Gisborne's commercial wine was first produced in the 1920's under German winemaker Friedrich Wohnsiedler. Over the next 50 years, the local wine industry grew quickly, but the fertile soils of the area and heavy cropping grape varieties gave the area a reputation for low quality wine. The 1970's brought big change to Gisborne: phylloxera arrived and led to the replanting of most vineyards, Montana and Corbans moved in, and Matawhero wines won several accolades in Europe for Gisborne Gewurztraminer and Chardonnay.
Today, the region is slowly shedding its bulk wine image. Gisborne is New Zealand's 3rd largest growing region behind Marlborough and Hawkes Bay, home to 20 wineries producing a range of wines from almost 2,000 hectares under vines. White wines typify Gisborne; nearly 50% of vineyard plantings are Chardonnay and 30% dedicated to aromatic varieties including Pinot Gris and Gewurztraminer. Merlot is the most planted red grape, but represent only 5% of total hectares.
Gisborne enjoys a rather mild, maritime climate due to its proximity to the Pacific Ocean. High sunshine hours, moderate temperatures and low diurnal temperature variation defines this region, known as one of New Zealand's sunniest regions. A primary concern for vintners is rainfall during vintage season; it is not uncommon for storms to arrive mid-vintage, making harvesting decisions challenging. Gisborne contains several distinct sub-regions.
The Central Valley is the largest of Gisborne's sub-regions. Well-draining silty soils allow vines to flourish here. Most of the Central Valley's fruit is destined for bulk production wines, though the small Riverpoint area is well-known for its fruit-forward, spicy, and complex Chardonnays and Gewurztraminers due to the cooling effects of the ocean that travel up the valley, creating large diurnal temperature variations.
Gisborne's southern most region and closest to the ocean typically ripens earliest. Calcareous silt loam soils along the Waipaoa River transition to high Kaiti clay soils as one moves away towards the hillier areas in the west. Chardonnay dominates this region, largely used for the creation of sparkling wines of the Lindauer brand. Internationally acclaimed, biodynamic Millton Vineyard and Winery calls Manutuke its home.
Located northwest of the city centre, Ormond is home to the region's first vineyards. Soils here are a mixture of silt and clay loams with calcareous marine sediment. As the Ormond Valley narrows into the Raukumara Mountains, several unique microclimates are created. A 10 kilometer strip, known as the Golden Slope, defines the area's northern boundary. Small elevated sites with silt loam soil over heavy Kaiti clay have produced many of Gisborne's award-winning Chardonnays, promoting broad palate-weight and well-developed fruit flavors.
Due to its geographic orientation further east and inland, this area receives significantly less annual rainfall than most of Gisborne. The Patutahi area is nearly flat with a consistent mixture of silt loam and clay loam soils, creating ideal growing conditions. It is no wonder that 30% of Gisborne's vineyards are planted here. Gewurztraminer and aromatic whites shine here, though significant plantings of Chardonnay and Semillon are also found.