The Waipara Valley, 50km north of the city of Christchurch on the East coast of New Zealand’s South Island, is home to over 30 wineries and more than 70 vineyards with 1,200 hectares of planting. Despite being the smallest of New Zealand’s winegrowing regions in terms of geographic area, Waipara Valley has seen the biggest growth over the last 10 years. So what makes the Waipara Valley region so popular with winegrowers?
“There is huge potential in the Waipara Valley but it hasn’t been realised yet. I think Waipara Valley is one of the most underrated wine regions in the country.” Dayne, Owner & Managing Director
“Canterbury’s stunning Waipara Valley region is one of the unsung heroes of the wine industry.” Bob Campbell MW, 2004
“What does Waipara mean to me? Potentially the best white aromatics in New Zealand.” Peter, Vineyard Supervisor
“Every area is unique and has its own idiosyncrasies, what makes Waipara Valley unique is it’s the only winegrowing region in New Zealand that is a true valley.” Dayne, Owner & Managing Director
“Geographically Waipara Valley is very different from Christchurch or the rest of Canterbury and that difference happens very quickly. As soon as you’re North of Amberley you’re into something completely different and the valley increases that feeling for me.” Peter, Vineyard Supervisor
“The geography of Waipara Valley is unique, a lot of people don’t see that, they don’t think of it as a valley. When people go to the Waipara Valley they drive through but it’s so wide that people don’t actually see it, but there is a valley and it’s quite dramatic.” Jamie, National Sales Manager
“Whenever we get visitors to the winery I always take them up to the Terraces block to prove that we are in a valley. You can see the whole valley from there from almost one end to the other with the main road running up the middle.” Dayne, Owner & Managing Director
The valley itself offers more than stunning views to those travelling through, it provides near ideal conditions for growing grapes. The wide valley floor is bordered by the Three Deans Range to the West and the Teviotdale Hills to the East. The steep valley sides produce a microclimate within the valley. The ranges to the East rise to just over 500m protecting the valley from the cool easterly winds and make average temperatures three to five degrees warmer than other regions along the coastline. The gently sloping north facing terrain provides a suntrap for ripening grapes.
“Waipara is strategically well-placed to make high quality wine. That shelter [from the Teviotdale Hills] allows harvest a week or two before more exposed vineyard sites south of Waipara.” Bob Campbell MW, 2009, para.13
“In the Waipara Valley the valley itself provides a micro-climate, it’s like an oven in summer. There are multiple sites with multiple soil types and that’s what makes it a special place.” Jamie, National Sales Manager
“I think Waipara Valley’s a great region for growing grapes, I think we’ve got the ideal climate and conditions for the varieties we produce.” Jill, Owner & Financial Director
The Waipara Valley enjoys the highest summer temperatures and lowest rainfall of any New Zealand wine-growing region. This combination of hot summer temperatures, cooler autumnal nights and drying north-westerly winds help produce superb fruit with intense flavour concentration.
“I always think of the Waipara Valley in summer when everything goes brown and it’s really, really hot. During summer I much prefer to be in the Waipara Valley than Christchurch because there can be 10 to 15 degrees difference in temperature day in and day out.” Dayne, Owner & Managing Director
“It’s extremities here, we experience challenging weather conditions during the growing season. Our vineyards are sited on a number of different soil structures; it’s a very interesting landscape. It’s very hard but we always try to reflect these soil and climatic differences in the wines we produce.” Petter, Production Manager & Chief Winemaker
“We have pretty settled, extended autumn conditions for the grapes ripening and that’s why Waipara Valley tends to do very well with aromatics, such as Riesling and Pinot Gris.” Jill, Owner & Financial Director
“While Marlborough’s grape growers point to cool night and hot daytime temperatures as one of the region’s key quality factors, in Waipara the disparity is even greater.” Bob Campbell MW, 2009, para. 10
“Waipara Valley gets warm days and cooler nights in autumn when the grapes are ripening. The cooler nights concentrate the light, delicate aromatic flavours in the grapes and prevents the sugars from getting too high. If we had warm days and warm nights we would get higher sugar, which means higher alcohol. The styles of wine we produce don’t like too much alcohol so we do quite a bit in the winemaking process to keep the alcohol levels down.” Dayne, Owner & Managing Director
â€œFor my money, the region to watch is Waipara [Valley]. It lies about halfway between Marlborough and Otago just North of Christchurch, in rolling hills that have a unique mix of soils.â€? Harvey Steinman, 2009, para. 13
The Waipara Valley has three general sites each with distinct soil types in a relatively small geographic area. These three very distinct soils structures lend different qualities to the grapes producing distinctly varied tasting fruit. It is this variation in soil, and therefore the differences in fruit that give Waipara Valley wines such diversity in their flavour profiles.
