English missionaries were first to plant grapes on New Zealand's North Island back in the early 1800's and this is where the lion's share of the production remained until the mid 1970's when the South Island took over the reins.
The major producing part of the North Island remains around Hawkes Bay where the dry climate and variety of soils offer a palette of origins to grow good grapes. Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon are the mainstay grape varieties here but both Syrah and Chardonnay fare well too. In the southernmost part of the island the viticultural area of Wellington is making some excellent wines based on Pinot Noir especially around the small village of Martinborough that is favoured with climate and soils not dissimilar to those found in Burgundy. Some plantings of Pinot Gris (Pinot Grigio) are also doing well but in much smaller quantities.
Moving on to the south island, Marlborough has become world famous for its Sauvignon Blancs. However in the mid 1990's, vineyard expansion saw the region develop to over 4 times its size and now it is important to select carefully as not all vineyard sites are as ideal as the original ones. The Wairau and Awatere valleys are also producing some excellent Sauvignon Blanc and in both regions top class Riesling and Gewürztraminer can be found but in much smaller quantities than the highly sought-after Sauvignon.
Another little jewel in the crown of the south island is the region of Central Otago that now produces some much sought-after Pinot Noir. The wines tend to be well flavoured and fresh but thanks to the high risk of frost and the small scale production, prices tend to be high.