Nelson is unequivocally the prettiest winegrowing region in New Zealand. This is not a recent opinion, but one that has been with me for a long time. It somehow captures the splendour of classic scenery with an avuncular homeliness that delivers both refinement and an unmistakable whiff of the wild.
Unfortunately, or perhaps not, Nelson has never been the country's hottest winegrowing region, although that's not because it lacks winemaking potential or winemaking talent. Indeed, if wine competitions are any guide, Nelson usually punches well above its weight. With pinot noir and chardonnay our dominant red and white fine wine styles, Nelson must rank two producers among the top 10 in both: Neudorf and Greenhough.
The really good news about Nelson is that there are a number of newcomers who look like strengthening that duo of excellence and expanding the range and depth of truly top-class Nelson wines. Leading the bunch is Woollaston Estate, not exactly new and with a Nelson pedigree second to none in the art world. With its stunning new winery and a creative winemaker in charge, this winery is on the verge of a string of star performances.
Others are less splendid in their promise, but give the impression that they are doing the hard development work with the level of intensity that invariably delivers top-class wines. Among these, Blackenbrook has recently jumped into wine enthusiasts' view as the most precocious, with a 2006 gewürztraminer of considerable character and presence.
Blackenbrook is the work of the Swiss Schwarzenbach family who migrated to Nelson with the express purpose of making top-class wine. Their Moutere clay vineyard has the soil pedigree to give them hope of a prosperous future, and they planted their first four hectares of vines in 2000. Seven years on and that gewürztraminer is raising eyebrows among Auckland's normally cynical sommeliers.
In true Nelson tradition, they also have pretty smart pinot noir and chardonnay, and one of the better pinot gris currently available. It would be a surprise if all these wines don't soon become regular features on big-city wine lists.