Waiheke Island Wineries
Our final adventure on the North Island was a day trip to Waiheke Island. I must confess that I knew virtually nothing about this island until recently, and largely dismissed it as just a tourist spot with no serious wines. Boy was I wrong!
We elected to ride the train to Auckland and take the passenger ferry over as foot passengers. We then rented a car on the island, instead of signing up for one of the many wine tour packages offered. This gave us the flexibility to visit cellar doors of our choosing and also to experience the gravel roads of the far end of the island, where none of the tours appeared to go.
Mudbrick Winery was our first stop, and Tristan not only poured a wonderful subtly oaked chardonnay, but also a great reserve syrah. However the best thing he gave us was the advice to visit Jurassic Ridge, a much smaller boutique winery owned and operated by Lance Blumhardt.
Of all the great wine people I have met over the years, I don’t believe anyone has had more love and passion for their vines than Lance. I could easily have spent the day with him. We compared his 2006 and 2008 cabernet francs – wonderful they were – and his 2008 and 2009 syrahs as well. The rest of Lance’s released wines are sold out. It was so great to taste some wine that had had a chance to developand mature. Colleen noticed a great quote on the wall of Jurassic’s tasting room that I think exemplifies Lance’s passion for what he does: ” The grape is essentially a tool for extracting flavour from the ground.”
Cable Bay was next, and Niki was a great hostess. They make larger quantities of a dozen labels and I managed to try eight of them. Good thing we had a designated driver!! The locally grown syrah/viognier and Marlborough rieslings were the standouts here.
After a tasty lunch, back in town, not at one of the pricier vineyard restaurants, we trekked out to Man O’ War Vineyards on the extreme east end of the island. The property consists of 45 000 acres, on which 90 different vineyards have been planted. Talk about diversity of slope, orientation, soil type and grape variety! There is certainly nothing flash about the property, but it was interesting! The tasting area was housed in a metal cargo container. Mind you it did look out onto Man O’ War Bay – not a bad view!! The vineyard owner also owns half of a smaller island in the bay – Ponui Island, on which he grows pinot gris – very tasty!! He also happens to own a very large tract of soon-to-be developed residential land on the outskirts of Auckland.
Our final top on the tour was at Stony Ridge Winery. The chardonnay was a little too buttery for my now weary palate; I really should have spit more! But I did really want to try their Bordeaux blend, Larose. They have recently won a red wine competition in Paris against some of the first growths with French judges doing the evaluation. They have picked up local accolades as well. The cellar door price is ‘only’ NZ$220!! It’s big and young, but certainly impressive. Too bad Colleen wouldn’t let me buy a bottle or two!! I would love to have had William offer his thoughts on this wine. They called the winemaker to come in from the vineyard to chat with me, but the ferry schedule did not allow me to wait for him. My loss, I am sure!
All in all, it was a great day. Anyone heading to Auckland should certainly make a point of visiting Waiheke Island.