There aren’t that many cities in the world where you can drink wine that’s truly local, made in a vineyard just a short car or ferry ride away from the restaurant where you’re drinking it.
Some of the country’s most prestigious and sought-after wines are made right here on our doorstep, in some of the more rural corners of the isthmus. Iconic producers like Kumeu River, Brick Bay and Villa Maria have been making wine on the edges of the city for decades, making great use of Auckland’s volcanic soils and warm, sunny growing seasons.
It’s been a long time in the making
Rich, balanced chardonnays and structured, juicy Bordeaux blends have been keeping Auckland on the vinous radar for years. But Auckland’s producers have been looking further afield, and more exotic grape varieties like Montepulciano, Gewurztraminer, Malbec and Sangiovese can be found growing within the city’s bounds. Syrah, the current darling of the Hawkes Bay, has been making quite a name for itself here as well.
There are three key winegrowing areas in Auckland – Matakana to the north, Kumeu out west, and Waiheke Island in the Hauraki Gulf. There are also growers around south Auckland, in Clevedon, Karaka, and perhaps most notably near the airport in Māngere, where George Fistonich set up the Villa Maria winery in the crater of an ancient volcano. It’s still there today, growing grapes, making wine and hosting international music acts.
Perhaps the most famous of Auckland’s vineyards are on Waiheke. One hair-whippingly bracing ferry ride will see you off at the bustling Matiatia Wharf, a bus perfectly timed to drop you in Oneroa for a coffee to fortify your palate. A little while later you’ll be relaxing on the verandah at Mudbrick with a glass of chardonnay, looking back across the rolling hills and harbour to the city you just came from.
Waiheke’s wine scene got started in the 1970s, while the island was still reasonably remote and devoid of infrastructure, serviced by just one ancient ferry. Keen grapegrowers were drawn to the sheltered hills and valleys, where the dry, rocky soils were perfect for vines. Not long after, in the 1980s, more and more ferries appeared, and so more and more people began to discover Waiheke’s long-lived, elegant wines. Garages and barns made way for modern tasting rooms and manicured gardens, with a wedding party never far away. Today, the island’s prestigious wine industry is one of Auckland’s most grown-up days out. From sipping wine on the terrace at Tantalus Estate to trying your hand at archery among the vines at Wild on Waiheke, there’s an activity for every energy level.
Things are a bit more laid back if you head out west. Drive along the north-west motorway, past market gardens and blackboard signs proclaiming pumpkins to be 2 for $3, and you’ll eventually find yourself at an unassuming vineyard across the road from an unassuming cellar door, where one of the country’s most celebrated Chardonnays is made by Kumeu River.
West Auckland is the cradle of New Zealand wine. In the early 20th century, Dalmatian settlers came to New Zealand to dig for kauri gum, bringing the tradition of winegrowing with them from their homeland. Kauri gum soon fell out of use, but a thriving wine industry had sprung up in the meantime. Names like Babich, and Soljans became a regular sight on wine lists. Mate Brajkovich started up Kumeu River, Ivan Yukich set up Montana Wines, and the Jakicevich family began their business on Glengarry Road in Oratia.
As Auckland grew, most of the producers moved their wineries from Lincoln Road in Henderson to Kumeu, where urban sprawl was less of a threat. Many of the larger producers have moved on to other wine regions, and what remains is boutique and extremely charming.
The tasting rooms here are small and inviting, with evidence of the inner workings of the winery all around. The vineyards are small – the challenges of the soil and the climate in west Auckland mean that viticulture on a large scale is nearly impossible. In fact, many west Auckland wineries make wines from vineyards around the country, although their most interesting offerings are always from fruit grown on home soil.
Matakana, about an hour’s drive north of the city centre, meets Waiheke’s prestige and West Auckland’s rustic charm somewhere in the middle. Wineries like Brick Bay and Runner Duck Estate make small quantities of perfectly formed wine, focusing on the classic Bordeaux grape varieties of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. These age-worthy wines will reward time in the cellar, but you’ll also feel blessed if you crack one open right now.
Of course, there’s a healthy appetite for experimentation in the area. Vineyards around Matakana make some fantastic wines from Syrah, Italian-style Sangiovese wines, and some lush white wines from aromatic varieties like Pinot Gris. All of these are perfectly matched with Matakana’s abundant range of artisan cheeses, cured meats and other culinary treats.
Like Waiheke and Kumeu, Matakana is eminently visitable, and a perfect option for an adult’s day out. The best thing about Auckland’s wine region is to get to know where your wine was made, and the people who’ve been making it from these areas for years.
We wanted to really highlight this with Auckland Wine Week. We’ve paired with some of our favourite wineries from around the region to bring you a range of events, like in-store tastings, special pairing menus at restaurants, and epic experiences in each of our three main subregions.
We want you to finish the week with a new appreciation for the wine that’s made where you live.
Auckland Wine Week is as much a celebration of people and place as it is a glass raised to our local wine makers. Join us to explore local and try something new this 13 – 23 June.