A new group formed in Gisborne last week called the Gisborne Classic Chardonnay producers. There are seven members and their goal is to promote the wine that far exceeds all others in their region – you guessed it… Chardonnay.

Gisborne is, according to these winemakers and a large road sign in the region, ‘the Chardonnay Capital of New Zealand’. In numerical terms, this is certainly true because it is the only region where Chardonnay is the leading grape planted in the vineyards. It is also the first city in the world to see the sun each morning and the fourth biggest wine area in New Zealand today. But it hasn’t always been in fourth place. For most of this country’s modern wine history, Gisborne has been number three in size, so its slip in the past 10 years from third biggest wine region (with 2,133 hectares of grapes) to  fourth biggest (with 1448 hectares today) could sound slightly alarming. It is about a 25% shrinkage, after all.

But far from being alarming, Gisborne’s wine industry could be said to be in rude good health, if the quality and innovation of wines in the region is anything to go by.

Like every overnight success, it’s been at least a decade or three in the making.

Gisborne is home to New Zealand’s biggest vine nursery – Riversun Nurseries – and therefore to more experimentation with weird and wonderful new grape varieties to this country. Those who are on Riversun’s doorstep are able to take advantage of the nursery by being the first to make Albarino, Vermentino, Marsanne and Roussanne, among many other trials. They can blaze the trail and there will be inevitable drop outs (the grapes that don’t work, I mean) and other great successes, as Albarino seems destined to become.

Which brings us full circle to the grape that rules the roost in Gisborne – Chardonnay. It’s the third most planted grape in the country (after Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir) but it is numero uno in Gisborne, accounting for 52% of the region’s total vineyard area in 2010. The region has long had its famous sign “Welcome to the Chardonnay Capital…”, so it’s no surprise to see a new group dedicated to championing the queen of white grapes, Chardonnay, which is also on a global roll. It quadrupled in plantings worldwide in the 1980s to nearly 100,000. And then swelled again, rising to 174,000 hectares by the mid 2000s and to nearly 200,000 hectares by 2010.

(Impressive figures, care of The Oxford Companion to Wine.)

Groups can be incredibly powerful, often in good ways, as is clearly the intention of the new Gisborne Classic Chardonnay producers. Let’s hope their tastings, national road tours and goal – to elevate the perception, quality and promotion of their region’s leading grape – works well for them.

So much of the world is splintered right now by angry groups pulling in  different directions that it is refreshing to read a humbly penned press release from a small wine region in which the winemakers are unified. Go Gisborne.

The wines… from Gisborne Classic Chardonnay

2015 Bushmere Estate Classic Chardonnay 12.5% ABV

A big buttery aroma leads into a crisp refreshing, peachy tasting, full bodied white where the roundness is balanced by the zesty acidity and a long finish. bushmere.com

2016 Cognescenti Chardonnay 13.6% ABV

Made from grapes grown on Waimata Vineyard and on Knights Road in the Patutahi region of Gisborne, this wine is big, soft, creamy – its flavours  conjure up one word over all others: smooth. It wine tastes and feels smooth as well as fresh, thanks to a creamy body balanced by roasted citrus where all that juicy sweetness pours onto the palate. Delicious. waimata.ac.nz

2014 Stone Bridge Chardonnay 14.3% ABV

Grape grower David Hart has been tending vineyards in Gisborne for over two decades and this is his wine, made from the relatively new Chardonnay Clone 548 – imported from France via Riversun Nurseries. The fruit for this was hand harvested and whole bunch pressed then fermented in oak (40% new). It’s beautifully balanced white wine with a soft texture, ripe stone fruit flavours and a hint of rich apricot on the finish. Stunning fruit driven wine which is dry with a full body and long finish. stonebridge.wine.com

2016 Hihi The Full Monty Chardonnay 13% ABV

As the name, The Full Monty might imply, this wine is all about those big, buttery flavours that Chardonnay is best known for – butterscotch, cream, a kick of spicy oak on the finish, which is balanced by light but refreshing acidity. Andrew Nimmo is the owner and winemaker of Hihi, which are named after a native New Zealand bird. hihi.co.nz

2015 Le Pont Chardonnay

Two vineyards (at Ormond and Patutahi) and two Chardonnay clones (15 and 95) went into making this dry, fruit driven (ripe peach, pineapple and red apples) and full bodied wine. It was aged, interestingly in a combo of French and Hungarian oak – the latter is relatively unusual in New Zealand. This has a lingering, savoury note on the finish. povertybaywine.co.nz

2014 TW Tietjen Witters Reserve Chardonnay 13.5% ABV

Three years old and developing a light gold colour and very soft feel in the mouth; this Chardonnay is rich in fruit flavour with complexity showing through as savoury notes of oatmeal and grains. It’s drinking beautifully now but still has two to three years’ up its vinous sleeve. twwines.co.nz

2014 Spade Oak The Prospect Ormond/Patutahi Gisborne Chardonnay $27

This fresh, flinty, full bodied Chardonnay is a blend of grapes from Ormond and Patutahi with ripe flavours of sweet nectarines and yellow peaches. If this wine initially seems restrained and zesty, serve it in a large glass and taste its big toasty oak and creamy flavours – it was aged for 12 months in French oak- unfold. spade oak.co.nz

www.gisbornechardonnay.co.nz