Matakana: A vineyard in 'Tuscany'

By Helen van Berkel

Helen Van Berkel discovers the perfect place for Mother's Day - or any special occasion.
Beautiful surroundings, great food and award-winning wine make Ascension well worth the trip.
Beautiful surroundings, great food and award-winning wine make Ascension well worth the trip.

Mother's Day is round the corner and my daughter and my niece needed pointers as to where they will be taking my sister and I for lunch. Well, duh, we said, food, wine - you're taking us to a vineyard. So, good mothers that we are, my sister and I checked out Ascension on our daughters' behalf. It's only a half-hour or so drive from Auckland although torrential rain slowed us down somewhat as we struggled to see the car in front, let alone the road.

Luckily the weather lifted by the time we got to Ascension. It's a lovely vineyard: the rows of vines march neatly over the smooth hills and the gardens bloom with vibrant colour. It's all very Italian and satisfyingly pretty.

We still had time for a wine-tasting before lunch and here we met Margot. A five-wine tasting costs $10, which you get back if you buy a bottle. I got my $10 back. Astonishingly knowledgeable about Ascension's product, splendidly savvy about the New Zealand industry as a whole, Margot is a wonderful ambassador for Matakana and as she poured my two types of chardonnay, a bubbly, a port and a rose, she raved about the locally made gelato, home-made candles and the olive oil grown and pressed in the neighbourhood.

We wished we'd made time to explore.

Despite the grey drizzle outside, Ascension was deliciously cosy inside: all terracotta plaster and chandeliers and exposed beams. The menu is dominated by Italian pastas and pizzas - indeed, Ascension markets itself as "a little taste of Tuscany". My sister opted for gnocchi and I for a prosciutto pizza. The waitress recommended a chardonnay - actually, she recommended a rose but I'm a chardie girl and she said that was good too. The restaurant was fairly quiet when we first arrived, apart from a large family birthday in the room next door. But it quickly filled what what appeared to be family groups celebrating family occasions. I was pretty full after my earlier wine tasting so I was glad they had only cut the pizza into six pieces, as I wouldn't've been able to manage eight. From the other side of the table came groans of pleasure as my sister devoured her gnocchi. It took some persuading to get her to share a spoonful but when she was distracted by the hot waiter, I managed to steal a taste. The pizza disappeared pretty quick too.

Winery: Ascension Wine Estate, Matakana, about 40 minutes' drive from Auckland.

Grapes they grow/wine they make: Malbec, pinotage, flora, viognier, tannat and chardonnay are grown in Matakana; they also make sauvignon and port.

Most recent awards won: Outstanding winery Experience, Manaakitanga Awards

On the plate: Gnocchi with tomato, basil and mozzarella ($20.50); capricciosa pizza ($24.50).

Lunch at Ascension.
Lunch at Ascension.
Pizza lunch at Ascension.
Pizza lunch at Ascension.

In the glass: Ascension Estate chardonnay ($9).

What makes it special: The feeling of being in an immaculate garden of Eden, with beautifully presented plants and pots. Everything from the first hello to the last goodbye was fabulous. The grounds were stunning. And Margot, dear Margot.

While you're in the neighbourhood: Make a day of it: Matakana is a haven for cottage industry and markets and food and art. Just ask Margot.

Sculpture at the Vineyard.
Sculpture at the Vineyard.

My sober driver: My older - much older - sister has a weird personality quirk in that she loves cleaning. Truly. So who am I to say no to coming home to a house that sparkles like an opulent hotel? And who is she to turn down a vineyard lunch on my tab?

Need to know

Where: 480 Matakana Rd, Auckland
For more information: (09) 4229601 or email:

- Weekend magazine

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