The picturesque Nelson wine region is amongst New Zealand’s smallest - located at the top of the South Island, producing some of the country’s most outstanding terroir specific wines from boutique, family owned wineries.
Nelson is a two hour drive from the town of Blenheim in Marlborough, or a short flight from the capital Wellington. The area is a paradise for artisans, foodies and wine lovers alike, with Nelson enjoying a great deal of sunshine, golden beaches, beautiful scenery, fertile soils and snow-capped mountains. Nelson’s sheltered topography gives protection from strong southerly winds; combined with close proximity to the sea - resulting in milder temperatures than other South Island regions, reducing risk of frost, though autumn rains can be an issue.
Each year Nelson is regularly announced as New Zealand’s sunniest region - with good diurnal variation helping emphasise varietal character and the high sunshine hours producing wonderful fruit purity. The region has a long horticultural history, being well renowned for crops and orchards, having being cultivated from the time of the mid 1800's with German settlers an then with Romeo Bragato recording in 1895 on Nelson’s impressive potential for viticulture.
There were experimental attempts with vines from 1918 onwards, with Frank Berrysmith a government viticulturist recording 5 acres of vines in his 1960 survey. Seifried and Neudorf wineries are recognised as the modern founders of Nelson’s winemaking story, establishing vineyards in Moutere Hills in the 1970’s. And more recently another wave of talented international winemakers like Patrick Stowe of Rimu Grove have planted new vineyards and added to the regions reputation of crafting distinctive quality wines.
Regional soils are broadly gravelly silt-loam over a clay base, allowing for good water retention during the growing season. The two main areas vary slightly in their composition: the alluvial flat, silty soils of the alluvial Waimea Plains in the east on the edge of the Richmond Range - generally producing lighter, prettier wines than the gently-rolling Moutere Hills to the west, where the weathered gravels of an ancient river system sit beneath sandy-topped heavy clay-based soils, giving wines depth and richness. Viticulture is also emerging in the Golden Bay area, over the Takaka Hill at the top of the Arthur Range. Excellent Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc and aromatic wines are produced in Nelson, with the area also proud of an impressive mix of new experimental varietals.
As of 2013 the Nelson wine region had 1032 hectares of vines planted in the area: Sauvignon Blanc 476ha, Pinot Noir 193ha, Chardonnay 79ha and Aromatics with 195ha (Pinot Gris - 133ha, Riesling 37ha and Gewürztraminer 25ha). Other experimental varieties include Pinot Meunier which can make an interesting Rosé style wines. In 2013 the Nelson wine area had 38 registered wineries (out of a national total of 698) and over 40 independent grape growers, accounting for 2% of the New Zealand’s wine production in tonnes.
Nelson is a scenic drive across the ranges from Marlborough and while its visual qualities have attracted international recognition and acclaim. Being on off the beaten track ensures a sense of tranquility and relaxation when living or visiting the region.
Nelson has a vibrant artistic and café culture with several wineries offering the benefits of both at their cellar doors. The region’s compact size means visitors can nearly get around most wineries with cellar doors over a long weekend. Many of the charming winery cellars offer the chance to taste wines the way they should be - with fresh local cuisine. The Nelson region and its vineyards concentrate on grape varietals suited to cooler conditions, accounting for most of the varieties grown - justified by praise and recognition for producing small volumes of well-crafted wines with a unique personality.