A wine-lover’s road trip: 10 fantastic wineries to visit in New Zealand

By Cameron Douglas

A wine-lover’s road trip: 10 fantastic wineries to visit in New Zealand
Rediscover New Zealand’s wine cred with a visit to some of the country’s top cellar doors.

Where to even start with the best wineries in New Zealand? From the beautiful beaches of Northland to the majestic Central Otago, New Zealand really does have some impressive vineyard landscapes, wineries and tasting rooms to explore.

First impressions really do mean something and a cellar door experience should be more than just the opportunity to taste wine. Everything from your arrival and how you are greeted to the food offering and overall hospitality experience must be part of the package. If your plans to rediscover our beautiful Aotearoa include cellar doors, remember these businesses can arrange to have your wine sent direct to your home.

A small tasting charge has become a necessary part of the cost of doing business for cellar doors. Fortunately, these charges are usually redeemable with a wine purchase.

The best wineries in New Zealand from north to south

Northland

Small but mighty, Northland has some fine wine producers and fun cellar-door experiences. Established in 1990, Omata Estate lies on the Kororareka Peninsula in the Bay of Islands near Russell township. It is planted with varieties that suit the region and local soil profile as well – think: chardonnay and syrah, late-harvest viognier and rosé.

Be sure to try the sparkling wine, it is a treat and usually sells out quite quickly. Staying for lunch? The food menu is excellent and comes with beautiful views. For something light, platters and cheese boards are available. If you’re keen to get off the grid, luxe glamping is also on site.

Auckland

Stretching from Matakana to Clevedon and across the water to Waiheke Island, the Auckland region is a wine production hub. The landscape is mostly clay, sandstone and volcanic – very favourable for wine – and you can find excellent pinot gris and world-class chardonnay, plus cabernet and syrah in the south and on Waiheke Island.

Positioned on the water, Man O’ War, delivers a premium cellar-door experience. Public spaces take full advantage of the locale and the combination of sea air and delicious wines and food makes for a great afternoon. Try the Gravestone Sauvignon Blanc Semillon, Pinque Rosé and Dreadnought Syrah.

Wairarapa

Part of Wellington province, Wairarapa is the southernmost wine region of the North Island. The region has a long history of farming and today is a mix of beef and cattle pasture, seafood, fruit and vegetable growing, and – of course – wine. The clay loams, gravels and limestone mean it is well suited to growing fine pinot noir, syrah and riesling.

Many great wine producers create some of New Zealand’s best-known brands here and no visit to the region is complete without stopping in at Le Grá in Masterton. Meaning ‘with love’, Le Grá is a family-owned business that is living up to its name.

In particular, the estate’s rosé bubbles, a spritz-style sparkling wine made with pinot noir, is fantastic. It’s called Briomhar, which means vigorous, and that’s exactly what you get from each moreish mouthful. Be sure to taste the full range while there, but especially the pinot noir, an award-winning drop with a intense and persistent finish, and the beautifully balanced pinot gris.

Gisborne

It might be tricky to get to, but once you find yourself in Gisborne, you’ll be pleased you made the journey. The best place in Aotearoa to see the sunrise, Gisborne’s undulating hillsides with clay and silty loam soils underpin its fuller-bodied white wine styles. Sparkling wine is another of the region’s hallmarks, with syrah and merlot gems to be discovered as well.

Of course, there are quite a few producers in the region to recommend. One you should add to your list is Matawhero, owned and run by husband-and- wife team, Kirsten and Richard Searle, who purchased the property in 2008 from one of the region’s wine pioneers, Denis Irwin. Today, the pair showcase the best of the region, producing single-vineyard, dry-farmed pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, merlot and gewürztraminer. Food and cabin accommodation are also available.

Hawke’s Bay

Hawke’s Bay is a region with a powerful wine story – a story that can be told through its many cellar-door experiences. An easy 20-minute drive from Napier, Abbey Cellars in Hastings is an estate to put on the hit list. Both the name ‘Abbey Cellars’ and the cellar-door design were inspired by the owners’ interest in churches, cathedrals and abbeys, developed over many years of travel.

The architecturally designed building is a modern interpretation of a Gothic abbey, with the grand proportions, beautiful cathedral windows and exposed beams among the structural highlights. And while they may not be turning water into wine, the Abbey team is certainly producing some delicious vino.

Be sure to taste the Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, Gabriel Late Harvest Dessert wine, and the Flirt Methode Traditionelle Brut NV. There are some great red wines too, but if beer is more your thing then do try the Abbey Brewery Hop Farm IPA. That’s right, Abbey Cellars is a brewery as well. And with this unique offering of wine and beer, plus delicious food, the sights and smells are sure to keep the senses engaged.

