Get to Know the North Canterbury Wine Region

The rolling hills of North Canterbury during sunset.

The North Canterbury wine region is a hidden gem for wine, food and relaxing accommodation — the perfect recipe for a long weekend. Surrounded by the Southern Alps, close to the sea and with fertile soil for a variety of growing opportunities, this close-to-Christchurch destination is a must-stay. Discover some of North Canterbury’s finest vineyards, ready and waiting for you to explore.

Words by: Ashlyn Oswalt

Photos by: Nancy Zhou

With four different sub-regions, there is so much to see. Each sub-region is distinct, composed of unique soil and weather patterns, and has interesting points to stop and linger along the way.

The Waipara-Glasnevin region lies on the Waipara Valley floor, near the Waipara River. The first vineyards were planted here in the 1980s, and the soil produces low yields of highly-concentrated, flavourful grapes. The Waipara-Omihi sub-region sits on 100-200 metre high hills north of the Valley.  The first vineyard was planted in 1986 and produced textural, interesting wines. 

A bit further north and inland from the Waipara Valley is Waikari. Sitting 250-300 metres above sea level, this is where pure limestone-derived soils can be found. Winemakers searching for new flavours planted the first grapes in the area in the late 1990s. 

Finally, the fourth subregion is well known as the Banks Peninsula and Canterbury Plains, and is home to the oldest plantings of Pinot Noir in New Zealand. This sub-region encompasses Lincoln University, which has a robust and renowned Viticulture and Oenology programme. The stony soils of the Plains and volcanic soils of the Banks Peninsula give the wines unique flavour profiles.

Food Production

North Canterbury is a breadbasket for New Zealand’s food production.

The North Canterbury region was discovered by some of the first Māori ancestors who quickly realised the land was fertile and abundant.

Close to the sea, but providing shelter from some of the West Coast’s treacherous weather patterns, North Canterbury suited a hunter and gatherer lifestyle, and later became a breadbasket for New Zealand’s food production. The region hosts over 90 vineyards, plenty of sheep and cattle farms, abundant rivers and coastlines, truffieres and more. 

Food production is rich in Waipara culture and heritage. The Food Farm in Waipara runs with this notion. Offering food workshops to teach others sustainable methods for growing their own food, the owners preach organic permaculture methods for thriving gardens and self-sustainable living. Kings Truffles takes sustainable living a step further, foraging for truffles in their specially grown truffiere — effectively a truffle orchard. Celebrating the hidden bounties, Kings Truffles sell their finds to professional and home chefs alike, even offering truffle hunt experiences for those who’d like to try their hand at seeking out delicious treasures. 

Wines of North Canterbury

North Canterbury is brimming with vineyards big and small.

New Zealand is known for award-winning wine, spread across the North and South Islands. However, only recently has North Canterbury started to receive the credit it's due. The unique soils in the four distinct subregions allow for a wide variety of reds, whites and blends, giving tasters an abundant terroir education.  

The cellar door experience is hard to beat in North Canterbury. With stunning vineyard views framed by the Southern Alps and genuine hospitality, tasters are in for a treat. To make a day of it, try the Waipara Valley Vineyard Trail, a 14.5km bike ride that moseys around some fine wineries like Greystone, Waipara Springs and Black Estate. Or, head into the South Bank area along Georges Road, and enjoy Terrace Edge, Georges Road and the Boneline. Don’t miss the final stop at the Iron Ridge Quarry — a unique chance to see sculpturist Raymond Herber’s steel and stainless steel creations in his sculpture park. Whether you love art or just want to wander around the hills, it’s worth a stop. If you’re in the Port Hills, be sure to stop by Tussock Hills Winery — their new cellar door is slated to open soon and promises a true treat! 

If natural wine is what you’re after, then North Canterbury is the place for you. With a culture steeped in respecting the land and working organically, winemakers are taking a more holistic and considered approach in the vineyard and winery. Offering drops grown in harmony with the land and with minimal intervention in the winery, we reckon these natural wines taste more honest. Hermit Ram is a small vineyard in the Waipara Gorge that takes wine lovers on a true taste journey. Silver Wing Wines is also produced in Waipara, offering natural wines with no additives and wild fermentation, making robust and beautiful wines out of their uncertified organic winery. Finally, Bryterlater Wines offer exciting natural wines full of texture and vibrancy. Their range of sparkling wines is absolutely delicious. You can find a solid selection of these and more at Vino Fino.

Stay Awhile

Make a long weekend of it in North Canterbury.

Sure, you can do a day trip exploration to the North Canterbury hotspots straight from Christchurch, but why not make a long weekend out of it?

With plenty of great accommodation options, you’ll be in the heart of the action and ready to explore more. Kumiko’s offers a respite in the North Canterbury wine region, with off-grid cabins or luxurious guest house rooms.

If you prefer to wander back to your bed after a long day at the vineyard, you’re in luck! Black Estate’s B&B in its architecturally built accommodation has stunning vineyard views, premium linen and a complimentary breakfast. Georges Road provides a relaxing pod on-site, featuring a wood-fired hot tub, complimentary bikes and the option to pre-order a dinner package.

Finally, you can also stay in the Greystone PurePod, with uninterrupted views of the Canterbury hills, the Greystone winery and stars at night. We told you you’d want to make a weekend of it. 

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