Matakana Wine Trail
Keen for a tour of the Matakana region’s famed wineries but don’t know where to begin? Our handy alternative guide will get you started. The area has a huge range of grape varieties and it’s worth noting that most vineyards have a commitment to sustainability. Pinot Gris has a strong presence in the area, but not enough to stop Gary Heaven, president of the region’s winegrower’s association, saying, “There’s no theme within Matakana Coast vineyards except diversity.”
This is not a full listing of varieties at each vineyard, just a few of the finer points of each, and in no particular order. And we’re only listing the vineyards that are open to the public for tastings; we’ll also let you know if they offer food.
Ransom Winery is the gateway to the region. This winery produces some unusual wines including a beautiful pale pink Vin Gris, a golden Spanish Albariño and one of only two spicy red Carmenères in NZ. Ransom features slick architecture, stunning views, delectable platters and two generations of dry-humoured winemakers to tell you about their work.
Ascension is a glorious ode to Tuscany with its golden stone and tiled roofs, lush gardens and Italian menu. They host big gigs here; the likes of Fat Freddy’s Drop and Shakespeare among the vines, not to mention exceptional weddings. Ascension make a bevy of reds, a rosé and a couple of whites including a rare ‘Rogue Flora’ (related to a Gewurtztraminer).
Brick Bay, over in Snell’s Beach, is a must-do. This vineyard has its own vines and olives, plus an exceptional sculpture trail through native bush. The Glass House restaurant, with its legendary lunch platters, is a piece of art in itself, and overlooks a lake of water lilies. There’s even a small gift shop. You’ll taste a crisp Pinot Gris, a not-too-dry Rosé, and a Bordeaux-style red, among others.
Mahurangi River Winery has sweeping views of vines with Mt Tamahunga in the background. It also boasts consistently great food that the locals go back for again and again – try the snapper risotto. Gorgeous wines include a much-loved Rosé, an Albariño, an unusual and lovely Roussanne/Viognier and various Chardonnay vintages.
Matavino Wines is on the corner of the same road – it’s a younger vineyard, which grows Italian and French varieties. There’s a highly-regarded and rare Nebbiolo (a hearty Italian red from the Piedmonte region) and a luscious Viognier – a great match for oysters and other seafood. There’s no café at Matavino however.
Runner Duck Estate’s cellar door is hosted by Plume Restaurant – Matakana’s fine dining establishment on Sharp Road. Set among gardens with views in all directions, it’s upmarket but relaxed. Another excellent wedding or conference venue. They do a Bordeaux varietal, a Syrah, Rosé and a Pinot Gris and are committed to sustainable practices.
Heron’s Flight vineyard, also on Sharp Road, is unusual in that it specialises in Italian varieties – they’ve just been name-checked in Conde Nast Traveller magazine for this in fact. Their Sangiovese is widely regarded as one of the premium reds in the country. They also grow Dolcetto and have recently produced a sweet Passito as well. Planted in 19897, Heron’s Flight is the oldest in vineyard in the area, and uses all organic practice. David and Mary have a wealth of information on the history of the region. You’re welcome to picnic under their old olive trees – they have blankets, cheeses and charcuterie, and lots of family games too.
Omaha Bay Vineyard is on the Takatu Road. It has jawdropping vistas over Omaha beach and Little Barrier Island, hearty platters and a wide range of wines. You’ll find Pinot Gris, Rosé, Flora, Chardonnay and a bunch of reds to boot, including a rich Montepulciano. Owner Hegman Foster is always good for a yarn.
Hyperion Estate, on the other side of Matakana, has a funky converted cowshed as the winery and tasting room. Wine production here is weighted towards the reds, with an award-winning Cab Sav and an interesting, newish Chambourcin. There’s also a Pinot Gris and a Chardy though. No food here, but there are various options close by, including the Morris and James pottery café down the road.
There are some other vineyards in the area that don’t do tastings except by appointment or with organised tours: Coxhead Creek, Gillman’s, Hawks Nest, Saltings and Takatu. And Matakana Estate is a comparatively large vineyard along from Ascension that may soon be back in public business – watch this space.
If you can’t talk someone into being your sober driver, there are other options. Most Auckland wine tour operators will tailor a Matakana jaunt, but the best option at this end of the trail is Matakana Tours. Liz and Geoff Bays have a wealth of local wine knowledge. They’ll pick up and drop off from wherever you're staying in the region – including Auckland – in a limo, if you want to go rock’n’roll.
Skyworks Helicopters will take things to a whole new rockstar level. They can create a heli-tour for you that will take in a magical sweep over Omaha and Tawaharanui Regional Park before landing at your choice of vineyard for tastings and lunch. They’ll sort out a local taxi van to get you home.
If you’d rather just go to a lovely stylish bar and taste wines from most of the above vineyards, try The Vintry in Matakana Village. They have an exceptional range, and loads of local knowledge.
Some points to note: there’s usually a small fee to taste – if there isn’t, it’s only polite to buy at least one bottle. Tasting at any more than three vineyards is completely pointless – you may not be lurching exactly, but your palate will be exhausted. Eat plenty along the way, and drink water – lots of water. And finally, these vineyards are mostly very small; when you’re there, you’re pretty much in someone else’s home. Getting wrecked and trashing the place is most definitely a no-no. Play nice.
For further information on Matakana Wines check out the Matakana Winegrowers Association site.
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Winemakers Association | www.matakanawine.co.nz