“You can go to different places in Waipara, different vineyards and the fruit will be quite different.” Ian, Assistant Winemaker
“Waipara Valley has enormous differences with climate, geography and geology in quite a small area and we’re fortunate at Sherwood Estate that we have six vineyards spread across the valley. That give us huge potential for different flavour profiles to come through in the fruit and all sorts of blending potential, which I believe we do very well. Sherwood Estate has that advantage of spread and variety and I think another concentrated vineyard hasn’t got those options.” Peter, Vineyard Supervisor
“The flavour of the fruit from different vineyards that are only a matter of a few kilometres apart can be totally different. McKenzie’s Road and Church Road vineyards for example, you have Sauvignon Blanc growing on both of those vineyards and even just tasting the fruit off the vine, it tastes totally different.” Wal, Vineyard Foreman
“I think Waipara Valley is developing a bit of a regional flavour profile, but it’s not something than can be identified all the time. It’s quite tricky but pretty exciting.” Peter, Vineyard Supervisor
The Waipara Valley has three main geological areas; the Glasnevin gravels to the South of the valley, the Glenmark glacial clays on the flats and terraces in the central and western areas and the limestonederived clays on the hillsides and valley floor to the east of the valley.
“We’re fortunate at Sherwood Estate that we have a huge amount of variation. We have different sites throughout the Waipara Valley, some are on shingle, some are on clay, some are on limestone and all these different sites produce different tastes and different styles in the wine. The blending potential multiple sites provide is an advantage many other producers don’t have.” Dayne, Owner & Managing Director
The clay based soils of the valley floor and the hillsides along the valley make up the majority of the geological structure of the Waipara Valley. The differences in these clay-based soils are visible to visitors, you can see limestone outcrops on hillsides throughout the valley. These have eroded overtime to produce clays that get higher in concentration the further down the hillsides you go. Even a single vineyard site located on a hillside in the valley can have different fruit characteristics as you traverse down the valley side.
“Waipara Valley has fascinating geology and you can see that as you’re just driving through the valley. There are outcrops of limestone and clear influences of the braided river system. It makes Waipara Valley very interesting.” Petter, Production Manager & Chief Winemaker
“Clay and limestone deposits from the hills form the soil structures on the vineyards that cling to lower slopes or have been established on the plains below. … These moderately infertile, free-draining soils tend to produce lighter, suppler wines.” Bob Campbell MW, 2009, para. 14
“We’ve got a lot of clay and limestone in the soils in Waipara Valley which influences the flavours in our Sauvignon Blanc. We get more of the tropical slightly riper fruit flavours coming through rather than the green grassy notes that are characteristic of other Sauvignon growing areas.” Dayne, Owner & Managing Director
“These [limestone-derived clays] are giving a greater density, weight and savoury character to the producer’s wines, which you don’t find in the fruit grown less than 10km away.” Rebecca Gibb MW, 2013, para. 12
“Define Waipara Sauvignon Blanc? I don’t know if anyone can put a stylistic lock on it for this area. People make it all different styles; it’s much more varied than Sauvignon Blanc from other areas. The flavours tend to be softer hitting.” Ian, Assistant Winemaker
“Waipara Valley Sauvignon Blanc tends to have more tropical fruit flavours and aromatics rather greener, grassy herbaceous flavours. I think it has great drinkability and structure. It’s more food friendly, more like you’d want to have another glass.” Jill, Owner & Financial Director
The Glasnevin gravels in the southern part of the Waipara Valley are loamy, gravelly soils over alluvium subsoil from the Waipara River. These gravels are freedraining and low in nutrient with excellent aeration in the root zone. Crop levels from vines in these soils are often low yield which results in higher flavour concentration in the fruit and in the finished wine. They are best suited to aromatic varieties and Pinot Noir.
“Waipara Valley flies very much under the radar in terms of aromatics, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. Waipara Valley Pinot Noir is very, very good New Zealand Pinot Noir.” Petter, Production Manager & Chief Winemaker
“The Pinot styles from [the Glasnevin] area are lighter in style with juicy, fruit forward appeal, … black and plum-like lifted fruits, a floral note and peppery spice.” Rebecca Gibb MW, 2011, para. 3
The township of Waipara lies roughly in the centre of the valley not far from the junction of State Highway 1 running North, and State Highway 7 heading North West through the mountains. The area is mostly home to agriculture with the wine industry comprising a large proportion of the industry in the area.
“Waipara Valley is a laid-back, comfortable area. The people who live here don’t have too many airs and graces, there’s a great rural community in between the vineyards with a good mix of people. It’s a friendly place.” Dayne, Owner & Managing Director
“The majority of the irrigation in the Waipara Valley is done with sustainable methods. No other winegrowing region in New Zealand can say that. Here all our irrigation is done via dam systems and reservoirs that collect rainwater over winter that is used to irrigate the vines throughout summer. It’s a huge scheme that was put in in the 1970’s for the sheep farmers but in hindsight has worked fantastically for horticulture and vineyards. It really is quite unique in the country.” Dayne, Owner & Managing Director
References Campbell, B, MW. (2004). Air NZ inflight magazine. Retrieved October 14, 2016, from http:// www.nzwine.com/regions/canterbury-waipara-valley/ Campbell, B, MW. (January 23, 2009). Waipara is the new Marlborough. Retrieved October 14, 2016, from http://www.decanter.com/features/waipara-is-the-new- marlborough-246831/ Gibb, R MW. (February 3, 2011). The nitty gritty of Pinot Noir. Retrieved October 14, 2016, from http://rebeccagibb.com/?s=the+nitty+gritty+of+waipara+pinot+noir Gibb, R MW. (January 6, 2013). Waipara Pinot file. Retrieved October 14, 2016, from http:// rebeccagibb.com/waipara_pinot_file/ Steiman, H. (April 23, 2009). New Zealand Pinot Noir. Retrieved October 14, 2016, from http:// www.winespectator.com/blogs/show/id/16125
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