Nelson New Zealand Map
Auckland’s varietal mix.
Auckland now grows the most eclectic range of grape varieties of any region in New Zealand. In 2010 it had twelve varieties, each with more than 10 hectares planted. The top ten of these are all classical winemaking varieties, but the eleventh wine on the list, Palomino, reminds us of West Auckland’s chequered past when it was making mainly fortified wines and this sherry grape was one of the stalwarts. Buried.
These were last recorded in 1990, although Seibel 5455 was again listed as having a single hectare in production in 2010.
Chardonnay, with 121 hectares planted in 2010, is now the dominant variety, making up 22 per cent of the region’s vineyard.
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The varieties grouped together as the ‘Bordeaux blends – Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Malbec – total 205 hectares and are now 38 per cent of Auckland’s vineyard. More than 20 hectares each of Syrah, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were also listed in Auckland’s total area in vines of 550 hectares. When viewed in this way, Auckland’s vineyard exposes its interesting story. Chardonnay and the Bordeaux varieties comprise 60 per cent of the Auckland vineyard and 89 per cent of it is now planted in classical varieties.
In all other metropolitan wine regions of New Zealand just five varieties make up over 90 per cent of their vineyard, whereas Auckland requires twelve to reach this threshold. Part of the explanation is the prevalence of the Bordeaux varieties in Auckland. They have been taken seriously here for a long time and in parts of the region such as on Waiheke Island and in Oratia old vines of these varieties are treasured. Viticulture in the Auckland region now benefits from being organised in a much more artisanal fashion than in some of the recently developed, larger regions of New Zealand. Auckland wine enterprises are prepared to grow small areas of Pinot Noir or Sauvignon Blanc despite the natural environment of the region not being optimal for them. Even 3 hectares each of Riesling and Semillon are recorded in Auckland’s diverse heritage vineyard.
While in the 1970s and 1980s members of the North Island wine industry were questioning whether grapes would ripen in the South Island and prosper on its gravelly soils, the boot is now on the other foot. Some South Island growers question whether the Auckland climate has sufficient winter chill and diurnal ranges of temperature in the late summer ripening period for varieties of Vitis vinifera to prosper. However, the climatic data shows that many Northland and Auckland sites get their share of cool night temperatures in autumn and frosts in winter. Even more powerful evidence comes from the quality of the wines produced from local grapes by local enterprises. No example is more convincing than that of Kumeu River Wines located on the southern edge of the small town of Kumeu in West Auckland. The success of the Brajkovich family business amply demonstrates the importance of learning the nuances of the local environments in creating successful wine enterprises through hands-on experience.