One of the nicest ways to spend a holiday afternoon is visiting a local winery. New Zealand's wine industry is so widespread that no matter where you are this summer, there's bound to be a venue not far away where you can sample the winemaker's product, share a platter or a picnic, and relax in the shade.
For wine enthusiasts like me, getting out into the wine regions gives you the chance to try before you buy and to experiment with a few unfamiliar varieties.
Despite the recession we still have a healthy wine industry, which caters to both domestic and export markets. And apart from the old standard sauvignon blanc and the upstart pinot noir, we have new grape varieties coming into maturity and providing a broader spectrum for wine fanciers to sample.
Here are my top 10 selection of wineries worth a visit, from the Far North to Hawkes Bay.
Maitai Bay Rd, Karikari Peninsula, Kaitaia
Ph: (09) 408 7222,
Open: Summer: November-April, 11am to 4pm
Winter: May-October by appointment (phone ahead)
A significantly large venture, Karikari has 41ha of chardonnay, viognier, syrah, merlot, cabernet sauvignon, cabernet franc, malbec, pinotage, and montepulciano. Karikari is part of the 1200ha Carrington Estate comprising luxury villa accommodation, a championship 18-hole golf course, Olympic skeet shooting range, vineyard and winery, and a grass-fed Black Angus beef farm.
Chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon/merlot/cabernet franc, merlot/cabernet sauvignon/malbec.
Winemaker's dog: KC, a hyperactive Dalmatian.
Food: Karikari Estate Winery Cafe, 11am-5pm, seven days. Hearty country cafe fare plus a range of pizzas. Fine dining is also available at Carrington Estate restaurant for villa guests, or by phoning ahead as visitors.
Aucks Rd, Russell, Bay of Islands
Ph: (09) 403 8007, omata.co.nz
Cellar door hours: Normally seven days, 12pm-3pm (but phone ahead just to make sure).
A little hard to find, Omata Estate is in a secluded cove, down a private driveway, about five minutes drive from the Opua/Russell car ferry. Chardonnay, merlot and syrah are grown on the property, with winemaking by Rod McIvor of Marsden Estate.
Food: Not provided, so take a picnic.
Ascension Vineyard & Restaurant
480 Matakana Rd, Matakana
Ph: (09) 422 9601, ascensionvineyard.co.nz
Wine tasting: Seven days, 11am-5pm
Established in 1994 by Darryl and Bridget Soljan - Darryl hails from the West Auckland Soljan winemaking family. A tiny 4.6ha vineyard, winery and restaurant are nestled in a stunning rural setting. Neat rows of vines climb a steep north-facing hill beside Tuscan-themed winery buildings. There are only around 5000 cases produced here per year. A $5 tasting fee allows you to sample at least six wines.
Estate-grown wines here are flora (similar to pinot gris), viognier, chardonnay, pinotage and bordeaux varieties, plus they do a lovely old tawny (the wine formerly known as port). Priced from mid-$20 to mid-$30.
Food: The Oak Grill Bistro, open for lunch seven days from 11am, Labour Weekend to Easter. Winter: Closed Tuesday and Wednesday. The Oak Grill has been awarded the NZ Beef & Lamb "Hallmark of Excellence" many years in a row.
Summer concerts: Brooke Fraser, Opshop, Midnight Youth, February 4; The Topp Twins, February 13.
Heron's Flight Vineyard
49 Sharp Rd, Matakana
Ph: (09) 422 7915, heronsflight.co.nz
Expat American David Hoskins and his partner Mary Evans started their vineyard off in 1988 with chardonnay cabernet and merlot. Then in 1994, David's love of Italian red wines led him to plant chianti variety sangiovese. Subsequently all the old vines were pulled out and replaced with either sangiovese or the northern Italian grape dolcetto. They now boast a handsome new cellar door and restaurant, built on sustainable eco principles and using recycled materials wherever possible. Check out the wine barrel stave bar front.
A $10 tasting fee gives you a tutored tasting of their range, plus two Runner Duck red wines from their new business partners.
Sangiovese (Heron's Flight's premium red wine) is full-bodied and soft and made only from the ripest fruit. The dolcetto is a gamey, spicy red. For the sober drivers there is unfermented dolcetto and sangiovese juice, bursting with flavour and natural sweetness.
Food: The Heron's Flight Cafe offers lunch seven days from 11am, and dinner Thursday to Saturday. Fresh local and organic food features on their Tuscan-inspired menu.
West Brook Winery
215 Ararimu Valley Rd, Kumeu
(09) 411 9924, westbrook.co.nz
Open: Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm, Saturday 10am to 5pm, Sunday 11am to 5pm
Around the back of Kumeu, and after a short trip through the best of our wineriesTe Whau Winery on Waiheke Island, a platter for two at the Ascension Vineyard & Restaurant in Matakana, and the Trinity Hill Winery in Hawkes Bay.Riverhead Forest, is the turnoff to West Brook. Their new modern concrete winery complex has landscaped manicured lawns leading down to a placid duck pond with rows of neat vines beyond. Estate wines are pinot gris, chardonnay, pinot noir and malbec.
Third-generation Croatian winemaker Anthony Ivicevich and his charming wife Susan own the operation, which produces about 20,000 cases per year. The original family vineyard was planted in Henderson in 1937, but in 1998 they relocated to the new site.
Marlborough riesling, barrique chardonnay, Marlborough pinot noir
Winery dog: Jessie.
Occasional winery dog: Tessa.
Food: Selection of snacks, cheeses and deli goods from the cooler. Picnickers welcome; tables, petanque, gas barbecue and stunning views.
