From north to south.
At one time most of the country's wine producers were based in the suburbs of its largest city, particularly in Henderson. Today vine growing is focused on cooler areas but some of the bigger producers such as Brancott Estate still have their headquarters in Auckland and bottle their wines here. The family operation Kumeu River continues to pursue French-inspired techniques with grapes ripened in the Auckland suburb of Kumeu, producing especially fine single-vineyard Chardonnays. A short ferry ride from the city, Waiheke Island is drier than the mainland and is a focus for the 'boutique' or 'lifestyle' winery phenomenon, with Stonyridge's Cabernets a benchmark for Bordeaux-style blends.
Waikato/Bay of Plenty
Between Auckland and Gisborne this dual-named region houses several successful wineries, of which Morton Estate is the best known.
The North Island's self-styled Chardonnay garden was ravaged by phylloxera in the late 1980s but is now on course to provide creamy, rather tropical fruit-flavoured grapes, mainly as raw material for the larger producers. It has also produced the country's best Gewurztraminer (notably from the Gewurz specialist Nick Nobilo at Vinoptima), which can be very good indeed in some years, as well as intense Semillon and Chenin Blanc. The estate bottler of most note is Millton Estate, which preached the gospel of biodynamism years before Burgundy's top producers had even heard of it.
South of Gisborne on the east coast of the North Island, Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand's most varied wine region. Parts of it are quite warm and well drained enough to produce fine Cabernet and Merlot, particularly in the area known as Gimblett Gravels just north of Hastings, but also in the limestone hills of Havelock North, where John Buck established a reputation for the region’s red wines at Te Mata estate. His Bullnose Syrah was one of the first to show the potential for this variety, now being enthusiastically planted on some of Hawke’s Bay’s poorest soils. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are also produced here, with the former having overtaken Merlot as the most widely planted variety in an area that is probably New Zealand's most interesting for barrel salesmen.
Some favourite producers: Alpha Domus, Craggy Range, Kim Crawford, Esk Valley, Ngatarawa, C J Pask, Stonecroft, Te Awa, Te Mata, Trinity Hill, Unison, Vidal.
This region in the south east of the North Island is known as Wairarapa or Martinborough, although officially the latter is a subregion of the former. Temperatures are lower and autumns reliably drier than in other North Island regions and it produces some stunning Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Pinot Gris is also doing particularly well. Unlike most other regions, wines tend to be made by those who grow the grapes here.
Some favourite producers: Ata Rangi, Dry River, Escarpment Vineyard, Martinborough Vineyard, Palliser.