Our New Project Starts in New Zealand’s Waipara Valley
Phase two of our trip around the world has landed us Down Under. Disoriented after a long travel day from Osaka to Singapore to Christchurch, New Zealand, we picked up our home (aka – camper van) for the next five weeks and subsequently crashed to catch up on some much needed sleep given our ambitious schedule ahead. Similar to our time in Cambodia, we have come to New Zealand with noble motives, albeit a little less altruistic.
Announcing Our New Project
In Cambodia, we dedicated our time to volunteering with local NGO’s. In New Zealand, we are dedicating our time to the wine and craft beer business. We haven’t landed new jobs – we’re creating our own.
In the next five weeks, we are undertaking a project to uncover the wine and craft beer scenes in New Zealand and write about them in a comprehensive guide. We’ve found some exciting things happening in both industries and want to share our knowledge with others who either want to stop and taste on a visit to New Zealand or who are looking for insider tips when staring at the New Zealand section of their local wine and beer store. Our focus is on smaller producers who may not be the most well-known overseas.
More to come on the project as we continue through the country, but in the meantime, we’ll capture some of our exploration as usual through the blog. We have also started to share our discoveries in separate beer and wine around the world sections for easy reference.
Waipara Valley & North Canterbury
Our first introduction to wine in New Zealand was one that will be hard to beat. Driving north of Christchurch along Highway 1, we were surrounded by rolling green hills, sheep and cows along with the occasional small town. The vineyards of North Canterbury are just 60 kilometers from the South Island’s most populous city, but their setting amongst the emerald hills and misty clouds seemed fairytale like.
We were tremendously lucky with our visits to the Waipara Valley region. Our appointments were with a winemaker, a viticulturist and a winery manager, all who were gracious with their time, knowledge and tastes. The wines we tasted in this area were beautifully structured and soft – very consistent wines across the board. Even more impressive, many of the vineyards were planted in the late 1990s or early 2000s so the vines are still relatively young and will only get better.
Two of our stops were with exclusive, small producers who are not open for public tastings. Bell Hill Vineyard and Pyramid Valley Vineyards are located near Waikari, which is about 15 kilometers northwest of the major wine region. Sherwyn Veldhuizen, who owns the winery with her husband, Marcel Giesen, took the time to show us the vineyards and their history and how Bell Hill came to be in this area of the country. The answer lies in the terroir, but we won’t divulge all of the secrets in the blog. Suffice it to say the wines are exquisite — we were treated to a newly-barreled tasting of 2013 Chardonnay — and two Pinot Noirs from 2009. If you have the money and wherewithal to find these wines, do it.
Pyramid Valley shares many characteristics with Bell Hill and it’s clear that owners Mike and Claudia Weersing are absolute perfectionists who do everything they can to make the best wine possible, in the most natural way. We were fortunate to taste barrel samples of the 2012 Angel Flower and Earth Smoke Pinot Noirs – both beautifully different in reflecting their terrior. Bay Area readers looking for Pyramid Valley Pinots can find them right now at well-known K&L for what is actually a bargain price of $50, far less than what they sell for in their home country.
Not wanting to shirk the traditional tasting rooms that most people have access to, we stopped by one of the pioneers of the area, Pegasus Bay. Well known for their Riesling, Pegasus Bay is distributed in the U.S., but you’ll need to do some searching to find it. Like many wineries in New Zealand, Pegasus Bay has a restaurant with absolutely gorgeous vineyard views.
Greystone Wines & Muddy Water are poured out of the same small, but inviting tasting room. Great place to taste many of the same varietals side-by-side under the two labels. Jill and I were split on which winery we preferred.
We have a running joke that the New Zealand Gods don’t want us to see how beautiful this country is for fear from our mothers that we would want to move here. So far, the Gods are doing their job and have kept the country hidden under a veil of clouds and rain with one exception during our vineyard tour at Mt. Beautiful Wines. Basking in the warm glow of the sun, we jumped in a pick up truck with vineyard’s viticulturist, Fin, and were carried up and over the hills. One of the prettiest areas we’ve ever been to also produces some of the prettiest wines we’ve tasted. New Zealand is known for Sauvignon Blanc, but the one we tasted at Mt. Beautiful is nothing like the kind you might find at Trader Joe’s. Those in the Chicago area should find it and the Mt. Beautiful Pinot Noir at Binny’s.
Do yourself a favor and pick up some wine from the Waipara/North Canterbury area on your next trip to your wine shop. New Zealand is still a value-priced country so you can find some very reasonable prices for these delicious wines.
If you find yourself in North Canterbury, stop off for a bite to eat and a brew at Brew Moon Cafe. A cozy, inviting space with some incredible looking snacks is also home to the areas hand-crafted beers from a former wine maker.
Our new project is not only a way for us to learn more about wine and beer in New Zealand (okay, and taste it), but to also meet more of the locals who are integral to their success. As we discovered in Cambodia, the most meaningful experiences come from those where we have the chance to meet people who live their reality everyday. We look forward to sharing more of our discoveries over the coming months.