Nectar from the rock

By John Hawkesby

As the urban myth goes, year-round temperatures on Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf are 2-3 degrees warmer than greater Auckland. Sometimes it can feel like that but, to be honest, I think it's probably just real estate propaganda.

Winemakers, though, are thankful for Waiheke's weather — an absence of killer frosts and maximum sunshine which extends the growing season.

The island is blessed with a maritime climate and gently sloping hills on which many vines are planted allow for excellent drainage. And
there's usually just enough rain so that irrigation is not required.

Since the first serious commercial plantings by Kim and Jeanette Goldwater in 1978, the island has spawned a clutch of mainly boutique vineyards, many with astonishing coastal vistas, and has developed a reputation for some premium wines.

Some would say at a premium price. It's true, a number of the country's most expensive reds are produced on "the rock", as the locals call it, but regardless, they have a loyal band of followers who are prepared to pay whatever it takes.

There is an element of romanticism about Waiheke wines — having a long pleasant lunch at an island restaurant surrounded by healthy looking vines leaves you replete and vulnerable to purchasing bottles of the local product in the hope of taking the memory and the magic back home.

Are the wines all exotic, gorgeous and to die for? No. Nor are the wines of any other region in the country. There's the usual mix of the good, the average and the please-try-harder, and one wonders if in some cases vines are planted on sites simply not suitable for making wine.

While the gentle sea breezes can help — making life difficult for pests and assisting with keeping vines healthy — if they turn blustery and brutal they can create havoc, especially around flowering.

Claret-style red grapes have led the charge on Waiheke but syrah could be the new darling. And ignore the chardonnays at your peril.

RECOMMENDED:

2008 Mudbrick Vineyard Reserve Chardonnay
Feel the texture, admire the elegance, smell the luscious fruit. Lovely mix of citrus, stone fruit and toasty oak. A top drop. Price: $36

2005 Goldwater Goldie Cabernet Merlot
With a dash of cabernet franc, this is a beautifully balanced rich winter red. Dark plums, liquorice, straw, smoke and spicy oak. Superstar status. Price: $50-60

- NZ Herald

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