The first vines were planted in New Zealand in 1819. In the Gisborne region, the first commercial wine was released in 1921 by German winemaker Friedrich Wohnsiedler. Yet it wasn't until the 1970s that viticulture began to play a significant role in Gisborne [source: Gisborne Winegrowers].
By the end of the 1970s, Gisborne was the largest wine-producing region in New Zealand. It became known as "carafe country," thanks to huge yields of Muller-Thurgau grapes, which were used for cheaper bag-in-the-box blends. Since then, Gisborne's wine industry has shifted focus toward lower-yielding, classic varieties that are higher quality and more profitable, helping to shake off its reputation as a bulk-wine producing region [source: Stevenson].
Today, Gisborne is the third largest grape growing region in New Zealand, with 4,800 acres (1,942 hectares) of vines planted. Most of the vines in Gisborne are planted on flat or gently sloping land. The fertile soil is clay- and loam-based. Summers are mild, while winters are cooler and stormier. Though some of the highest mountain peaks in New Zealand are permanently snow-covered, in the lowlands, temperatures don't go below freezing [source: Gisborne Winegrowers].
The Gisborne region consists of nine different wine-producing areas. The following areas are considered part of the Gisborne CO (Certified Origin): Patutahi, Patutahi Plateau, Waipoa, Golden Slope, Central Valley, Riverpoint, Manutuke, Ormond and Ormond Valley. Gisborne is primarily a white wine region. Half of the grapes harvested here are Chardonnay grapes. Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Merlot make up about 20 percent of the region's mix [source: On the Vine].
The biggest producer in the Gisborne area is Pernod Ricard (formerly Montana Wines, which bought Penfolds and Corbans), and produces about 65 to 70 percent of the region's product each year, or vintage, from its 3,120 acres (1,263 hectares) in the area. While Gisborne is not known for its sparkling wine, or "Kiwi Fizz," most of those grapes are grown for Pernod Ricard's Lindauer Brut [source: On the Vine].
To find out what the famous wines of the Gisborne wine region are and where to find them, read on.