Sunday, September 19, 2010

In Vino Veritas

One should never travel to a new place without trying the local delicacies. In the case of New Zealand, that means a plate of lamb for dinner and at least a glass or two of wine from time to time. Since I always try to make an effort to fit in with the locals, I made sure to imbibe in locally fermented grapes whenever possible.

So when I heard that BBS was tracking me down in New Zealand, the first plans I made were for a winery tour on Waiheke Island, a 45-minute ferry ride from Auckland. Joining us for our tasting adventure were BBS’s cousin by marriage and his wife.

After a slightly bumpy ferry ride, we boarded a bus on Waiheke with seven other people and our driver/guide for the day who filled us in on island life. My favourite piece of trivia was that Waiheke is the third most populous island in New Zealand – after the North and South Islands.

Our first stop was Stonyridge Estate where we paused long enough to enjoy a light lunch of quiche and salad. As our vineyard guide introduced himself in the cellar, we were quickly clued in to the fact that this was a boutique winery in the every sense of the word: one of the first Bordeaux-style wines he told us about cost over $200 per bottle. He followed that tidbit up by telling us we would not be trying any of it that day.

While we sipped on glasses of not-$200 wines, he told us about the surprisingly low bottle yield they produced, and the more surprising fact that they still used real corks. In an area that prides itself on being among the first to switch to the more modern screw tops, I was amused by his defense of old-style corks and the lack of “valid research” about the potentially negative effects on cellared wine. My one regret about the entire tour is that I didn’t purchase a bottle of Stonyridge’s wine, as this was by far the best we sampled all day.

After lunch, we made our way to Rangihoua Estate to learn about and sample olive oil. A woman there guided us through the process of growing, picking, and transforming the locally grown olives into olive
oil. BBS’s favourite part of the tour, however, was the impressive hand-carved giant chess set that sat in the corner pressing room. We followed our olive lesson with a tasting of four or five different oils and an incredibly tasty herb pesto of which virtually everyone on the tour purchased at least one bottle.

Everyone on the tour deemed our next stop universally disappointing. Wild on Waiheke is an example of a winery being a “jack of all trades and a master of none.” It is a winery that was also a brewery, corporate retreat specialist, and several other niche market endeavors they shared with us and yet they managed to do none of them well. The wine was barely palatable; the beer, I was told, was average at best; and the jarred and bottled snack foods they urged us to sample were tasty but unimpressive.

Although we weren’t asked for feedback after our tour that day, I would encourage Fullers to remove Wild on Waiheke from the Taste of Waiheke tour and replace it with a winery whose wares tourists may actually want to purchase.

Mudbrick Vineyard
, the final stop of our tour, was a refreshing improvement and a nice way to end our slightly rainy day. The gentleman who conducted our Mudbrick tour was knowledgeable and pleasant while he took us from the tasting room, to a terrace with views of Auckland in the distance, and then finally to the vineyard’s internationally acclaimed restaurant. Sadly, of the two whites we sampled, the Viognier, a favourite varietal since I first sampled it in South Africa in 2001, was a one-note disappointment.

Although they weren’t all homeruns, the wines we tasted, vineyards we visited, and great company all made for a lovely day. I would highly recommend a visit to “Wine Island,” as I dubbed Waiheke, to anyone visiting the Auckland area. The local vintners combine old world expertise and sentimentality for the grapes with a sincere love and modern appreciation for their chosen art.


Anonymous said...

DId BBS purchase the chess men and board? :) WHo did the carving?
Tour looks like it made for an enjoyable day.I always like a ferry ride.

sprinkles said...

I went on a tour of the Coors Beer Brewery once. It doesn't sound nearly as impressive as this particular tour but it was fun for an afternoon.

San said...

I haven't made in to New Zealand yet, but the wine tours sound good! 'cept for that seemingly-tourist-trap place. Haha!

Anonymous said...

Sounds like a delicious outing! Hic!

Anonymous said...

I always inspired by you, your thoughts and way of thinking, again, appreciate for this nice post.

- Norman

Anonymous said...

Waiheke is but a trifle........try some decent wineries on the north of the S island [ and yes it is a bit shaky at the moment too]. Around Blenheim and Nelson Something like a Cloudy Bay Sav blanc with a decent rack or leg of lamb. Try the Andiamo restaurant in Auckland for something special......they serve both!!