edited by Sue Courtney
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Wellington - Capital country - and the Wairarapa
The Wine Institute of New Zealand names the bottom piece of the North Island as the Wellington region for statistical purposes, however this region emcompasses the important Wairarapa region which lies to the north east of Wellington city, about an hours drive along State Highway 2 over the windy Rimutaka Hills. Within the Wairarapa the main town is Masterton, while the important viticural region of Martinborough is a little to the south. Between Masterton and Martinborough, vineyards are planted along the river terraces to the west of Carterton and Greytowm and near the small farming town of Gladstone.
The Wairarapa district is important in New Zealand's vinous history for it was probably here that the first pinot noir and syrah of some repute were made. The vintner was William Beetham who found his passion for the vine in France, where he also found his wife. Beetham planted his vineyard on his farm near Masterton in 1883. The government viticulturist, Romeo Bragato, noted Beetham's vineyard and wine when he toured the country in 1895, prior to taking up his position. Bragato decided that Wairarapa and nearby Hawkes Bay was great wine country. Dr Neil McCallum, a modern Martinborough pioneer, announced at the Pinot Noir 2001 Conference that he had tasted a 1906 Pinot Noir from Beetham's vineyard 80 years after it was bottled. "It was alive and well", he said.
With the prohibitionists running rife in the Masterton area, Beetham himself did not continue for long after that historic 1906 bottle was made. If only Beetham were alive now to see how the Wairarapa region has developed.
The revival of the area came in the late 1970's. Dr Neil McCallum was one of the pioneers. But if he had had his way, he would have planted vines on the shores of Lake Taupo. Fortunately for McCallum, his friend, adviser and fellow DSIR colleague Derek Milne, persuaded him to plant in the unknown Martinborough on a stony ancient river terrace.
McCallum planted his now famous Dry River vineyard in 1979 on Puruatanga Road. The following year saw planting's by Ata Rangi almost next door, Chifney a little further down the road while closer to the town square the vines of Martinborough Vineyard, in which Milne had a share-holding, went into the ground.
These producers all released their first commercial wines in 1984. Interestingly, Dry River, now regarded as one of New Zealand's finest Pinot Noir producers, did not have pinot noir amongst his original vines. And while Stan Chifney was alive, there was no pinot noir planted there either. It was left to Ata Rangi and Martinborough Vineyards to show the world the quality of pinot noir that could be produced from the dry, cool-climate region.
Some 70 kilometres north of Wellington Central on the west coast is Te Horo, a thriving horticultural region. Alistair Pain of Te Horo Vineyards has been growing grapes in the region since 1975. A more recent newcomer is Monarch Vineyards, with their first harvest in 1999. A few other vineyards are in production, supplying grapes to other producers at this stage
In 2001, there are 41 licensed producers listed by the Wine Institute in the Wellington area. With two in Te Horo and half a dozen in greater Wairarapa, this means about 33 producers are within the confines of Martinborough, although not all are on the famed 'Martinborough Terrace'. Expect to see more expansion as new Martinborough vineyards in the Te Muna Road area come into production.
Wellington Grape Variety tonnages from 2002, 2003 & 2004
In 2002 there was approximately 460 hectares of producing vine area in the Wellington and Wairarapa region. This is expected to increase to almost 600 hectares by 2004 with the major growth variety being pinot noir.
* Figures are rounded and may not add to the total as supplied by New Zealand Winegrowers.
Links to Wellington-based Wineries
Wairarapa Tourism at http://www.wairarapanz.com lists over 30 wineries, their addresses and opening times. Click on the Wine and Food link. There's also a dining out guide - a comprehensive list of the regions restaurants.
Click on the small map images on the afore-mentioned Wairarapa Tourism website to get a printable tour map, or simply click here.
Other Related Links
© Sue Courtney.
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