Follow Me Through New Zealand – A Visit to Weiheke Island & Hawke’s Bay “A Wine & Food Lover’s Paradise!”
From my last 2 visits to New Zealand – 25 and 15 years ago respectively, I would never have described the country as a place for “wine aficionados” & “foodies” like me. However, after visiting Weiheke Island – a wine lover’s paradise & Hawke’s Bay – a wine and foodie Mecca, I stand corrected! Please read on about my amazing experience in these two areas of the North Island of New Zealand.
When I conjure up thoughts of a tropical island, I think of palm trees swaying in the breeze with a backdrop of blue skies and crashing waves. And of course, let’s not forget the “umbrella drinks” made with rum and assorted tropical fruit juices. However, I have found a very special island for wine lovers – Let me introduce you to Weiheke Island!
Weiheke Island is located about 45 minutes from Auckland via ferry. About 8000 people live on the island full time with approximately 6000 working and commuting to Auckland. During “high season” the island becomes inhabited with over 40,000 visitors! As you tour the island, you would never imagine it to be a wine producing area. It reminds you more of a lush, and “laid back” tropical paradise.
Back in 1972, a very brave and industrious sole decided they wanted to start a winery on the island. Everyone, including banks and investors thought they were crazy. After several failed attempts, it was discovered that red wine varietals – especially pinot and syrah faired very well with the soil and climate of the area. And so the wine industry on Weiheke was born!
By the 1990’s several wineries opened on the island. While small in nature (producing 2-6,000 cases a year), the wines have an excellent reputation and many of the wineries are thriving!
We had the opportunity to visit three of the wineries all of which were amazing especially “Mud Brick” where we also dined on a gourmet lunch. At our first stop we were treated to fresh oysters from the bay to nibble along with an amazing dry rose. At all the wineries we sampled their very best syrahs and pinots. They are more robust and deep in color than most of these varietals that you are normally used to. However, since my husband and I like the drier, robust wines, we were in “hog heaven”. Aside from the yummy reds - a surprise favorite was a lovely viognier from Mud Brick winery.
Located approximately 4 ½ south of Auckland on the eastern shores of the North Island is the lovely area of Hawke’s Bay – both a wine and food lover’s paradise. While wineries are abundant, there are numerous fruit orchards, organic vegetable farms, cheese makers, coffee roasters, specialty meat producers, etc.
My husband and I were treated to a day long private wine and food tour. Our guide, Rosemary, is a former vineyard owner who handled every aspect of their marketing and distribution. (She actually still owns half of the winery but is no longer active in the day to day operations).
We started our day visiting the Sunday Farmer’s Market that featured only locally grown and produced goodies from Hawke’s Bay. We sampled homemade jams and salsas, artisan cheeses, venison sausage, infused olive oils and smoked mushrooms that tasted like the finest smoked meat I ever had! It was a culinary delight!
From the market, we visited several wineries including Trinity Hill, Farmgate and Clearview. I particularly loved Farmgate not only because the wine was very good but they had a local charm by featuring black and white photos of local food producers whose specialty went well with the wine. So, for example, the Sauvignon Blanc featured a photo of one of the local fish mongers. Very clever! Or as they say in New Zealand – Brilliant!
My favorite winery was Clearview. Not only was the wine amazing (particularly their chardonnay, semillion and a bold red called “old olive block” – an amazing blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc and malbec) they were served personally by the wine maker and owner - Tim Turvey. He was absolutely charming and passionate about his wine. He’s been in the winemaking business for over 15 years and is very “hands on”. He also runs a restaurant at the winery and there we were treated to a platter of homemade pates, cheeses, pickled vegetables and homemade breads. Yum! Check out the winery at www.clearviewestate.co.nz.