Biking between the vines

By Catherine Smith

Danielle Wright takes her husband on a vineyard cycle tour through Matakana's country lanes.

Ginger-coloured pine needles rustle underneath our bike wheels, marking the season as we skid down a steep stone cycleway on the way from Matakana to Omaha Bay.

We're on a mission to cycle and sip our way around a self-guided tour arranged by Kim and Paull from Matakana Bicycle Hire.

First stop: Morris & James, home of beautiful pottery, colourful ceramic art and a delicious cafe.

After a quick cycle, next is a stop at Hyperion Wines on Tongue Farm Rd, where two picnic tables are set out below a golden-leaved horse-chestnut tree overlooking paddocks and a rustic barn.

Hyperion (www.hyperion-wines.co.nz) is the oldest winery in the region and a photo on the wall of the cellar door, a converted cowshed, says: "A little wine in the head carries love in the heart."

Owner John Crone, who has a background in chemical engineering, pours us tasting glasses of chardonnay, malbec and cabernet sauvignon as we discuss the sun's shape (not a perfect circle), the moon's effect and global warming, with a soundtrack of cows nearby.

It's a memorable break from biking and with a little wine in our heads, we ride on quiet country lanes towards the new cycleway, created by the Matakana Community Group.

After just a few sips of wine, my will to cycle uphill has suddenly waned, but my estimation of how fast I can go downhill has increased. It's fun and a nice change to the snail's pace of family bike rides.

Birds take off into the cool air as we whizz past them, overtaking a family out walking.

One keen (show-off) cyclist struggles uphill as we push our bikes, but otherwise we have the tracks all to ourselves.

After five minutes, we reach Omaha Bay Vineyard. We're greeted by children playing boules on the lawn as families enjoy long Sunday lunches inside.

We admire the spectacular views across to Omaha Bay and Little Barrier Island, but don't stop for long - eager to make it around the tour in the time it takes our children to watch a film at Matakana's iconic cinema with their great-aunt.

Along the road we spot pheasants and turkeys among the vines at Takatu Vineyard (www.takatulodge.co.nz). We think they must be feeding them up for a turkey roast, but owner Heather Forsman tells us they're wild and get shooed off to another property if they get in the way.

The Forsmans grow grapes according to the region, which means Bordeaux-style wines such as merlot, cabernet franc and malbec. They also make a beautiful rose called Poppies. Their handcrafted wines have no additives and sell to Michelin-starred restaurants all over the world. Peter Gordon buys pallets of it to take back to London.

It's the kind of wine you think about long after you've drunk the last glass and definitely worth the ride uphill. It also contains hardly any sugar and is ultra-dry so goes well with the fig simmering in red wine, oat crackers and blue cheese we're offered.

"A good test to see how much sugar is in your wine is to see if you feel full after drinking a glass," explains Heather. "If you feel full, then it has lots of sugar in it."

We stay longer than we should at Takatu - if you go there, you'll know why: it's a beautiful place - so it's a fast ride through newly formed pine forests and along busy roads back to Matakana village.

Apart from feeling more like coconut water than wine once we'd pedalled to each stop, it was a great way to spend a sunny spring afternoon. Once the cycleways are smoother it will be even better.

- Herald on Sunday

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