Driving through the Waipara region, you could almost be mistaken for thinking you’re in Whistler or in the foothills of the Canadian Rockies. An endless, blue sky rolls out across the green and grey hills that wall the valley, with pine, poplar and the occasional gum tree standing guard by the roadside. Wind down the window and breathe in the fresh air that carries a crispness, even in the height of summer.
If ever there was a drive to take on a Sunday, the stretch of road between Amberley and Cheviot tops the list.
Beyond the scenery, the warm lazy sun and the distinct lack of traffic, there is of course another attraction – one that could prolong that 45-minute motor journey by several hours, perhaps even days. That would be the wineries, 31 of them in total, peppering the roadside barely 400m apart. “We’re very lucky to have such a strong winemaking community,” says Jill Chapman from Terrace Edge. “All but one of the vineyards in this district are family owned, and we’ve been humbled by the willingness of other winemakers and viticulturalists to share their knowledge and help us feel at home.”
Jill and husband Bruce bought the land that is now Terrace Edge almost on impulse in 1999. “We were on holiday with our three teenage sons in Marlborough, and we enjoyed touring the vineyards,” explains Jill. “We went to one in particular with olive groves as well as vines and all five of us were smitten with that lifestyle.”
Back home in Christchurch, they heard a sheep station was up for sale in Waipara, just an hour north of their home.
“Three months later it was ours, and we began clearing the land and planting olive trees,” says Jill, a former social worker. “My youngest son, Pete, was in his last year of high school and decided to study viticulture and winemaking at Lincoln. He came back a few years later with his degree under his belt and has headed up the business ever since.”
The Chapmans have a beautiful site. “Our land is on the bank of the river, with a view right through the valley,” says Jill. “From the cellar door you can see the Cheviot hills that shelter this land from cold sea winds that affect Christchurch. In the distance are the Southern Alps, reminding us of our sense of place.”
The Chapmans produce a wide range of wine, some of which is officially award-winning, but they are probably best known for their syrah, grown on a 45˚ slope in a hot spot on their land.
“It is unusual for a syrah to be grown in what is essentially quite a cold climate, but we wanted to do something a bit different,” says Jill. “The area we’ve planted out syrah is known as the ‘roasted slope’. We are in the Glasnevin Gravels area of Waipara, so the soil is free draining and the sun in that spot is hot. It’s done very well. We’ve also planted some albarino, and the first vintage will be available this spring.”
Down the road, another family-owned venture is also making its name known. Boutique vineyard Black Estate was bought by husband and wife team Nicholas Brown and Penelope Naish, and Naish’s parents, Rod and Stacey, in 2007.
“I’d always been interested in Black Estate,” explains winemaker Brown, who knew the estate’s former owner, Russell Black, and was familiar with his quality wines that had developed a cult following. “I approached him, told him about our own vision and on the basis of that he was willing to sell.”
Their vision was to continue cultivating the existing eight hectares of chardonnay and pinot noir grapes, while planting out another eight with something a little different.
“Pen and I like to make wines that we like to drink, and chenin blanc was top of our list,” says Brown. “It’s a great food wine, very versatile. We also decided to try cabernet franc, which is often compared to pinot noir but has a completely different tannin profile.”
These late harvest grapes can be hard to work with in a region that often experiences an April frost, but Brown is very hands on in the vineyard. Close management is key to extending the ripening period, to make wines with texture. To this end the vineyard is organic and biodynamic, with a focus on the minerality of the soils, improving soil structure and keeping healthy vines.
“We are lucky to be one of the most disease-free wine regions in New Zealand,” says Paul Hewett from Waipara Springs. “People often talk about the cool climate here, but it’s not really cool – in summer it can be hotter than Marlborough. But it is dry. That keeps the fungal disease at bay.”
Hewett has only been at Waipara Springs for a few months, but has been making wines in the region for 15 years. Waipara Springs itself is one of the oldest vineyards in the area, having enjoyed its first vintage in 1983.
