Wairarapa is a compact yet diverse region, a short drive north from Wellington at the southern end of the North Island of New Zealand, around 18.6 miles (30 kms) from the sea. Wairarapa means glistening waters in Maori. Wairarapa’s modern wine history dates from the late 1970s plantings in Martinborough (see sub-regions, below), which included producers such as: Dry River, Martinborough Vineyard (1979), Ata Rangi and Chifney (now Margrain).
Vineyard area & wine production: Wairarapa has just 3% of New Zealand’s land under vine, and contributes to 1% of its total production. | 2016 1,005 hectares (2,482 acres) producing 5,000 tonnes (1% of the New Zealand total) from Pinot Noir (492 hectares or 1,215 acres), Sauvignon Blanc (324 hectares or 800 acres), Pinot Gris (58 hectares or 143 acres), Riesling (30 hectares or 74 acres), Gewurztraminer (3 hectares or 7.4 acres), Viognier (3 hectares or 7.4 acres), and Syrah (10 hectares or24.7 acres).
Wine styles: Wairarapa is known for Pinot Noir (flagship), Sauvignon Blanc and aromatics (Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer), as well as Chardonnay, Syrah (increasingly favoured over trickier Cabernet and Merlot blends) and dessert wines.
Climate: With a semi-maritime climate, the Wairarapa is sheltered by the westerly Tararua Ranges, and exposed to blustery, devigorating winds. The region experiences cool spring and autumn seasons, and very hot summer days with cool nights. This enables a long growing season. Ideal winter/spring rainfall patterns, and long, dry autumns create excellent conditions for late harvest and botrytised wines. 1,915 hours annual sunshine. 979mm annual rainfall.
Soil: Wairarapa soils are predominantly silt loam over free-draining gravels, some of which can be up to 15 metres (49 feet) deep due to rivers criss-crossing the region. With clay loam and limestone featuring in certain vineyards, vignerons work hard to match their varieties with soil profiles. North to south, Masterton’s gravel river beds offer local limestone, Gladstone’s more variable silt loam has clay pockets, whilst the shallower river terraces of Martinborough and nearby Te Muna offer highly sought after planting territory.