As promised Wine Tour Advisor is going on location in New Zealand. We are starting in the North Island and driving our “Red Wine Mobile” all the way to Queenstown in the South Island. Each place will be visited as a normal traveler seeking out wine and great experiences along the way. We learned that some of the first grapes in New Zealand were planted in the Northland & Auckland region so we decided see what it offers to the wine traveler.
Beautiful beaches and great coastal scenery. Many travelers come for the Bay of Islands which is popular for it’s beaches as well as for sailing and fishing. The area tends to have higher average temperatures than any other region in New Zealand which sets them apart in wine making as well as recreation. You are never more than 50 kilometers from the sea so for the traveler this means you are always close to some of New Zealand’s best beaches.
We stopped by for lunch at Marsden Estate which has a winery and restaurant overlooking a beautiful pond and garden. The food was a good value for the money and their Pinot Gris was great on a hot summer day. It’s worth a stop for a lunch or a tasting and walk around the property.
We also visited the very interesting Cottle Hill Winery and spoke with wine maker Michael Webb who seems to have a passion for experimentation. They produce a range of wines including a few in the port style as well as distilled Grappa. The fact that they are a small family run winery means you are not talking to a representative trying to push wines or meet quotas and it really feels like they are looking out for their customer. It’s a great place to stop and is easy to find on the main road.
North of Auckland has two wine trails that we ran across. The Northland wine trail and the Matakana wine trail. Both have maps you can pick up at many of the wineries in the region and are a great resource for finding your way around. On the Matakana trail Ransom Wines and Herons Flight were highly recommended by locals and it’s a bit closer to Auckland so if you don’t have much time you can easily rent a car and be to a winery within an hours drive.
The countries largest city is also where most wine travelers are likely to start their New Zealand journey. The good news is that you only have to take a 30 minute ferry ride from downtown to experience great wine. Waiheke Island is known as a city escape and many day trips are available. You can cycle around the island to visit vineyards or just take a leisurely walk and visit it’s many shops and restaurants. We didn’t have time to make the day trip, but for wine travelers staying only a short time in the area this is the place to head. We were recommended by locals to try out Villa Maria which is known as the most awarded New Zealand winery.
From what we found, wines from the Northland/Auckland area are diverse as they don’t have to adhere to specific regional styles. The warmer weather allows them to grow grapes varietals that others in the south might struggle with. The the area has great outdoor activities as well as cultural sights to visit. For the wine traveler it’s not hard to get to and you will find plenty of small wineries that offer a more personal approach. So before you head down to the big well known wine regions, why not start in the Auckland & Northland regions first.
Tips for New Zealand Winery Visits
- Many wineries have Cellar Door times in which they conduct tastings and are open to the general public. Many close around 4-5pm during the summer months, so if you are traveling outside of the summer it’s good to check in advance as things tend to close earlier or shutdown completely to visitors during the winter months.
- Many wineries charge ~$5 NZD for tastings, with the fee being waived if you buy a bottle or eat at their restaurant if they have one.
- Be sure to talk to the other winery visitors! We learned of some great wineries to visit and some great stopping off points that were recommended by locals that we would have otherwise missed.
We are soon heading to the South Island and will be visiting the famous Marlborough region.Also stay tuned for our coverage of the Hawke’s Bay area. If you have any specific places you want us to check out, please let us know in the comments!Tags: New Zealand