After heading north to Whangaria and using our friend’s delightful hobby farm as a base, we’ve spent parts of three days exploring then many small wineries that make up the Northland Wine Trail. We managed to visit more than half of the cellar doors and thanks to the wine and food tent at the Waimate North A and P Show, we also tasted wines from many of the wineries that are too small to have on-site sales. Overall, the wines have been very good and not too expensive. The owners are still struggling to find the best grape varieties to plant on their plots. Most of the cabernet sauvignon and merlot have been pulled out of the most northerly vineyards but the syrah does well as does chambourcin and pinotage. Yes, Roy, I’ve tasted half a dozen pinotages over the past few days and enjoyed most of them!! They have lots of fruit and only a hint of the ‘earthiness’ of the South African examples. There have also been some good cabernet francs, and several estates grow dolcetto. Pinot gris is the best white wine grape up here. These wines are rich with lots of fruit on the nose and in the mouth but not as crisp as the Italian versions. We even enjoyed a sparkling pinot gris on our anniversary produced at the Fat Pig Winery. Owner and winemaker, Bruce, is quite a character and he produces a pretty good syrah as well as the pinot gris. There is also lots of chardonnay grown in the far north but much of it is too heavily oaked for my palate.
Most of the producers that operate cellar doors are content with their 3 to 4 thousand case productions. They service their visitors and perhaps a restaurant or two and that takes care of their annual production. Kerikeri was the exception. This wine estate, the most northerly in New Zealand, was developed with a flash golf course and conference centre as well. When planting they followed the logical advice for the southern hemisphere – to plant north-facing fields. However, since they face the open ocean only two kilometres away, the northerly storms have played havoc with their vines. Planting wind breaks has not helped, and this year all of the vines in the north-facing fields have been chopped down, and the fields will be left dormant until the windbreaks reach sufficient height so as to protect the vines.
If travelling in this area, don’t miss the Okahu syrah, the Marsden pinot gris and the Longview chardonnay/gewurztraminer.