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Nov 17, 2017

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by Marie Buscke
Magazine Issue: AUS/NZ Issue Three

Stretches of awesome beaches, diverse scenery, top surf breaks, and of course excellent wineries, you'd expect Gisborne to be a sprawling theme park of wine tourism. But because of its easterly isolation, explains Marie Buscke, Gisborne is actually a hidden wine-touring secret.

From the outside, Gisborne's claim to fame is that it's the world's most easterly city, making it the first city in the world to see the sun each day. And so of course, at the dawning of the new millennium (either 2000 or 2001, depending on which belief you prescribe to) the world's eyes focused on Gisborne.

It's also the first landing point of Captain James Cook on his travels to New Zealand. That, however, went pear-shaped after a shonky landing and tete-a-tete with the locals, forcing Cook to pack up ship and head north-west to what is now the Bay of Plenty, dubbing the bay in which Gisborne lies as Poverty Bay.

Now New Zealand's third-largest wine growing region after Marlborough and Hawkes Bay, Gisborne's wine-growing past has been a wide and varied one. The first commercial vines were planted way back in 1921 by Fredrick Whonseidler, whose name is still present on a cheap and cheerful chateau cardboard produced by the largest Gisborne producer Montana. Now with the recent merger of Montana and Corban's, the two large Gisborne wineries have become New Zealand's largest facility ... Loads of gleaming stainless steel, massive cooperages and some of New Zealand's best benchmark chardonnays, such as Montana Estate's O* and Corban's Private Bin Gisborne Chardonnay.

A tank factory like this is great for boosting the region's reputation, especially that of the local grape growers, but it's the boutique wineries that are needed to crank up the romance factor.

Cruising around Gisborne, you're not gonna pass barrages of European cars making the Sunday pilgrimage to the region's cellar doors. You'll find a mix of proud locals hauling in friends and family to their favourite haunts, turning on the down-to-earth honesty that gives Gisborne boutique wineries their edge.

A mandatory stop over on your Gisborne trail is to James and Annie Millton's namesake vineyard. They have been producing wine from their The Millton Vineyard and winery in Manutuke (10 minutes out of the city) since 1984. The winery and Opou vineyard is sited on the Te Arai river which local Maori say is inhabited by a taniwha (Maori mythical river monster), so with a healthy respect for local culture and a determination to produce wine organically, the Millton's set about their task. Not surprisingly, some of the local growers thought "the cheese had slipped off their cracker". The Milltons grow their wine organically and biodynamically, not to be trendy but because as James says "the best wine comes from the best grapes", common sense really.

A new producer making waves on the scene is Amor-Bendall. With their winery sited right on the Wainui beach front, Noel Amor and his partner Alison Bendall know their location is stunning. Founded in 1998 and producing their first vintage in 1999, Noel and Alison have found plenty of local favour, and now with a gold medal for their 2000 chardonnay, industry grommets Amor-Bendall are set to "go off" with a very sunny future in sight.

Although Gisborne is New Zealand's self-professed chardonnay capital, it also produces great wines from other varietals. Most white varieties do exceptionally well in Gisborne soils; chardonnay, gewurztraminer, riesling, semillon, chenin blanc and viognier. For those red wine fanatics, you'll find New Zealand's best malbec, some great merlot and Burgundian-style pinot noirs.

Gisborne's also pumping with a vibrant cafe scene revolving around the busy centre at the local port. This also includes "The Works", which houses the cellar door for Thorpe Brothers Wines and Tiritiri vineyard. Here you can have a tasting at the specially designed cellar room, purchase gourmet foods or enjoy a meal or a quick coffee. The Wharf Cafe pumps day and night with great food, wine and a mean after work cocktail. Top it off with a gourmet burger at the neighbouring Oasis Cafe as you wobble across one of the many brightly-lit bridges that arc over the city centre.

A good time to visit Gisborne is in the third week of October which is flanked by the kitsch agricultural and pastoral show one weekend and The Wine Lovers Wine and Food festival the following long weekend. Visitors make the pilgrimage around a variety of cellar door's and smaller producers, going all out with live bands, plenty of wine, food and vibrancy. Many local bars turn it on with hot bands and DJs to charge the festival revellers into the wee small hours.

Gisborne is a region hidden with many treasures and will pat on the back those adventurers who make the trip. But then with friendly locals, beautiful beaches and spanking chardonnay, why wouldn't you?

Wines To Watch Out For

Montana O* Gisborne Chardonnay
Corban's Private Bin Chardonnay
The Millton Vineyard Clos de St Anne Gisborne Chardonnay
Amor-Bendall 2000 Chardonnay
TW Gisborne Chardonnay
The Revington Vineyard Gewurztraminer
Livingstone Estate Ormond Chardonnay

Getting There

Gisborne lies 550 kilometres north east of Wellington (about an eight hour drive) and 504 kilometres south east of Auckland (about a seven hour drive). You can catch a coach from both Auckland and Wellington which will take you around nine hours. Check out for further details. Several flights a day depart both Wellington and Auckland for Gisborne.

For further info, go to:

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