A small wine region with big plans

If a picture speaks a thousand words, then the one above says a lot about the name of a small winery – Nga Waka, in Martinborough, which has doubled its potential output in the past five years and now has a new cellar door planned.

The picture above tells the story of the name, Nga Waka, which comes from the Polynesian explorer, Kupe, whose three canoes were infamously carried inland by a massive earthquake. The  upturned boats (nga waka – ‘the boats’) form the sloping tops of the rolling hills behind Martinborough township – home to Nga Waka Winery.

Like most wineries in Martinborough, this one started small in 1988 when it was founded by winemaker Roger Parkinson, who produced his first wines in 1993. Parkinson remains the winemaker but he sold the business in 2015 to a couple, Jay Short and Peggy Dupey, who have since doubled their vineyard land from 10 hectares to over 20 hectares with the purchase of the former Croft and Vynfields vineyard blocks. These have been renamed the Pirinoa Block and the Mike Kershaw Block.

A new cellar door is also underway, which will be home to the growing amount of wine produced at Nga Waka. Short and Dupey’s newest acquisition is a full time general manager called Mick Hodson, who has worked with wine since 1992 when he began at Eurowine (now EuroVintage) in Wellington. He also worked closely with Nga Waka wines in his role at Glengarry’s in Auckland.

It’s timely to see Nga Waka wines expand and grow. Parkinson has quietly produced one of New Zealand’s best dry Rieslings from day one, adding in superlative Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir along the way. And while the market for small volume, high quality wines can be a challenging one, the consistent quality of Nga Waka wines makes it one of the most important producers in the Wairarapa region. The entire region encompasses not only Martinborough but also Gladstone and the northern Wairarapa area. All up, the wider Wairarapa wine region is currently home to just 983 producing hectares of vineyard land, making it one of the smallest wine regions in the country, but the scene is set for significant expansion and growth. At least one new gin distillery is on the drawing board and the Hawke’s Bay winery, Craggy Range, has purchased a substantial new block of land to add to its already large vineyard holds on Te Muna Road, west of Martinborough. Add in the fact that Australian winery Torbreck now owns The Escarpment Vineyard and the region is clearly on the path to expansion. The good news is: Parkinson remains the winemaker who sets the style of wine at Nga Waka and Larry McKenna remains at the winemaking helm at The Escarpment. Retaining talent in a small region has never been so important.

Watch this space for more about the region, the events, the wines and their makers.

Author: Joelle Thomson

I am a wine writer, author and educator... first bitten by a big buttery Chardonnay on a dark and stormy night in the 1980s and there was no turning back... Follow my tastings and join some too on this new site.

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