There is a widespread perception that academics sit in lonely marble towers, think a lot and don't achieve much. But not at Lincoln University on the plains of New Zealand's South Island. Here, the professors plant things. That's how staff at the Wine Science and Beverage Faculty discovered it was feasible to grow grapes in what is a marginal region. The cool climate wines of the country are famous - Cloudy Bay's sauvignon blanc is grown a few hundred kilometres up the coast in a huge natural sun trap. If that's a cool climate for grapes, then Canterbury has got to be officially classified as 'bloody cold.' This didn't deter these hardy folk. It didn't take an agricultural scientist to work out that vines that traditionally grow well in northern Europe will flourish in the dry area where summers are long but not torrid. Pinot noir and riesling did well. So did pinot gris. When vintners planted chardonnay - to get some strong white for sparkling wines - some clones came up strongly. The first winegrower in the area was one of the university staff. Locals sipped his wine and next thing anyone knew, people were digging up the Canterbury Plains in a frenzy not seen since the 1860s gold rush. The climate - chill winters, comparatively hot summers, long and gentle autumns, rain in the spring - is ideal for cool climate grapes. Suddenly, the world has a new wine region to contend with, dotted with tiny boutique outfits making an astonishing array of wines of surprising quality. One on sale here and doing well is Giesen's 97 sauvignon blanc, although purists will point out the grapes for this are imported from the better-established Marlborough region. This new wine house was given a boost earlier this year when America's Wine Spectator listed it as one of 'most exciting wines of the year'. The heroic tasting team sipped 10,000 wines and placed the Giesen at number 19. The wine on sale here (imported by Wine N Things, fax: 2554-5369) is a value buy at $102. It has a delicate, steely green-yellow hue. Remove the cork and you get an overwhelming whiff of passionfruit and gooseberry. Although bottled less than a year ago, the wine is stylish and carries a weighty intensity of fruit. It's fresh, slightly acidic and balanced. I think this is a white wine that will keep and become more interesting in a couple of years. Giesen are one of the latest new wave vintners in New Zealand, which seems to develop new styles every couple of years. After crushing, the juice and grapes rest in stainless steel tanks. The wine is not overwhelmed by the strong odour of oak and the bouncy freshness helps make it so appealing. The first grapes were crushed in 1984 and although Giesen's total area under vine is less than 12 hectares it is still the largest vineyard in the Canterbury region. They are now making a pinot noir which is receiving rave reviews. Managing to buy a bottle is like winning the lottery; when I was last in New Zealand I searched without success. Most of the estate's wines are snapped up at the cellar door by canny Kiwis. Interestingly, many of the wineries in the Canterbury region are on the Akaroa peninsula, hidden in the protective folds of the steep hills. A French explorer hauled up the tricolour here just a few days after Captain Cook had claimed New Zealand for Britain. I can't help wondering what the area would be producing if the Frenchman had arrived a few days earlier.