It's a great week to be a wine lover in New Zealand.
This Wednesday, August 18, marks International Pinot Noir Day. And, with New Zealand regions such as Martinborough and Central Otago famous for the tipple, then it's a great week to think about your next stop - or stay - at the country's greatest wineries.
And, some extra good news for oenophiles in Hawke's Bay - Craggy Range has been voted most beautiful vineyard in the world. A study at money.co.uk analysed nearly half a million hashtags associated with the World's 50 Best Vineyards to crown the most picturesque on Earth.
So pick up a glass and make a toast to New Zealand's stunning wine regions.
Dalmatian history is everywhere in West Auckland. You can see it as you drive. As central Auckland falls away, it gives way to suburbs, then motorways, then the low-lying industry of car yards and forklift hires. Finally, the paddocks and tractors and fruit trees of the countryside, only 25 minutes from town.
As the landscape changes, so does the language. Viksich. Vitasovich. Yukich and Fistonich. The history is written directly on to the street signs and the businesses.
And then there is wine. Award-winning, experimental, modern and traditional. It's all here.
Kumeu is one of New Zealand's most historic wine regions. Babich, one of the region's best-known wineries, has been producing wine for 100 years. Josip Babich was just 14 years old when he left his home in Dalmatia, and set sail for New Zealand. He was alone - he never saw his parents again. He was here to dig kauri gum with his four brothers - he ended up establishing one of New Zealand's most historic vineyards.
Time flies very fast when you're enjoying a glass of wine in the sunshine. Fast enough, that just an hour or so into our mini girls' break to Waiheke, we've missed our bus. Ah well, another glass of merlot will hardly go amiss - waiter, one more and then we'll hit the road.
As winter sets in, hibernation becomes a risk. It's cold outside, it's wet, and sometimes getting out and about can feel like more hassle than it's worth. What with researching your transport, deciding where to eat, working out your activities and your budget ... sometimes adventures make me feel more like pulling the duvet over my head than packing my bags.
Of all the grape varieties, the pinot noir is the one that most expresses its origin.
"That's why you tend to get a certain type of person who makes pinot noir," says Clive Paton, founder of Martinborough winery Ata Rangi. "It's not for everybody. If people want to make money and make easy wine, they grow sauvignon blanc or something else that crops easily."
We're sitting under a tree on some hay bales around half an oak barrel next to the vines, swirling, sniffing and sipping the various sips Ata Rangi makes. A group of sunburnt women in pretty dresses and floppy hats are dancing on a grassy area in front of a DJ. Wine glasses clink in the background and laughter and lively chatter fill the air.
It's a more educational weekend for me, meeting the region's winemakers and sampling the goods from half a dozen other vineyards in the area. Pinot noir is the flagship wine of Martinborough.
Marlborough is New Zealand's largest wine region with dozens of cellar doors - and more than 100 winemakers. Add to that the bounty of produce that grows and thrives here, and a visit to the region becomes a pilgrimage for gastronomes as well as oenophiles.
Sauvignon blanc may be Marlborough's bread and butter, but that's by no means all it has going for it.
Waipara Valley, North Canterbury
The Rakaia River is calling my name: it's hot inside the car. From my window, I see a line of jet boats skimming across the river's metallic-green surface. A family have gathered at the river's edge for a picnic. I want to do that, too. But we must press on.
Our goal is to drive to the Waipara Valley, taking in a chunk of the Alpine Pacific Touring Route, one of the country's newest touring routes. We'll start in Amberley, then spend two days in Waipara, sampling some of the best food, wine and accommodation North Canterbury can offer.
Over the past 20 years or so, Central Otago has established itself as New Zealand's pinot noir wine region. The area was previously better known as a winter sports playground, but now wine is a major drawcard in addition to the ruggedly beautiful alpine scenery, stunning mirrored lakes, and numerous near-death experience adrenaline sport options.
As with most overnight successes, Central Otago has been many years in the making. Frenchman Jean Desire Feraud planted the first grapes in Clyde in 1864, winning a prize in an 1881 Sydney wine competition. In 1885 an Italian viticulturalist, Romeo Bragato, visited Central Otago and pronounced it "suitable for grape growing."
But it was not till 1976 that the first of today's crop of successful wineries was established when the late Rolfe Mills and his wife Lois planted their first vines at Rippon Vineyard in Wanaka. Five years later, Alan Brady started Gibbston Valley. Now there are more than 130 wineries in the region.