.g. Waipara Hills, use contract growers.
The natural 'Y'-shaped valley with its free draining river gravels and limestone-rich clay and sandy soils is only a few kilometres from the South Pacific Ocean to the east but is well sheltered by the intervening Teviotdale Hills. The peaks of the "Three Deans" dominate the vista to the west.
Waipara, like the rest of Canterbury region however, is affected by hot north westerly winds that can rage at a force, much to the detriment of new vine planting's.
Waipara produced 80,000 cases of wine in 2001, a little less than the average of around 90,000. But the output will double by 2004 as new vineyards come into production.
Montana Wines is the biggest vineyard landholder in the area. They inherited 5 hectares of Riesling when they took over Corbans in 2000. This was the vineyard that produced the outstanding Robard and Butler Amberley Rieslings and more recently the Corbans Private Bin Amberley Rieslings. These benchmark wines, produced from the mid-eighties through the nineties, inspired many of the newcomers to plant that grape. Montana's riesling was planted on a 60-hectare block, the remainder of which was planted last year with more riesling and pinot noir (see photo). In March 2002 Montana purchased another 160 hectares of land in the area. They will develop the new block over several years with riesling and pinot noir; the planting of which will commence this winter.
With Montana aside, the vineyards in the area range from the seriously boutique-sized two hectares to the more commercial 60 hectares.
There is no doubt that pinot noir and riesling grapes are immensely suited to the region. Other varieties excel too and over the course of the weekend I tasted excellent chardonnay, sauvignon blanc and pinot gris, while cabernet sauvignon - erratic as it is - does well in some vintages too.
As the price of Pinot Noir seems to be rocketing skyward, several Waipara producers are keeping the prices in check with several tasty wines of good varietal character for NZ$26 and under available in March 2002.
Waipara rieslings generally show citrus flavours together with spice and good examples abound.
Waipara Sauvignon Blanc lives in the shadow of its northern neighbour but the wines show excellent varietal herbaceousness and flavour.
There are excellent examples of pinot gris and at least one I tasted, the McCorkindale Waipara Pinot Gris 2001 was outstanding.
Would you believe there is Pinotage in Waipara too? The Muddy Water Pinotage is a big gutsy wine with the alcohol content to match. It's worth pursuing if you are a pinotage fan like me.
My schedule was hectic. Upon my arrival on Saturday morning to my departure on Monday afternoon, it was designed to make sure I would visit most of the producers based in the region. Alas, a late arrival in Waipara due to circumstances beyond my control meant I missed my visit to Waipara West.
The day's proceedings are summarised on the following pages -
The Waipara Wine and Food Celebration
Pegasus Bay (again)
Alpine Pacific (previously Chancellor)
The following table lists all the Waipara Producers as at April 2002. Some producers, e.g. Sterling Lines, who sell their grapes on, are not included in the table.
Waipara Wine Celebration 2002 Tasting
If you know of any new wineries in Waipara, or other links that I should consider for this page, please e-mail me. A reciprocal link would be appreciated.
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