New Zealand Wine

Small group tour of New Zealand visit Chardonnay producing wineries in Gisborne, the Hawke's Bay region and Napier, famed for its Bordeaux blend reds, and in the quaint village of Martinborough, Wairarapa. Escorted educational tours for mature and senior couples and solo travellers.

5 Dec 20 · 7 mins read

New Zealand Wine – a story for small group tours

By Marco Stojanovik

In just over 40 years modern New Zealand wine has been catapulted to international acclaim, largely due to its famed Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and more recently its bright and pink fruit-driven Pinot Noir. Today the country is recognised for its premium nature and distinct styles, which are produced on around 35,000 hectares of vines across eleven main wine regions. Wineries range from boutique small operations to very large scale in production with a number of very recognisable brands among them.

Odyssey Traveller conducts a tour of New Zealand wine regions as part of our different New Zealand tours. Moving in small groups limited to 15 people we enjoy several wine tasting experiences, focusing on the different regions of grape that we travel through. During our small group tour of New Zealand’s North Island, we visit Chardonnay producing wineries in Gibson, and enjoy late afternoon wine tastings in the Hawke’s Bay region, famed for its Bordeaux blend reds, and in the quaint village of Martinborough, Wairarapa. There is also the chance to visit wineries in Wanaka, Central Otago, as part of our small group walking tour of New Zealand. This article explores New Zealand’s styles and regions to assist your wine tour.

Vineyard in Cromwell, New Zealand. New Zealand distinctive wine growing regions are spread around the country. Blue sky, white clouds and fresh air made this place beautiful and enjoyable.

New Zealand Wine Climate

The key to New Zealand’s success is the country’s climate. An elongated geography in the South Pacific Ocean results in maritime climates with vineyards never more than 120km from the coast – and most in fact far closer that this. Meanwhile the far southern latitude causes cool to moderate climates resulting in wine that is usually more elegant and restrained in character and generally more fruiter than found in Italian wine or other imported wines.

Styles of New Zealand Wine

Still, there is considerable regional variation from north to south from a ‘sub-tropical’ climate in the Northland wine region at the top of the North Island to the world’s most southerly wine growing area of Central Otago. The result is a highly distinctive diverse range of wine varieties and styles across the New Zealand’s eleven wine regions.

The country’s wine blends and single variety wine is made predominately from Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Viognier and Syrah. Rich red wines dominate the northern warmer regions such as Hawke’s Bay, Auckland and further north, where the majority of the country’s Merlot, Syrah (Shiraz), and Cabernet Sauvignon vines lie. Meanwhile, the cooler climate of the southerly regions – the Wairarapa, Marlborough, Canterbury, Waipara and Central Otago – is more conducive to aromatic Pinot Noir, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay.

A strong focus is on the very distinct, gooseberry-herbal characters found in their Sauvignon Blanc, as well as the medium to full bodied Pinot Noir. Sauvignon Blanc is the most widely recognized and widely drunk grape wine in New Zealand, and has been the driving force behind New Zealand wineries’ international fame. It is typically gooseberry, herbal and to an extent tropical fruit-orientated, and ranges in styles from very easy drinking through to more oaky and lees matured Sauvignon Blanc.

For Pinot Noir, a huge diversity in climate and soils enables a wide range of styles from the main producing regions in the south. Typically, though it is elegant and fine, overlaid by power and fruit-driven intensity.

Beautiful mountains of New Zealand covered by blooming yellow gorse (Ulex europaeus) and winery in the front

Top New Zealand Wine Regions

In all there are about 700 wineries throughout New Zealand spread across eleven main growing appellations. Although all offer their own unique style and appeal, particularly distinct and picturesque regions worth a visit include Marlborough, Central Otago, Hawke’s Bay, Gisborne, and Wairarapa. All wine regions are accessible via major cities, including Auckland, Wellington and Queenstown.


Marlborough burst onto the world stage and put New Zealand wine on the map in the 1980s with its fantastic Sauvignon Blanc. Yet, it also offers a huge range of varieties from exquisite Pinot Noir to intense Chardonnay and vivacious aromatics. As one of the more geographically diverse regions in New Zealand, vintners are able to harvest and produce wine that is completely unique in terms of aromatics and flavour. A combination of a cool yet high sunshine climate, low rainfall and free-draining, moderately fertile soil produces uniquely vivid Marlborough wine.

Easily the largest wine region in New Zealand, over 20,000ha of vines are under the care of local wine producers accounting for upwards of 77% of the country’s wine production.

