Nelson, it could be argued, is to South Island what Martinborough is to the North: each representing approximately three-point-five percent of the country's vineyards, both home to a similar set of varietals (Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling), both suffering from above-average land prices due to the proximity of an urban centre, yet neither displaying the frenzied monocultural industry of Marlborough, content to lead a relatively laid-back crofting existence (apples and pears in Nelson's case).
Pioneer winegrowers such as Hermann Seifried were instrumental in establishing the region's viticultural credentials during the late 1960s, well before Montana had ‘discovered’ Marlborough. Stories abound of Seifried hammering his vineyard posts in through the night, and hedging his bets with a rich array of grape varieties (something he stands by to this day).
Located at the most north-westerly point of South Island, this warm enclave is hemmed in by Mount Arthur and the Southern Alps to its rear, while the Richmond Ranges to the south-east protect it from the Antarctic south-easterlies. From time to time though it receives a good dowsing from north-westerly tropical storms, giving it the highest rainfall (562mm from October to April) of the five key Pinot Noir regions (the others being Wairarapa, Marlborough, Canterbury, Central Otago).
Fertile, silty loams dominate the flats nearest the ocean, giving rise to market gardening interspersed with vineyards, while remote clay knolls (such as those of the Upper Moutere), set well back from the water's edge, are host to the better, lower-yielding Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc vines. Riesling certainly seems to have found its feet among the free-draining, stony silt soils while Gewürztraminer shows potential.
Apart from the high-quality Pinot Noirs and Rieslings made by Tim Finn at Neudorf (where he lines the ground with seashells from Nelson's thriving shellfish industry to increase UV radiation), the terroir is simply too warm and humid, and the soils too fertile to produce anything but aromatic whites. Seifried makes an excellent Sauvignon Blanc from old vines on clay in the Redwood Valley.