As we continued our journey back toward Auckland, we decided to spend a day and night sampling the wines of the Kumeu region. This is the area off the west coast only 45 minutes north of Auckland. It was the first area in New Zealand to be developed as a wine region. Today other regions are receiving great acclaim but a lot of excellent fruit is still grown in the Kumeu area and many larger companies still operate wineries here. I found many familiar labels in our cellar door visits. Since the wineries are larger and most export much of their production, I found the winery staff knowledgable about Canada and Alberta as markets and very keen to show us lots of different wines.
Matua was our first stop and we enjoyed their familiar sauvignon blanc and pinot noir made from grapes grown in Marlborough but they also produce 46 other wines. It was tough to keep spitting, but I did want to visit some of their neighbours. Since they were offering me a good discount, I couldn’t resist picking up a bottle of the 2010 Wairau Valley sauvignon blanc. This is single vineyard produced wine from a sub-region of Marlborough. It is a double gold medal winner, getting the trophy as best SB at the International Cool Climate Wine Show and a gold medal at the 2011 Air New Zealand Wine Show. The wine has intense flavors; they just seem to last forever. I was wishing that I had had this bottle a couple of nights ago when we devoured a pail of raw oysters! I really enjoyed the Matua chardonnays as well. They seem to be made with a much more subtle use of oak.
We moved on to Cooper’s Creek Winery and again tried some wines that we have access to in Alberta. They, too, source fruit from all the major wine regions and produce a great number of labels that we don’t see. They make the Cat’s Pee on a Gooseberry Bush which sells in Alberta but also make an entire “Cat” range of wines. They were all a good drop.
The next stop was Nobilo, also a familiar label in Alberta. I had forgotten that Nobilo was now part of the Constellation Wine Group and although this is the original Nobilo winery, the tasting room also pours and sells a huge number of wines from around the world. Kim Crawford, Drylands, Monkey Bay, and Selak were just four of the other NZ wines there. They also had some Inniskillin Ice wine, some Italian and much of the Hardy’s lineup. I couldn’t resist a 2000 Eileen Hardy shiraz that they gave me for staff price. Hello BBQ and shiraz! Viv was a great hostess and although it was a busy time of day for her, she treated us royally.
For a change of pace, we next visited the 6000 case producer, West Brook (Cooper’s Creek makes a million cases) located only few kilometres out of town. They produce some great whites, many from their own fruit but others made with juice from Marlbourgh. We enjoyed a bottle of pinot gris with our picnic lunch eaten on their deck overlooking a small pond. An afternoon doesn’t get much better.
Our final stop of of the day was at Soljan’s. Their sparkling wine is in Alberta but they too have a broad portfolio which includes a very nice pinotage. Soljan’s is another winery founded by the Dalmatians. These were immigrants from the coastal region immediately east of the north-east coast of Italy, it later becoming part of Yugoslavia, I believe. They were looking for a new start and many chose to work as gum diggers in the massive Kauri forests of northern New Zealand. Many did well and later purchased land to farm in this area north of Auckland. True to their European heritage, they soon started growing grapes and making wine. Soljan, Selak, Nobilo, West Brook and Villa Maria were all founded by these immigrants. Peter McDonald, the Sales and Marketing Manager at Soljan, was a great source of information. Although he has only recently joined Soljan’s staff, he has spent a life time in the wine business in this area.
We’re now driving back to Auckland and will “only” have time for one more wine adventure before we fly south to Christchurch.