14 MAY 2018: Event planners know they’re onto something when they see a line-up of guests waiting to get inside. That was the scene last week at the Glass Factory. The Parkdale industrial warehouse-turned-event space held that grunge appeal for today’s new age wine tasters and those interested in experiencing the next new cool wines from the land of Kiwis.

New Zealand wines haven’t been a big secret. The large mainstay wine labels like Kim Crawford, Oyster Bay and Stoneleigh are familiar brands we often associate with New Zealand’s wineries.

However, as I discovered at a consumer event dubbed, “The Flavours of New Zealand,” where over 24 wineries unbottled over 150 different vintages to over 400 patrons, there’s a new thing happening in New Zealand’s wine tourism industry and the only way you’ll find out about it is to take a trip there.

Based purely on anecdotal evidence (i.e. empty wine glasses), guests at the sold-out event were undeniably blown away. Eavesdropping on some reactions, I saw the most delightful twists and turns from satisfied smiles induced after a serious swig to whispers of, “You have to try the last one, it’s my favourite.”

Some patrons even jockeyed selfies with stuffed toy kiwi birds as others ironically brought their own stuffed toy beaver for a combo portrait. It’s almost like they knew something. “I have to pet him,” flinched another stroking the head of Kevin, the kiwi bird at Toi Toi Wines, one of the participating wineries.

Finally, I had to ask a New Zealand wine tourism rep, what all the fuss is about over New Zealand wines. “New Zealand has a fresh approach to winemaking – it’s a beautiful part of the world, they have one of the best climates and unique winemakers pushing the limits, they are modernizing,” says Melissa Stunden, a managing partner with A+M Consulting and Communications and the Canadian rep for New Zealand Winegrowers.

New Zealand wine routes have an entire wine tourism and New Zealand Tourism department, she further added. Now that’s serious.  

To help kick-start your clients into a wine tour adventure like no other, Air New Zealand will be launching new direct service from Chicago to Auckland in November.  “This will be good for the eastern seaboard passengers,” says Sabrina Bernacchia, sales manager in Eastern Canada with Air New Zealand.

To enhance the air travel experience, a variety of New Zealand wines are available throughout the aircraft. Clients in business class will have wines like a chardonnay from Whitehaven, a winery located in Marlborough’s road route dubbed, “The Golden Mile” of wineries.   

Here are two other New Zealand wineries worth considering:

Babich Wines

It’s the classic immigrant success story. In 1909 a young 14-year-old kid named Joseph Babich leaves Croatia sailing for seven and a half weeks until he finally hits land in New Zealand. “There weren’t many wineries around then and land was cheap,” says David Belaen, vice president of sales in North America with Babich, describing the arduous ordeal of one determined teenager turned entrepreneur who years later purchased some land, “about 100 acres” in Henderson Valley.

In 1916 Babich Wines was established and the family-run business hasn’t looked back.  Considered among the top 15 landholders in New Zealand, the winery’s bestseller is its Sauvignon Blanc. Guests can visit the original cellar door.

Eradus Wines

The new kid on the block, this relatively new winery was established by a second-generation Dutchman, who ditched his IT job to make his dream a reality. In 2002, Michiel Eradus opened Eradus Wines on a sliver of land no one ever considered before.  

In the heart of the Awatere Valley in a valley forged by fault lines, carved by winds, scorched by sun, and yes, cooled by the ocean, the boutique winemaker offers clients extraordinary wine tours unlike the rest. “I want you to experience Eradus,” he deadpans.

The location along the Awatere River has a high stony riverbed but it’s what’s above on the higher ground that holds the surprise. “We grow our grapes here,” he says on the winery’s popular Sauvignon Blanc.

“We pack some wine and food in the van and walk through the vineyard and taste each wine as you walk through the rows. It’s not just standing in an environment like this,” he notes and concludes, “To really show people you have to take them through the vineyard.”

Air New Zealand, I’m there.

New Zealand
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Ilona Kauremszky

A regular contributor to Travel Industry Today, Ilona is a prize winning journalist whose writing pursuits have taken her around the globe.

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