Villa Maria Estate
118 Montgomerie Rd, Mangere
Ph: (09) 255 0666, villamaria.co.nz, email: email@example.com
Open: Seven days, Monday to Friday from 9am to 6pm, Saturday and Sunday from 10am to 5pm. Winery tours available by appointment.
Villa Maria is New Zealand's third-largest wine producer. It was established in 1961 and is owned and managed by industry legend George Fistonich. The new Mangere winery is a state-of-the-art facility with sweeping green lawns, vineyards, a bottling hall, admin block, an amphitheatre concert venue, a mirrored lake, and large function facilities. Villa Maria has been a top producer for many years, with hundreds of awards and accolades both here and overseas.
They are all very good - the premium wines are superb, but more expensive. My favourites are the Esk Valley Reserve and Single Vineyard range. There is a charge for tasting depending on your preferences.
Food: Platters are available including cheese and fruit ($30), antipasto ($40) and a winemaker's platter ($50).
Summer concerts: Crowded House, February 27; Brooke Fraser, Opshop, Midnight Youth, March 5; Roxy Music, March 6.
Te Whau Vineyard
218 Te Whau Dr, Waiheke Island
Ph: (09) 372 7191, tewhau.co.nz, email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Open: Summer (November to April), six days from 11am-5pm, (closed Tuesdays), winter/spring (from Easter to the end of October), three days, from Friday to Sunday.
One of Waiheke's renowned wineries and restaurants, Te Whau sits atop the Te Whau Peninsula, looking similar to those old abandoned gun emplacements, with expansive views extending from the Coromandel to Auckland City and Rangitoto.
Winemaking and barrel storage is directly under the restaurant. Just 2.5ha is planted in chardonnay, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, cabernet franc and malbec. The vineyard is sited on a steep north-facing slope. Owners Tony and Moira Forsyth produced their first wine in 1999 and have gained many accolades and awards for their chardonnay and bordeaux style reds.
Chardonnay, which garnered a five-star review from Michael Cooper, and The Point, a blended red from their bordeaux varieties.
Food: Open Friday to Sunday for lunch from 11am to 4.30pm Also open for dinners on Saturday nights right through the year. The restaurant seats just 60 and tends to get heavily booked in summer. The New York-based Wine Spectator magazine describes it as "one of the best restaurants in the world for wine lovers". Given that, the prices are pretty reasonable. Entrees are about $20 and mains $38. Bookings recommended.
Winery Cats: Mr Malbec and Miss Merlot (both Burmese).
Kirkpatrick Estate Winery (KEW)
569 Wharekopae Rd, Patutahi, Gisborne
Ph: (06) 862 7722, kew.co.nz
Open: In winter by appointment; autumn and spring, Friday to Monday from 12pm to 4pm; summer, seven days 11am to 4pm.
A very appealing elevated terraced outdoor tasting area with colourful cushions greets the visitor to KEW, with its sweeping views over the Patutahi Plateau. Simon and Karen Kirkpatrick bought the vineyard in 2003 and their winemaker is Anita Ewart-Croy. The winery is nestled close to where Kirkpatrick families have farmed for 150 years. Rugby legend Ian Kirkpatrick is a relative.
Very good line-up of chardonnays, rosé, merlot and malbec at around the $20 mark. My picks are the unwooded chardonnay and the reserve merlot.
Food: Antipasto platters are available all year round, with local olives, chutneys and more.
Winery dog: Harry (Schnauzer) is obsessed with hitching rides on quad bikes.
Mission Estate Winery
198 Church Rd, Taradale, Napier
Ph: (06) 845 9350, missionestate.co.nz, email: email@example.com
Open: Monday to Saturday from 9am to 5 pm, Sundays from 10am to 4.30pm
Formerly a seminary for Marist Priests, and now Hawkes Bay's largest winery, Mission Estate features historic grounds, huge Phoenix palms and elegantly restored buildings. The gracious two-storeyed wooden homestead dates back to 1851 and many original features have been retained.
Wines are in four labels: Estate, Vineyard Selection, Reserve, and the premium Jewelstone range.
The restaurant has a valid reputation for superb food. Book ahead.
All three chardonnays: Vineyard Selection, Reserve and Jewelstone labels. I also like the Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer and the Jewelstone Syrah.
Food: Restaurant open for lunch and dinner. For reservations ph (06) 845 9354 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Summer concert: Sting, February 12.
2396 State Highway 50 (on the left between Gimblett Rd and Ngatarawa Rd), Hastings
Ph: (06) 879 7778, trinityhill.com, email email@example.com
Open: Seven days, summer from 10am to 5pm, (Labour Weekend to after Easter), winter from 11am to 4pm (after Easter to Labour Weekend).
Owned by three families (hence the name Trinity Hill), this label has been very successful with their red wines and also for introducing some new varieties to New Zealand. Now noted for their syrah and bordeaux style red blends, they have pioneered other varieties such as Italian red montepulciano, Italian white arneis, French white viognier, Spanish red tempranillo, and Portuguese red touriga nacional. Three tiers of wines - Trinity Hawkes Bay, Gimblett Gravels - and their ultra-premium Homage series are priced at around (deep breath) $120 a bottle.
The winery building is Auckland architect Richard Priest's interpretation of a Hawkes Bay farm building.
Gimblett and Homage chardonnays, Hawkes Bay pinot gris, Gimblett syrah, Hawkes Bay montepulciano, Gimblett tempranillo, Trinity Hill Homage - The Gimblett.
Food: Deli selection and platters available.
Phil Parker is a wine writer and director and tour guide of Fine Wine Tours.