New Zealand is a leading new-world wine producer.
Renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc, the New Zealand wine industry has grown rapidly in the last 20 years, becoming a $2 billion export earner.
The international wine world continues to be fascinated by New Zealand’s premium, diverse, and sustainable range of wine varieties and styles. With 14 gold medals at the world’s most influential wine competition in London in 2020, New Zealand earned third place worldwide.
The first grapevine in New Zealand was planted at Kerikeri, in the country’s far north, by the missionary Samuel Marsden, in 1819. The earliest winemaker on record was senior British official James Busby, who lived nearby, at Waitangi. In 1840, explorer Jules d’Urville tasted Busby’s product, and wrote the first review of a New Zealand wine:
“I was given a light white wine, very sparkling, and delicious to taste, which I enjoyed very much.”
West Auckland became the centre of New Zealand’s fledgling wine industry in the early 1900s, when enthusiastic winemaking immigrants from Croatia, Lebanon, and England settled on the area’s fertile soils. Many of these pioneering families still live out west, and their names are among the best-known New Zealand wine labels – Villa Maria, Selaks, and Babich.
Today, there are more than 500 winemakers in New Zealand, most of them running boutique operations, and producing small volumes of niche varieties. There are more than 2000 vineyards in New Zealand, with an average area of about 20 ha.
NEW ZEALAND WINE REGIONS
Characterised by a variety of soil structures and micro-climates, New Zealand’s major wine regions extend from Auckland, Gisborne, Wairarapa (Martinborough), and Hawke’s Bay in the North Island, to Marlborough, Canterbury, and Central Otago in the South Island.
No vineyard in New Zealand is more than 120 km from the sea. The two main regions are Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough, which together account for 80% of New Zealand’s wine producing area.
WINE INDUSTRY AT A GLANCE
NEW ZEALAND WINE VARIETIES
The outstanding reputation of New Zealand wine is built upon the country’s mild maritime climate, the dedication and expertise of its wine producers, and the unique nature of its wine styles.
New Zealand has a global cult following for its Sauvignon Blanc – the first wine to put the country on the map. Sauvignon Blanc is the New Zealand wine industry’s most significant variety, at 63% of the total producing area.
New Zealand’s Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Méthode Traditionnelle wines are growing in stature internationally. Pinot Noir was the leading New Zealand red variety in 2020, with 14% of the total producing area.
Varieties suited to a cooler climate, such as Pinot Noir and Riesling, are successfully cultivated in the country’s more southerly regions. Cabernet blends and Syrah thrive in the North Island.
NEW ZEALAND WINE MARKETS
Australia is New Zealand's biggest export market for wine, followed by the UK and the US, while exports to Canada, Germany, and Asia continue to increase.
NEW ZEALAND VINEYARD SALES
In 2018, vineyards in Marlborough with good production were selling at between NZ$125,000 and NZ$300,000 per planted hectare, depending on location.
New Zealand was the first wine industry to set up a nationwide commercial sustainability programme in the late 1990s. More than 20 years later, Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand™ is still widely acknowledged as the yardstick in sustainable wine production, and 96% of New Zealand’s wine producing area is certified by the programme.
Ten per cent of New Zealand wineries were organically certified in 2020, including many internationally celebrated producers. Find out more about New Zealand organic winegrowers.