Throughout its history, Wairarapa has been an agricultural district and remains so today. The major industry is animal husbandry; two-thirds of the region's land is devoted to livestock, principally sheep and cattle. Dairy cattle remain a big industry in the area. Before the arrival of the wine scene, the area's most celebrated cultural event was probably the annual Golden Shears sheep-shearing competition in Masterton [source: Schrader]. Lamb is a popular element of the regional cuisine choice, and a good match with the local red wines.
The climate is cool, dry and very favorable for growing grapes. The mountains to the west protect the valley from the harsher weather, though the area gets strong breezes that help temper the vines. The growing season is long, and autumn is especially warm, dry and long, allowing the fruit to mature past the point of ripeness [source: Wines From Martinborough]. Several rivers, including the Ruamahanga, run through the region, bringing alluvial qualities to the soil. Limestone from prehistoric times also feeds into the character of the soil and the vines [source: Murdoch James].
Quite a few Wairarapa vintners subscribe to the idea of terroir, which means that wine expresses the particular qualities of the earth from which the grapes are grown. Toward that end, Martinborough's winemakers have created a Geographical Indication for the area, in emulation of the European appellation system [source: Wines From Martinborough]. More than a dozen Wairarapa vineyards have been accredited by Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, an organization maintaining industry standards for environmental "best practices" [source: New Zealand Wine].
Vineyards comprise a large proportion of the region's land. In fact, Wairarapa's wine-producing area has doubled in the past decade, while the number of individual winegrowing operations has grown by two-thirds [source: Wines From Martinborough].
If you're ready to try a glass of the region's best Pinot Noir or other variety, move on to the next page.