Maritime Climate and the Viticulture
Among all types of wine-growing regions, the majority of high-quality vineyards have fallen into three main categories in terms of climate – Continental, Maritime, and Mediterranean. When we talk about the wines from the islands, yes, we are talking about the wines from the maritime climate.
A typical maritime climate is characterized by warm summers and cool winters, as the large body of water, usually the ocean, takes a longer time to either warm up or cool down, which helps to moderate the temperature fluctuations in the nearby land.
In viticulture, the vineyards can benefit from the moderating effects of the maritime climate, in addition to the not-too-hot summers and not-too-cold winters, there is less difference in rainfall between seasons, and relatively longer growing seasons.
Let’s explore the islands in the Pacific Ocean – where is home to some of the most unique wines in the world.
New Zealand – The Rising Star in the New World
The wine grapes were brought to New Zealand by European immigrants in the late 19th century, but their wine production did not take off until the 1970s. In the 1980s, New Zealand winemakers developed a distinctive style of Sauvignon Blanc, with pronounced aromas and flavors of passionfruit, guava, and freshly cut grass, which became its signature products.
Many French winemaker families immigrated to New Zealand in the 1990s – they claimed they found a second home, where is perfect for grape growing and winemaking across the world. Of course, those winemaker families brought their century-old winemaking techniques and philosophy to New Zealand which makes the industry diverse and more sophisticated.
Today, Sauvignon Blanc is the most planted white grape variety, and Pinot Noir is the most widely planted black grape variety in New Zealand.
Japan – The Hidden Gem with a 1000 Year History
The history of grape growing in Japan is more than 1000 years, and people in Japan fermented grapes long before any encounter with Western countries. In the historical context, Japanese called it Budoshu (literally, the grape wine), mostly made of the local grape varieties Koshu and Delaware.
In the late 19th century, during the Meiji era, the Japanese government encouraged wine production as one of the important industries of modernization in Japan. At the same time, international grape varieties, such as Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, and Chardonnay, were introduced to Japan, which greatly improved the flavor complexity of wine produced in Japan.
Japanese wines are renowned and appreciated for their delicate and elegant flavors, and the lighter bodies for easy drinking. Nowadays, the most widely planted grape varieties in Japan are Koshu and Muscat Bailey A.
Photo credit: Mirror Media.
Taiwan – Wines from Formosa, the Beautiful Island
Taiwan had been a Japanese colony from the late 19th century to the early 20th century. Japanese introduced and planted both table grapes and wine grapes to Taiwan during the colonization.
The two main wine grape varieties currently grown in Taiwan, Golden Muscat and Black Queen, are considered the most suitable for the subtropical climate and environmental challenges in Taiwan.
The monopoly and restructuring of the Taiwan Tobacco and Wine Monopoly Bureau have caused a decrease in the amount of grape acquisition from the vineyards, thus many farmers have decided to switch the grape plantings to other fruits with higher economic values.
Since 2002, which marked the end of the 80-year-long monopoly, Taiwanese grape growers and winemakers have started to work on the restoration of their vineyards and the improvement of high-quality wine productions.
Although the development of the wine industry in Taiwan is still in a very early stage with very few world-known wineries, it is predictable for its thriving growth and outstanding achievements in the future.
In the recent years, Taiwan has produced some notable wines, including the fortified wine “Vino Formosa Rosso” from Domaine Shu-Sheng, and the premium sparkling wines from the Weightstone Vineyard and Winery.
Photo credit: Yamagata Winery, Grape Republic.
Japan & New Zealand – Connection between the Northern and Southern Hemispheres
We may all have heard a saying – wine brings people together.
With this beautiful yet complex beverage, wine allows us to offer enjoyment and share our ideas with the people who mean the most to us.
And for some wine enthusiasts, wine brings them together, towards a greater dream.
Japanese winery Grape Republic was founded in 2017 by Kazuomi Fujimaki, who had served in the military and owned several restaurants, decided to move from Tokyo to the village in Yamagata, which is one of the most famous wine regions in Japan.
With his strong faith in natural winemaking – organic farming, with no sulfur and no other additives, his wines are made of locally grown hybrid grapes, blended with both table grapes and wine grapes.
Most of his wines are light in body, clear, and lively on the palate. On the way in pursuit of the dream wines, Kazuomi and Alex Craighead, the owner of Don & Kindeli winery in New Zealand, became friends and partners because of their enthusiasm for natural wines.
Given the seasonal differences between the northern and southern hemispheres, they support each other from both sides during the harvest and winemaking seasons and have continuously executed collaborative winemaking projects.
Photo credit: Yusen LIN, New Lifestyle Wine.
New Zealand & Taiwan – Share Cultural Heritage and Co-Fermented Wines
Some researchers believe that the Austronesian language was first developed in Taiwan, and the Maori in New Zealand is the people who “drifted from Taiwan to New Zealand in the time of the Great Flood”.
Scientists have also found noted similarities in DNA links, skin colors, and physical features between Maori and Amis tribes in Taiwan. Two indigenous groups both speak a language belonging to the Austronesian language family. For example, the word “ear” is “Tangila” in Amis, and “Taringa” in Maori.
A unique collaborative winemaking project between New Zealand and Taiwan was kicked off in 2020 – New Zealand’s Kindeli Vineyard selected their light red wine, naturally made of Riesling and Merlot, to be co-fermented with Taiwanese Kyoho grape from Weightstone Vineyard and rice wine from the Amis tribes.
Fermented with the native yeast, no additives, no filtration, the process merely relied on the power of nature and the energy among those passionate Pacific islanders. The resulting wine is called “Malikuda”, which means the traditional “hand-holding dance” in the Amis tribes in Taiwan.
It is always more than exciting for a wine enthusiast to try wines from a faraway region that you have never visited or even imagined.
Next time, when you browse the wine shelves in a specialty retailer, or travel around the world, why not give it a try to those wines from somewhere across the ocean? That might bring you more excitement and fun than those cult wines.
There is a world of interesting wines out there from the Pacific Islands that deserves a place for your wine journey! Cheers!