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There are now over 80 wineries in the Canterbury region, making this the fourth-largest winemaking area in the country. The combination of long hours of sunshine; stony, free-draining soils; low rainfall; extended autumns; and cool winters produces grapes with complex and developed flavors. The region is well suited to the production of red wines such as cabernet, merlot, and pinot noir. The main growing areas are Waipara, Christchurch, and Banks Peninsula. Look out for the development of the Waipara Wine Village & Day Spa. It was expected to open in 2009, but because of delays, earthworks had just begun at time of writing. The attraction will include a 132-room Grand Mercure hotel, a wine bar and restaurant, international ale house, wine-tasting facilities, and a luxury day spa.

For details on March's Waipara Wine & Food Festival, call tel. 0800-166-071 in New Zealand.

The visitor center's brochure on the Waipara Valley Wineries Wine Trail has a map showing the main wineries. Or pick up a copy of the very informative North Canterbury Food & Wine Trail guide from Kaiapoi Visitor Information Centre tel. 03/327-3134; it details wineries, food suppliers, and farmers' markets. Here are a few suggestions to whet your appetite.

The Mud House Winery & Cafe, State Highway 1, Waipara (tel. 03/314-6900; www.mudhousewineryandcafe.co.nz), planted their first vines in 1994 and pinot noir is their flagship. They're open daily from 10am to 5pm for tastings and they also have a large restaurant. Daniel Schuster Wines, 192 Reeces Rd., Omihi, North Canterbury (tel. 03/314-5901; www.danielschusterwines.com), is one of my personal favorites. It's a few kilometers north of Waipara Valley in the Omihi area, and international wine consultant and owner Danny Schuster is well worth meeting. You can visit the tasting room and peruse wine for sale, or take a more comprehensive cellar tour and enjoy barrel tastings with the winemaker by prior arrangement. The vineyard produces pinot noir, chardonnay, and Riesling. Open daily 10am to 5pm.

Well Oiled

If you're in the Waipara Valley, make sure you visit Athena Olive Groves, 164 MacKenzies Rd. (tel. 03/314-6774; www.athenaolives.co.nz), and try their fabulous range of extra-virgin and flavored olive oils, plus their pickled olives. Open daily from 10am until 5pm.

Pegasus Bay Winery & Restaurant, 263 Stockgrove Rd., Amberley (tel. 03/314-6869; www.pegasusbay.com), is a small vineyard and winery run by the Donaldson family, who have been seriously involved with wine for over 30 years. A 100-seat restaurant serves top-quality cuisine. Specialties include sauvignon/semillon, chardonnay, merlot cabernet, pinot noir, and Riesling. Open daily, tasting room 10am to 5pm, restaurant noon to 4pm.

If you'd like to stay in the Waipara Wine Region, I highly recommend Claremont Country Estate, 828 Ram Paddock Rd., Waipara Gorge, Amberley (tel. 03/314-7559; fax 03/314-7065; www.claremont-estate.com), which offers fantastic tours on its 960-hectare (2,400-acre) working station and nature reserve, complete with 65-million-year-old fossils. They have B&B rates from NZ$880 and lodge rates from NZ$1,120. Tours cost extra. A more moderately priced option -- but also divine -- is Dry Paddocks Country Retreat, 325 Purchas Rd., Waipara Valley, Amberley (tel. 03/314-9639; fax 03/314-9637; www.drypaddocks.co.nz), which has a beautiful, modern, self-contained cottage for NZ$295 to NZ$395. It's closer to Christchurch than Claremont.

Wine Tours

Canterbury Wine Tours (tel. 0800/081-155; www.waiparavalley.co.nz) has a range of options from half-day Waipara Valley wine tours starting at NZ$65. Its tours operate year-round and include wine tasting at three award-winning wineries. Canterbury Leisure Tours (tel. 0800/484-485 in NZ; www.leisuretours.co.nz) has a half-day tour of the Waipara winery region that explores four leading wineries and costs NZ$80 per person.

If you need transport from Christchurch to Waipara, take the Hanmer Connection shuttle (tel. 0800/377-378 in NZ) for NZ$25 one-way. It leaves from the Christchurch visitor center, with hotel pickups by arrangement.

Rossendale Wines, 168 Old Tai Tapu Rd., Halswell (tel. 03/322-9684; www.rossendale.co.nz), is located in the charming Tai Tapu Valley area, on the perimeter of Christchurch. It has an established tradition of good wine and good food. Wines available here including Riesling, Gewürztraminer, sauvignon blanc, merlot, and pinot noir. Trents Estate Vineyard & Restaurant, Trents Road, Templeton (tel. 03/349-6940; www.trentsvineyard.co.nz), is a charming setting built around a 125-year-old historic chicory kiln, which has been cleverly converted into a rustic restaurant. It is surrounded by pinot noir, chardonnay, and Riesling grapes. Waipara Springs Winery & Restaurant, State Highway 1, Waipara (tel./fax 03/314-6777; www.waiparasprings.co.nz), is one of the oldest vineyards in the Waipara region. It produces premium-quality sauvignon blanc, Riesling, chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, and pinot noir grapes from its own 20 hectares (50 acres). It has accumulated numerous medals overseas and in New Zealand, including a Gold Medal for its 1996 cabernet sauvignon, a Silver Medal for the 1997 sauvignon blanc, and a Gold for its 1997 Riesling.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.