I only had one full day in the wine region known as Waipara outside Christchurch on New Zealand’s south island, but it was enough for me to believe the considerable hype this regions has been generating among lovers of Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay. The kiwis may pronounce it strangely (like this: “wiper-uh,” with the emphasis on “wipe”), but the wines can be amazingly good. It gets fairly warm during the summer days, but never too hot and it cools down rapidly in the evenings and at night. Furthermore, it’s one of the few places in NZ where you see a lot of hillside plantings, which is good for making serious wines. But best of all is the soils: some are rocky with a bit of clay mixed in and some have a bit of limestone (the holy grail for Chardonnay and Pinot producers) mixed in. And one site has practically nothing but limestone. It’s just outside of the small Waipara region in a place called Waikiri—and it’s one of the most exciting and inspiring vineyards I’ve seen. For one thing, it’s pioneering, there’s almost nothing of its kind in NZ. And in the world, I’ve only seen soil as chalky in Champagne. Of course such a lime-rich soil creates its own chemical problems for the vines, and here the yields have been extremely low. But the Chardonnay and Pinot from here is called Bell Hill and is rare, delicious, and very worth seeking out. I know Raj Parr has some on the list at Michael Mina.
Another amazing winery from Waipara proper is called Pegasus Bay. Winemaker Lynetter Hudson is not working with such heavy limestone soils, but she is turning out remarkable Pinot Noir, Riesling and Chardonnay. Seek it out whenever you can, particularly if you like complex Burgundian styled wines and rich, juicy, delicious Riesling.