New Zealand's thriving wine industry began in Northland [source: Wine Searcher]. The first grapes were planted in 1819 by missionary James Marsden, but industrial viniculture is relatively recent here -- it didn't start in earnest until the 1990s. Northland remains the smallest of the New Zealand wine regions, with viniculture concentrated in just three areas: Kaitaia, the Bay of Islands, and near Whangarei.
In several ways, New Zealand's viniculture defies conventional wisdom. Many wine regions experience large temperature variations between night and day. The hot days and cool nights of Spain, for example, help give local grapes such as the Mencía their distinctive flavor. Not so in Northland. High humidity helps the air retain heat, so once the temperature is warm, it stays warm.
However, Northland's humidity and generally wet climate mean that growers here must be careful about rot. Recently growers have begun to experiment with rot-resistant strains of red grapes. The best solution, for now, seems to be to focus on thicker-skinned grapes -- such as Syrah, Cabernet and Pinotage -- which have more natural defenses against mold [source: Northland Wine Company].
Merlot and Syrah grapes also fare well here because of the long growing season. Northland has virtually no frost, ever. It's nearly tropical. In fact, it usually has New Zealand's warmest growing season. The grapes can stay on the vine for a long, warm time, allowing the crucial sugars to accumulate.
Some soil in the Northland region is volcanic -- highly mineral and well-drained. Elsewhere it has high concentrations of clay or sandy clay. Most vines are grown on flats or gentle slopes, not the steep hillsides you encounter in many other wine regions.
How does all this warmth play out in the bottle? Find out on the next page.