A vineyard near Waipara, in North Canterbury, New Zealand. Photo / 123rf
Marlborough may have sauvignon blanc. Central Otago may have pinot noir.
But North Canterbury has top quality variety to dazzle your taste buds and keep them guessing. Oodles and oodles of it.
As you bounce between vineyards you might be offered a syrah, a pinot noir, a riesling, or novel varieties like a Saint Laurent.
The reasons are two-fold.
A unique landscape with soil profiles that change within just a few kilometres. And that landscape being dotted with vineyards that are truly independent, family-run affairs, willing to experiment with new flavours and techniques.
As we bounce down a gravel road to one of them, we miss the entrance on our first pass. On the second try, we spot it – George’s Road Wines, a discreet sign into their eight hectares of vines.
Their specialities include pinot gris, syrah, and rosé, all of which are delightful. But some of the truly special moments come when you get a peek behind the scenes.
Kirk Bray from George’s Road Wines, with some fermenting Pinot gris. Photo / Ben Reed
The fermentation vats, usually tracked with a combination of numbers and letters, here have names; “Mum”, “Dad”, “Jo3” (a son), and “Oscar” (the cat).
It’s a peaceful family atmosphere that the big outfits couldn’t imitate if they tried.
For those who want to keep the peace and tranquillity going just a bit longer, George’s Road has the Wine pod onsite.
After the staff have left for the day you can stay behind in the tiny house, complete with a deck with views of the vines and rolling hills, or a hot tub from which to stargaze.
The view from the Winepod hot tub. Photo / Ben Reed
Just down the road is Boneline, another family affair that packs a unique flavour punch.
They offer the blend “Iridium”, a truly special drop for a wine enthusiast who craves a new experience. The cabernet franc blend is deep and rich – the scent alone is worth turning into a candle.
What these smaller operators have learned is they can’t compete with the wine giants offering plonk for $10 in the supermarket.
What they offer instead is a unique flavour profile, cultivated over the years under the guidance of a family-owned business, designed to win over the customers who want to try something they haven’t experienced before.
On that, Iridium is a big success.
Iridium from Boneline is one of the unique offerings of the area. Photo / Ben Reed
And while plenty of wineries offer the chance to tour the property and vats, Boneline lets you truly get under the skin of the grapes.
You can walk around their property to see the different blocks and varieties of vines planted on each one.
Information signs tell you how the different heights, soil types, and temperatures influence which grapes they’ve planted in each spot, and the wines they’ll become.
When you come back to the tasting room, you might be lucky enough to get the company of one of the family dogs.
Just a stone’s throw away is Greystone, where once again the wine-making philosophy takes a sharp turn to try something new.
Their restaurant features seasonal and foraged foods, perfect for enjoying alongside their wines.
Greystone Wines experiments with many new ways of making wine, including their not-to-be-missed Vineyard Ferment. Photo / Ben Reed
When it comes to the wines, the star of the show has to be their Vineyard Ferment Pinot Noir.
Yeasts are key to the winemaking process, and constantly float through the air around us. That means they have a big impact on the flavour profile of the wine, yet are difficult to control.
So when Greystone’s head winemaker told the owners he wanted to try a different location for fermenting, in order to control these yeasts, he was given the green light before he had even worked out what he was going to do.
He decided he wanted to ferment some of the pinot noir at the same spot it was picked, amongst the vines where it had grown, so there was no chance of being influenced by other grapes back at the winery.
Dining at Greystone, Waipara Valley. Photo / Supplied
The grapes are harvested, destemmed, and fermented all on the same block where they were grown.
It’s a careful labour of love that produces a truly unique and smooth glass of wine, one that’s only possible after years of experimenting and tweaking the process.
Just when you think you need a break from all the wine tasting, and to maybe lie down on the grass to stop your head spinning, you happen upon Iron Ridge Quarry.
Nestled among the vineyards, this former quarry is now transformed into a sculpture park that’s just as whimsical and unique as the local wines.
Raymond Herber and his prized steel horse sculpture. Photo / Ben Reed
Owner and sculptor Raymond Herber has transformed the area with stainless steel sculptures inspired by the windswept trees, as well as kinetic sculptures two or three times the height of a person, that shift gently with the wind.
Herber takes metal that was discarded and turns it into something new and beautiful, from a small fantail posed mid-flit that’s perfect for the urban garden, to a powerful muscled horse that dominates the landscape, and that he refuses to sell.
He offers forging demonstrations, or simply a peaceful moment to soak in the tranquillity and digest the wine.
Raymond Herber with a kinetic sculpture that dominates the former quarry. Photo / Ben Reed
A small operator, just like the local vineyards, he pitched in with two of the neighbouring wineries to buy a sign together, pointing curious tourists off the main road and towards their businesses.
It’s a community that works together, trusts each other, and takes the time to craft something that they’re truly proud of.
The results show in an experience that’s different from one moment to the next, and yet always true to the North Canterbury roots.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newfinder.co.nz and newzealand.com