Tucked away in the far North-eastern corner of New Zealand’s South Island, the Marlborough region landscape is also incredibly beautiful. Majestic towering mountains surround the water of the Marlborough sounds, vast valleys of tidy vines stretch in every direction under long white clouds, while 1500km of picturesque coastlines wind around its edges.

Marlborough Wine Crop

Central Otago

Central Otago is quickly becoming one of New Zealand’s premier wine growing regions particularly due to its variety of the ethereal, light red wine that is Pinot Noir. Being the world’s most southerly wine region, its mineral-rich soils and extreme climate – hot, dry summers; cold, snowy winters; and wildly fluctuating overnight temperatures – are key to its success. The Pinot Noir styles produced are typically fragrant, red-fruited, silky and with a compelling savoury edge.

Given its cooler climate the region also produces a range of renowned excellent Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Rieslings and Pinot Gris. All of this takes place against a dramatic landscape of snow-capped mountains, pristine lakes and glistening rivers nestled deep within plunging ravines.

Hawke’s Bay

Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s second largest wine producing region, home to some of the country’s oldest vineyards dating all the back to 1851. Today there are more than 70 wineries scattered across the region’s plains, peaks and valleys. Given the plentiful sunshine and a temperate climate, located centrally on the Eastern shore of New Zealand’s North Island, these wineries produce an excitingly wide range of styles. Lucious Boudreaux-style red blends, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec, and Merlot, are the region’s leading wines, but Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Sauvignon Blanc also thrive.

Hawke’s Bay is home to an outstanding wine tourism culture with a guided wine tour a great way to discover the local gems. A number of the wineries have cellar doors and many boast superb winery restaurants that capitalise on an abundant fresh local produce. While, further adding to the region’s appeal is the city of Napier, a beautiful city entirely rebuilt in Art Deco style after a devastating earthquake in 1931, home to some of the country’s best regional restaurants.

Wine growing in nature at Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand


Heading to the east coast of the North Island, many people may be surprised to discover that the laid-back city of Gisborne is New Zealand’s third biggest wine producer. Most visit for its craggy coastline, white sand beaches and warm weather, and are rewarded with a range of wines, from full-flavoured and fruit-driven to critically acclaimed biodynamic classics.

Large producers, boutique wineries, and entrepreneurial growers are continuously exploring new varieties. At the top of them all is Chardonnay, accounting for more than 50 per cent of the region’s production, known for its aromatic nose and fruit forward-style. Also common is easy-drinking Pinot Gris and Viogniers, as well as lusciously perfumed Gewürztraminers and Rieslings. Combined with idyllic scenery and a dynamic food scene, Gisborne is well worth your visit.


Some of New Zealand’s most celebrated wineries are in the compact yet diverse northern region of Wairarapa producing a mix of complex character-filled wines of exceptional quality. A consistent climate and soil composition lends to beautiful Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and Aromatics, as well as stylish Chardonnay, Syrah and desert wines.

The three main subregions – Masterton, Martinborough, Gladstone – share broadly similar climate and soils yet also offer subtle differences in character for the discerning palate to explore. The hub is the quaint village of Martinborough, packed with over 25 boutique vineyards, most within walking distance of the charming town square. Martinborough is a popular weekend destination for neighbouring Wellingtonians, who enjoy the vineyard cafes, boutique stores, quality accommodation, olive groves and gourmet restaurants serving up seasonal menus.

Winter landscape of Martinborough, one of the biggest wine-making regions in New Zealand

Wine Tasting Tour

Odyssey visits several wine regions as part of our small group tour of New Zealand’s North Island for mature and senior couples or the solo traveller limited to 12 people. From Gisborne through Hawkes Bay and the Wairarapa, grape vines dominate the landscape. We will enjoy several wine tasting experiences, focusing on the different regions of grape that we travel through. The North Island is also home to several beautiful national parks, a rich Maori culture, and attractive cities, all of which we experience on our tour.

There is also the chance to visit wineries in Wanaka, Central Otago, as part of our small group walking tour of New Zealand. Focusing on on the Spectacular scenery of the North Island and the South Island, our walking tour is for up to 10 people. The program will guide travellers through the history, Maori culture, and landscapes of the North Island and South Island of New Zealand with an itinerary that gets well off the beaten track.

Odyssey Traveller has been serving global travellers since 1983 with educational tours of the history, culture, and architecture of our destinations. Odyssey specialises in offering small group tours, partnering with local guides to provide a relaxed and comfortable pace and atmosphere that sets us apart from larger tour groups. Tours are cost inclusive of all entrances, tipping and majority of meals. For more information, click here.

Articles about New Zealand published by Odyssey Traveller:

For all the articles Odyssey Traveller has published for mature aged and senior travellers, click through on this link.

External articles to assist you on your visit to New Zealand:

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