Memories of New Zealand’s South Island with Waipapa Bay Wines (#WinePW)

One of my favorite vacations that I’ve ever taken was a 10 day trip Greg and I spent looping New Zealand’s South Island in a camper van.

The end of 2009 was one of my favorite times of my life, and it’s been a pretty great run on the whole so far. Greg was in business school at UCLA Anderson and we decided to take advantage of their study abroad program. He spent a semester at UNSW in Sydney, and I quit my job and went with him. We had such a beautiful time – the cherry on top was our road trip in NZ. (I wrote the whole trip up on one of my old blogs, you can read about the start of the trip here.)

To be honest, I didn’t know much about NZ at the time other than it was where Lord of the Rings had been filmed – which honestly, is propaganda enough for a nerd like me. Since I didn’t really have many expectations or preconceived notions, I think I felt very open to just taking it all in. And there was soooooo much to take in. The scenery is just jaw-droppingly spectacular everywhere you look and we just fell in love.

Most of the population lives on the North Island, but we actually kept our explorations to the South Island. Since most of the people are on a completely different landmass, I kind of thought of the South Island as one big nature lover’s playground. They also make it very easy to get out and enjoy the spectacular beauty of this place in many different ways. The whole place just seems set up for it. We took the camper van option. 

There are lots of companies here that rent vans that are pre-equipped with everything you need to take advantage of the island’s many, many, many camping sites. We used the extremely cheeky Wicked Campers company.

We took this trip before I’d made the switch to working in wine and we actually only stopped at one winery the entire time. (We’ll get to that one, one of these days.) Despite this though, that trip really informed my understanding of the wines from this part of the country. Because we literally covered the terrain, I have a pretty good mental map to refer back to when thinking about the wines . . . and so much about understanding wine once you start to get geeky about it is about geography. Of course, I’d love to go back now and check out the wineries in addition to enjoying the natural beauty.

At the beginning of the year I was invited to attend a seminar and roundtable discussion exploring New Zealand wines in general, that then also focused in on introducing Waipapa Bay Wines. The seminar and discussion were led by Dr. Arabella Woodrow MW and Elaine Chukan Brown and was hosted at the El Dorado Hotel & Kitchen in Sonoma. I really enjoyed the wines, at the same time, the discussion really brought me back to our trip  . . . as discussions on NZ so often do.

Let’s start with a little bit of an outshot. NZ’s wine history actually dates back to 1819 when English missionaries brought vines over. James Busby established the first vineyard in  Waitangi on the North Island in 1836. After a period of growth, the pause button basically gets hit on the winemaking industry for a long chunk of time, generally speaking. Most of what was made was for local consumption. The industry starts to re-emerge in the 1970’s. Marlborough has to be the best known wine region in the country, but vines weren’t even planted there until 1973. A late start for sure, but then they found their star grape in Sauvignon Blanc and things skyrocketed from there in the 80’s and 90’s. IMHO, one of the amazing things NZ has been able to do is to simultaneously establish reputations for quality and affordability, and in such a short time frame.

(That’s all a bit of an oversimplification of course.)

Map courtesy of

Here are a few more quick snippets on NZ and it’s wine in general:

  • NZ is made up of around 600 islands (I actually didn’t realize it was that many!), but there are 2 big, main ones. I already mentioned them above, but they’re the aptly named North and South Islands. 
  •  This is an island nation = most of its regions have a maritime climate. (Central Otago being the notable exception.)  
  • NZ is the world’s southernmost wine-making country, falling between the latitudes of  36°S and 45°S.  
  • NZ is literally closer to the sun than anywhere in the northern hemisphere. As a result UV levels are really high, so even though it’s fairly cool here since the ocean is all around, grapes also get PLENTY of sunshine for ripening. 
  •  Most of NZ’s wine regions are on the eastern side of the country. Mountains run pretty much straight down the middle of the country on both Islands. On the South Island, on which I’m focusing today, the range is the Southern Alps. The mountains cause a rain shadow that keep things fairly dry on the eastern side, while it’s quite rainy on the western half.
  • 99% of NZ’s wines are under screwcap. A small group of winemakers created The Screwcap Initiative in 2001 and it caught on. If you still need confirmation that high quality wines come in bottles with twist off caps, look no further than NZ. 
  • 98% of NZ wines are certified as sustainable.

Today’s wine come from Marlborough and Canterbury, which is on the central east coast of the island, surrounding Christchurch. It was pretty much the first place we hit on our adventure after leaving the city. Canterbury is just south of Marlborough, and is very much still emerging as a wine region. It only recently got its GI (Geographical Indication) status in 2016, so not until quite a few years after we passed through.

Waipapa Bay Wines is owned by Brent and Shirley Rawston. They named their winery for a little spot halfway between Canterbury, where they live, and Rapura, the area of Marlborough where most of their vineyards are. Waipapa is a good spot to see whales and seals, as well as a local surf spot.

We definitely can attest to the seals. We saw these sleeping beauties at Kaikoura, very close to Waipapa Bay.

