The north and south islands make up this remote country which contains the southernmost vineyards on Earth. Despite the lengthy history, vines were planted in 1819, no strong wine-making tradition existed until relatively recently. According to Hugh Johnson's World Atlas of Wine, "In 1960 the country had less than 1,000 acres of vines." As recently as 1992 the most widely planted variety was muller-thurgau, followed by chardonnay.
Karen MacNeil explains a significant reason for the slow development in her book, The Wine Bible. "New Zealand came under the influence of a relentless temperance movement, which severely handicapped the establishment of any sort of wine culture. For most of the 1800s wineries could not sell wine to consumers; they could only sell to hotels for banquets." The Oxford Companion to Wine reveals another telling fact. "In 1960 restaurants were allowed to sell wine...Supermarkets were granted a license to sell local and imported wine (but not beer or spirits) from 1990."
In addition to this, due to grape growing challenges, including the vine-killing root louse phylloxera, many hybrid grapes were planted resulting in less than impressive wines. A government sponsored uprooting program due to depressed prices and a wine glut paved the way for more classic grapes and positioned the country for meteoric success.
The country presents a fairly united front, through the Wine Institute of New Zealand. They have a board that analyzes and approves all wine produced. They led the charge with screwcaps, I can't even remember the last bottle from New Zealand sealed otherwise.
Just like California, a 75% requirement exists if the wine is labelled as a single variety. Unlike California, most of the wines I have encountered are 100% of what's on the label. Just like Australia, our previous educational focus (Part I Australia), if two grapes are blended, they are listed in order of percentage in the blend. Only 75% of the grapes must come from the region listed on the label, however, I have never seen a wine that low. Or perhaps I've never encountered a winery that admits it.
So, let's get to it...we'll start with the South Island.