Introduction to Northland

Northland Feature Week

New Zealand’s first recorded vineyard was planted at Kerikeri in the Bay of Islands by Samuel Marsden in 1819. Marsden wrote:

“We had a small plot of land cleared and broken up in which I planted about a hundred grapevines of different kinds brought from Port Jackson [Sydney].”

James Busby, a Scot, was New Zealand’s first recorded winemaker. In 1832 the French explorer, Dumont d’Urville, visited Busby and subsequently wrote that he had seen flourishing grapevines on a trellis and drank a light, white, sparkling wine that he enjoyed very much.

One of the region’s greatest assets is the sheer beauty that the lengthy coastline offers. Many wineries offer accommodation which provides a useful second income stream.

Northland’s, and indeed New Zealand’s, first commercial winery was founded by Englishman, Charles Levet, in 1863 when he planted a 2.8 ha vineyard on an inlet of the Kaipara Harbour.

Temperance, the enemy of wine, gained strength in Northland when, in 1836, the New Zealand Temperance Society was founded at a meeting held in Kororareka (Russell). Ironically, the meeting was chaired by James Busby.

Northland is one of New Zealand’s largest wine regions and has the smallest vineyard area with just 76 ha of land under productive vines (2005 figures). Chardonnay is the most planted grape variety with 20.4 ha while syrah is in second place with 14 ha followed by pinot gris (11.5 ha) and merlot (5 ha). The region has 29 different species of grapevines. Small-scale winemaking allows producers to take more manageable risks.

One of the region’s greatest assets is the sheer beauty that the lengthy coastline offers. Many wineries offer accommodation which provides a useful second income stream.

Nicknamed “the winterless north”, Northland is one of the country’s warmest regions. The almost sub-tropical climate can also bring less- welcome rain during the ripening season but this can be managed by using fungicides and choosing to grow disease-resistant varieties such as chambourcin which was bred with that in mind.

There are many good reasons to visit Northland, not the least of which is the opportunity to buy Northland wines that may be otherwise hard to find. It also provides the chance to try before you buy from one of the 17 cellar doors, many of which depend on direct sales to provide both income and feedback.


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