Kapiti Coast wines give Don Kavanagh's palate a pleasant experience.

Someone once told me the best way to make a small fortune from wine is to start with a large fortune.

Wise words and I take my cap off to all those wineries that have managed to weather the financial storms of the past four or five years. Big harvests, declining markets and tight credit have turned a pleasant, if only breaking-even financially, industry into one where worry is a constant companion.

So I was surprised to come across a relatively new winery recently, or at least new to me. And I was even more surprised at where it was based - Kapiti Coast, or more accurately Horowhenua.

I would normally associate Kapiti Coast with fruit and veg rather than quality wine and tend to associate Horowhenua with Levin and boy racers, but there have been wineries there before. The occasionally lamented Grape Republic wines of the 1990s were at Te Horo, as was the less-successful, but oddly endearing Te Horo Vineyards.


Ohau Gravels is the coast's newest offering and I have to say I'm pleasantly surprised. The west coast of the North Island can be tricky for grapegrowers, given its exposure to the prevailing winds and it's no great surprise that we swoon over the wines of Hawke's Bay and Martinborough rather than those of Wanganui or South Taranaki.

But the wines of Ohau Gravels and the more modestly priced Woven Stone, are really very good. Sure, the vines are young and need a few more years to get the best out of them, but they've made a cracking start.

The sauvignon blancs are eye-opening, with a much sweeter, less acidic character than the usual Marlborough offerings and the pinot gris is genuinely good, with real character and flair, which is more than can be said for much of this country's pinot gris.

Woven Stone Pinot Noir is an interesting drop, too, but probably needs a little more time to fulfil its potential.

I know it's easy to fall for the seductive pinots of Martinborough and Otago, the sauvignons of Marlborough and those gorgeous Hawke's Bay chardonnays, but if you feel like a little adventure, look to the slightly less obvious wine-producing regions.

Northland does some fantastic wines, there are vineyards on the shores of Lake Taupo and, if you look hard enough, you can track down wine from Taranaki and Rangitikei, areas more usually associated with dairying or sheep.

Go on, live a little.