Can’t resist Island Wine
Easy to get to, this Kiwi destination is
littereed with vines and blessed with a landscape punctuated by cafe
It matters not whether you’re a grey nomad, a Kiwi returning home or a seasoned wine tourist, no visit to Auckland is complete without a brief detour to the Hauraki Gulf’s most populous island, Waiheke. Recently named as one of the World’s most desirable destinations by Lonely Planet, the 9000 odd folks who call the islet home are justifiably proud of what their 92 square kilometers of land mass
From white sandy beaches to picturesque walking tracks, golf courses, forest enclaves and even clothing optional beaches, the locals could be forgiven for thinking that they had it all. But throw in layers of Jurassic strata which ranges in age from 145 to 158 million years in age and a resultant burgeoning wine industry and I might just have found my retirement paradise!
The Waiheke wine industry is by no means large, but it more than compensates for its compact nature with a remarkable quality of wine which expresses the regional geology and climate. There are only about 30 winemakers on the island who apply their craft to fruit grown on only around 216 hectares of vineyards, but the “Island of Wine” is attracting over 800,000 visitors a year to their scenic shores.
In summer months, when there’s a leafiness to the vineyard and the winter chills are long forgotten, the population swells; I’m told that at times it can reach over 40,000.
While a quadrupling of the population sounds remarkable, it probably isn’t surprising when you consider what the island offers and the fact that it can be reached in only 35 minutes by ferry from Auckland. I noticed on the ferry timetable that on weekdays, boats start the crossing from 5.30am and the last vessel heads back to the mainland at 11.45pm. With boats departing every half an hour or so, accessing the Waiheke wonderland is a breeze.
When it comes to wineries there are not many household names amongst them, and for me that only adds to the charm and character of the local industry. These small producers rely on cellar door sales and loyal mail order customers, although a few manage to get their wares in to the mainland bottle shops and restaurants. You may have come across labels like Mud Brick, Goldwater Estate, Destiny Bay and Stonyridge Larose, but it was the Cable Bay wines that became the apple of my eye when I recently visited the Silverfern capital.
The ancient soils and maritime climate of the region originally excited winemakers about the prospects for growing Bordeaux style varietals like Cabernet, Merlot, Cabernet Franc
At Cable Bay the winemaking team source some of their fruit from other New Zealand regions such as Marlborough, but also harvest Pinot Gris, Marsanne, Viognier, Chardonnay, Shiraz, Malbec and Merlot from local plots on the western end of the island.
I’m always a sucker for a good chardy and the Cable Bay 2016 release was a cracker. It’s pale straw in the glass but the bouquet is dense, aromatic and rich. Once on the palate stone fruit and nut characters unfurl before mouth filling nectarine and biscuit flavours meet a luscious spicy oakiness on the finish. It’s a heavy style of Chardonnay, but I love it! It’s not cheap ($45) but when you’re making small batches at a high quality, it’s to be expected.
Amongst the reds, the Cable Bay Syrah 2017 was special. On the nose, there are aromatic dark fruits and violets, but on the palate the plush black cherry and Ribena flavours form an amalgam with Asian spices, fine tannins and a lingering acidity.
The richness is remarkable, while its length would put a Bubba Watson drive to shame! A bottle will set you back around 50 bucks, but if you ask me it’s a small price to pay for the luxurious mouth feel of Waiheke’s finest Shiraz! It has proven itself the perfect partner for my lamb and vegetable pies served up last Sunday night!
Easy to get to, littered with vines and a blessed with a landscape punctuated by restaurants and cafes; it will be hard to resist the charms of the “Island of Wine”. But check it out for yourself and if you happen to see a Waiheke island wine on a cartes des vin, don’t hesitate to take it for a spin!