Waipara is a wine-producing area 40 miles (65km) north of Christchurch in the Canterbury region of New Zealand's South Island. This sheltered, hilly valley is home to around 3000 acres (1200ha) of vineyard, growing mostly aromatic varieties and Pinot Noir. Riesling is the most important grape variety in the region, producing honeyed, spicy white wines with excellent minerality.
©Tiki Wines and Vineyards
The region sits on the sheltered, western side of the Teviotdale hills, which run along the east coast of the South Island. Here, vineyards are largely protected from cold winds sweeping in from the Pacific Ocean. Instead, warm, north-westerly winds that originate on the slopes of the Southern Alps provide a warming influence to the vineyards. These foehn winds, along with the low rainfall and warm autumns, mean that the growing season in Waipara is one of the longest in New Zealand; grapes can sometimes remain on the vine until as late as June. This prolonged ripening period lets the berries develop rich flavor complexity while retaining their acidity.
Waipara's variation of terrain is such that vignerons have a good choice of sun exposure and drainage when selecting sites. Vineyards stretch across the valley floor and up onto the lower slopes of the Teviotdale hills. Some viticultural sites can also be found on river terraces throughout the region. The valley floors and river terraces are usually characterized by gravel subsoil on alluvial bedrock, while vineyards on the hills benefit from higher levels of clay and limestone. These free-draining soils are excellent for vine health, and are often seen as the reason for the flinty character in the white wines of Waipara.
Along with Pinot Noir and Riesling, excellent examples of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer are made in Waipara. The long growing season is also conducive to the production of sweet wines, both as late-harvest dessert and richer, botrytized styles.
Commercial winemaking began in Waipara in the early 1990s. Since then, the area of land devoted to viticultural use has remained relatively small, especially when compared with Waipara's northern neighbor, Marlborough. However, the small size of the wine region is not indicative of quality – Waipara wines are found in fine-wine shops around the world, even if the region itself is relatively unknown.