Nelson

Tucked into the nape of Tasman Bay on the South Island, Nelson is a vibrant region boasting stunning natural landscapes and some of the best wineries in New Zealand. The sunny, maritime climate gives rise to some fantastic sauvignon blanc and chardonnay, as well as pinot noir. Kina Cliffs is one of my favourite spots – a really fun and interesting cellar-door experience.

Located on a small 4.5-hectare coastal block, with elevated, north-facing views over Tasman Bay, its position can hardly get any better. Unless, of course, you build a large deck overlooking that very view, as well as the rolling vineyards and Mount Arthur, which is just what the clever team behind Kina Cliffs has done.

That clever team is led by Julie and Alistair Ashcroft. This is a perfect spot to learn the story that links soil, climate and grape to glass, a story best told while tasting the Kina Cliffs range. The wines for tasting are bespoke, and reflect and embrace the terroir. My favourites include the Kina Cliffs Sauvignon Blanc and Reserve Pinot Noir.

While you’re in Nelson, be sure to explore the township and surrounds, where you’ll find wonderful art, incredible local cheese and hand-crafted glass masterpieces.

Marlborough

As New Zealand’s largest winegrowing region, Marlborough hardly needs an introduction. At the northeastern tip of the South Island, the region is world-renowned for its sauvignon blanc, which remains the cornerstone variety today. Yet, there’s more to this alluring destination than its famously aromatic sauv blanc.

Methode traditionnelle, riesling, pinots noir and gris, chardonnay and syrah also demonstrate the region’s proclivity for fine wine, and the local cellar-door offering will help you discover these great varieties. Clos Henri is one such cellar door. The converted church, nestled below a stand of pine tress at the foothills of Marlborough’s Wairau Valley, is pretty as a picture and delivers a cellar-door experience to match the charming scene.

The Clos Henri team employs both French and new-world winegrowing techniques, an effort to capture both the local Marlborough character as well as the label’s deep French roots. The result is a catalogue of fantastic wines, including pinot noir and sauvignon blanc across three ranges, that should not to be missed on any wine journey through Marlborough. Be sure to try their methode traditionnelle as well.

Canterbury

While there is plenty to see and do in Christchurch, from beautiful green spaces and vibrant culture to the thriving dining scene, the real adventure in Canterbury is in wine. To get amongst it, you need to be heading north through Amberley and the Waipara Valley.

The North Canterbury region is home to more than 90 vineyards and most of them are independently owned. On the south bank of the Waipara River, Terrace Edge Vineyard and Olive Grove is one cellar door to add to the list. The vineyard, which was once an old sheep farm, is organically farmed and produces some outstanding wines ripe for the tasting.

Learning how an organic farm works, as told through the wines and elaborated upon by the knowledgeable staff, is part of the experience, but the real adventure is to be enjoyed through the wine and food pairing.

One wine in particular that lives on in my memory is the St Laurent, which carries some of the finesse and elegance of pinot noir, but with more power and vibrato on the palate. The Terrace Edge Pinot Noir is very good as well – in fact, outstanding – but do try the riesling and albariño to complete the picture.

North Otago

Kiwis are an adventurous lot. We enjoy exploring our own back yard as much as we love to travel internationally. Yet there is one Aotearoa wine region that is sometimes overlooked by visitors to the South Island, and that’s North Otago.

Although there is just a handful of producers to discover, the quality of wine grown here is nothing short of fantastic. The Ostler Wines cellar door is located off site at The Vintner’s Drop, a quaint shopfront in the township of Kurow.

Here, it is not unusual to find Ostler CEO Jim Jerram, who is always kind enough to walk you through the wines and other points of interest. The riesling, pinot gris and pinot noir are my favourites.

Central Otago

Central Otago is arguably one of New Zealand’s most dramatic and exciting wine regions. From the wild thyme that blankets the ground with a purple haze to the giant shards of schist punching through valley floors, the unforgettable landscapes play an important role in local wine production.

One of the best ways to understand Central Otago wines, and how they are shaped by the land, is to find a cellar-door experience that combines a sense of place with storytelling … all while tasting through a range of interesting and unique wines, of course. Opening just in time for summer, the Rockburn Stables tasting room is located in the heart of Gibbston.

It is a rustic and welcoming setting, offering award-winning wines as well as dishes designed to match. Rockburn’s key vineyard site is in the Cromwell Basin, a highly regarded sub-region of Central Otago. It sits at more than 200 metres elevation, which gives Rockburn its trademark precision of acidity and core of fruit.

I don’t think I have ever had a Rockburn wine I didn’t like. The quality is excellent, and the riesling and fumé blanc, in particular, are two must-try varieties. The pinot noir, pinot gris and Stolen Kiss Rosé are also delicious.

Looking for more winery guides? Discover the best wineries, restaurants and stays in Hawke’s Bay. 

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