The couple started with a little bit of land in Canterbury in 1987 and eventually bought more in Marlborough. They work closely with Dr. Arabella Woodrow as part of their winemaking team to ensure the wines offer good quality for the money. The wines are sustainably grown and are just starting to be available in the US, so be on the lookout.

What was particularly interesting about how the tasting I attended was set up, is that the four wines tasted from Waipapa (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, and Rosé of Pinot Noir) were tasted blind in four flights of four, alongside wines from the same grapes of similar price and quality level. This included wines from some of the best known wines from the country – i.e. a lot of the brands you see everywhere. In each instance, once the wines were revealed, I had the Waipapa Bay wine in the first or second position in my rankings.

After the seminar, we had the chance to experience how the wines worked with food during a delicious lunch at El Dorado Kitchen. You know this is the part I was most interested in! Generally speaking, I found the wines to be very food friendly. I had a Niçoise salad and mussels in a tomato broth with peppers and played around with the wines. I’ll include my favorite pairings below.

I think everyone knows New Zealand is know for it's Sauvignon Blancs. While the Sauvignon Blanc was very classic, and the Chardonnay was quite good, the Pinot Gris and the Rosé were my favorites of the day. I requested samples so I could play around with them at home and share them here. (Note: No other compensation was received and all opinions are my own.)


Waipapa Bay Pinot Gris Marlborough 2018

Nose: Notes of green melon, white peach, kiwi, lemon, and freesia.

Palate: More citrus joins in on the palate, alongside starfruit, honeysuckle, touches of sweet green herbs, as well as the white peach, kiwi, and green melon. It has medium but balanced acidity, and is medium bodied. There’s a little beeswax to the texture, which then leads into a light hint of saline minerality on the finish. The texture and tropical fruit notes give the illusion of a kiss of sweetness to the wine, but it’s actually pretty dry.

Alcohol: 13%
Residual Sugar:  2.78 g
SRP: $14.99

At the lunch at El Dorado, I particularly enjoyed this wine with the Niçoise salad. The wine also made me think of the amazing green-lipped mussels we had at a little roadside stand in Kaikoura, which just happens to be 30 minutes from Waipapa Bay.

In addition, all the beautiful fruit notes, hints of herb, and that creamy, beeswaxy texture made me think this would be a good match for Asian cuisines. I could absolutely be making this up, but I feel like the mussels we had in NZ were in a curry sauce. I decided to pay a little homage to the experience and treat myself to mussels in Green Curry. I basically did everything just as I did in this 8 & $20, but I swapped in mussels for the clams, and I added in carrots and tofu noodles. It was apretty ideal pairing as everything resonated together beautifully. 



Waipapa Bay Rosé of Pinot Noir Canterbury 2018

Nose: Strawberries, raspberries, and pink flower petals.

Palate: Some watermelon and stone fruit notes join the red berry party. The wine is tangy, fresh, and extremely gulpable, with a touch of flinty stone on the finish.

Alcohol: 13%
Residual Sugar:  7.29
SRP: $14.99

I particularly enjoyed this wine with the mussels (yeah, I know, mussels everywhere) in the tomato broth at the El Dorado lunch, as it brought out the fruity side of the peppers on the dish as well as the tomatoes. Liking how it worked with those flavors there, I decided to use similar vegetables at home.

The tangy factor made me think it would work well with lightly spicy flavors, so we had this with chicken enchiladas filled with bell peppers, yellow summer squash, tomatoes, and red onions, seasoned with red pepper flakes and cumin (among other things) topped with red enchilada sauce, a mix of cheeses, and green onions. The dish was lightly spicy and the wine held up just fine. Like I said, extremely gulpable. 

Need more inspo? Here are a few more 8 & 20's that pair well with New Zealand Wines: 

8 & $20: Cheese-Stuffed Chicken with Green Beans Amandine

8 & $20: Arepas with Venezuelan Chicken Salad

8 & $20: Shrimp Wontons and a Bright White

Finally, I'll leave you with a few more of Greg's pictures of Kaikoura from our South Island Road Trip.

A much younger me at Kaikoura. Such beautiful memories.


The rest of the #WinePW crew is exploring wines from New Zealand as well. Check out their post here: 

Additional sources used for this post:
New Zealand Wine



  1. Lovely pictures! Wine and food are a great way to relive a wonderful trip like this.

    1. That's definitely one of my favorite things about food & wine! Thanks so much.

  2. Yeah! LOTR geeks unite!!! LOL Your photos only make me want to go even more!

    1. If you go, I'll have to lend you a copy of my book showing the various locations ;-)

  3. Nicole you have provoked my wanderlust with your beautiful memories, photos and food and wine pairings of New Zealand.

    1. Thanks so much Jane-- I hope you have the chance to go!

  4. Fantastic post, Nicole!! I'm so jealous that you've been to LOTR territory. Yes, total Tolkien nerds in my house, too.

    1. Thanks Cam! Funny enough, I made my husband go on a LOTR tour a little farther along on the trip . . . he's never quite forgiven me ;-)


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