“Our wines are a real expression of their place,” says Hewett. “They’ve had roots in the soil here for over 30 years. The longer a vine sits in the ground, the more it can express the soil and climate around it. Ours have had the time to develop a maturity that reflects their environment.”
This is evident, especially in their Primo range pinot noir. “We let the wines express themselves,” says Hewett. “I don’t like to push my fruit around. We use very traditional, classical winemaking techniques and we rely on the natural flavours of the fruit to develop the character. We don’t go over the top with new oak.” Hewett says it’s the riesling that really stands out in Waipara. “It’s some of the best in the country,” he says. “The flavour is fun, but distinctive and not like anything else I’ve tried.” Dennis, a cellar door staff member at Waipara Hills, would agree. “Taste is a very individual thing,” he says. “But the rieslings here are crisp, balanced and drinkable. They appeal to all sorts of people who wouldn’t otherwise try aromatics – like sauvignon blanc fans.” Dennis is a natural entertainer, who asks his willing victims to blind taste the wines, tailoring a tasting to your individual preferences. “I like to get people outside of their comfort zone,” he smiles. “People know what they like, but wines are so individual – you can’t take the label at face value here.”
Six Cellars You Can’t Drive Past
With their incredible views, delicious local food and world-class wines, Waipara Valley is definitely the place to pull over.
One of the oldest vineyards in the district, Waipara Springs was planted well over 30 years ago, with the first vintage in 1983. Be prepared to be wowed by a selection of very mature wines and try its delicious on-site restaurant. It also hosts a festival in the summer. waiparasprings.co.nz
The holiday dream of the Chapman family, this former sheep station is a labour of love. The wines at this charming vineyard are second to none. Organically grown and well considered, the syrah is a triumph of the colder climate, and the first albarino will be available in spring. terraceedge.co.nz
Planted in 1993, Black Estate prides itself in its handmade, artisan pinot noir, riesling and chardonnay. As well as the fabulous wines, try lunch in the tasting room with a variety of regional produce on the menu, including Waiau hazelnuts and Akaroa smoked salmon. blackestate.co.nz
This is the only non-family owned vineyard in the area. Step inside the cloister-style winery for a memorable tasting experience with an entertaining and knowledgeable team. Mudhouse is its best known brand, but its premium Equinox label is well worth trying, too. waiparahillswines.co.nz
The limestone, fossil and seashell bedrock here is perfect for pinot noir. The Thomas family produced their first wine in 2008, and their pinot has won several awards. There’s a tasting room, a picnic table and a bike trail through the vineyard, too, so why not make a day of it?
Mt Beautiful vineyard is run by David and Leigh Teece, who established it in 2004. They have 80 hectares of vines including pinot noir, sauvignon blanc and riesling. Surrounding the sustainable vineyard is the Teece family beef and lamb farms with a tasting room in Cheviot.
Where to stay
Visitors to Waipara, just north of Canterbury, will discover a stunning area waiting to be explored. The best days out are spent cycling among the vines on the Waipara Valley Vineyard Trail or being whisked along on the historic Weka Pass Railway. A stroll through Iron Ridge Quarry Sculpture Park will leave visitors in awe of the shining steel artwork of Raymond Herber, who transformed the former limestone quarry into a jaw-dropping exhibition space.
Accommodation options, including quaint B&Bs, are dotted around Waipara and the surrounding region. Booking.com, the global leader in connecting travellers with the widest choice of incredible places to stay, has 19 properties in and around the town.
Karetu Downs Farm Stay offers guests the chance to immerse themselves in traditional farm life, before retiring to the comfort of a private suite. Sheep, cattle, pigs and chickens can all be found in the surrounding fields and guests can watch sheep shearing demonstrations or bottle-feed the lambs.
Woodgrove Homestead (below) offers
a touch of countryside elegance. Guests can enjoy three-course dinners and peruse the accommodation’s shelves of literature. For more information on these properties, search Booking.com for “Karetu Downs Farm Stay” and “Woodgrove Homestead”.
For more information on these properties, search Booking.com for “Karetu Downs Farm Stay” and “Woodgrove Homestead”.