Last week I spent 6 days in New Zealand to learn as much as possible about local wines. We traveled with a small group of family and friends (among others with Gary and my parents) and tried to combine visits to wineries with some sightseeing activity as well.
After a day in Auckland and Waiheke we traveled to the Bay of Islands, a beautiful subtropical area about 40 minutes north of Auckland (by small plane – by car it would take many hours). A very nice place for a holiday and still relatively undeveloped. That’s the nice thing about New Zealand: because not so many people live there, even popular tourist areas are still very quiet and unspoiled. And because New Zealand is so far away from the rest of the world I don’t think there will be a lot of new tourism soon either.
The down side is that NZ still feels a bit backward, in many rural places you feel like you’re suddenly back in the 1960’s. That has its advantages and disadvantages of course, but coming from a 21st century 24/7 megapolis like Shanghai it takes some getting used to. Trying to get a coffee at Starbucks in Nelson at 6:30 PM was not possible for example because every single shop including coffeeshops close by 6 PM at the latest. Trying to visit a real estate agency on the weekend? Forget it, they only work on weekdays when most people who are in the market for a house probably work.
But the upside is that you can arrive at the airport 30 minutes before your plane takes off and that there is not even a security check for domestic flights. At a local market a knife maker (yes, you still have those in NZ) had an advertising sign saying that you can bring them on board of airplanes. Quite a difference with the rest of the world where every passenger is a potential terrorist… And while on a helicopter trip the pilot told me to just leave my phone on, because of course he did not believe in mobile interference. That’s the spirit I like!
The Bay of Islands also had some wineries, especially around Keri Keri. We had dinner at one of them (Ake Ake) after a wine tasting there, and enjoyed both their food and drinks. Most wineries there are quite small operations, without any export sales, so you likely won’t find these wines in Europe or China.
After one day in the Bay of Islands we flew to Nelson on the South Island. A nice small town on the waterfront, surrounded by a beautiful nature. Also here we visited several wineries and did a lot of wine tastings. After having sea food for several days in a row we decided to check out the local Chinese restaurant. The food there was not bad (even the Chinese in group said so) and we had a big meal with some bottles of local Gewurztraminer (excellent!).
The next morning we rented a helicopter to fly to Marlborough to visit a winery and get a feel for the area from above. It’s a nice ride from Nelson to Marlborough, especially because you have to fly over some mountains and also get to see the Marlborough Sound from above. Close to Marlborough it was a bit cloudy and there was even some rain, so we had to descend to below the clouds in order to see where we were going.
The winery we visited in Marlborough was Highfield, one of the best wineries in the area (there are a lot of good wineries there). We got a tour of the winery and some of the vineyards and got to taste all of their wines. We were quite impressed, especially with their Sauvignon Blanc and their methode traditionelle Champagne-like wine Elstree Cuvee Brut. Because of our busy schedule we had to fly back to Nelson for other appointments and could not do a lunch at Highfield.
In the afternoon we among others visited another winery (Kahurangi), where the winemaker let us try some of their new wines directly from the barrel. After that we visited the house of another INSEAD almuni living in Nelson. His villa was built on the top of a hill and he had an amazing view over the coast line, nearby islands and the sea. We were all quite impressed with it! The next morning we visited a local farmers market in Nelson and walked around the town, before taking a flight back to Auckland in the afternoon.
In Auckland we stayed again at the Hilton, which is located right on the harbour. It’s a nice hotel in the best location in town, but has one big disadvantage: in summer visiting cruise ships moor right outside the hotel (arriving 6 AM, leaving 6 PM), meaning that you have no view at all from your balcony during the day time. If that happens once it’s still acceptable, but during our stay at the beginning and the end of the trip there were cruise ships every single day. If you manage to get a room on the top floor closest to the harbour (which we did during the 2nd stay there) it’s okay, but otherwise I would not advise anybody to stay there during the summer months. Ah, and they also charge NZD 30 per device per day for Internet, which is a rip-off (as regular readers know I hate paying for a commodity that should be free).
On Sunday Gary, my dad and I went back to Waiheke to visit 3 more wineries for wine tastings, but we were not too impressed with the wines after tasting so many other good wines over the past days. The wines were generally good, but nothing special. Waiheke’s best wines for me are Te Whau and Cable Bay, those were the ones we visited during our first ferry trip over the week before and those I highly recommend (but they are both relatively small wineries and may be difficult or impossible to find outside New Zealand).
Looking back we had a great trip where I had a lot of fun, learned a lot about the NZ wine industry and tasted at least 60-70 different wines. I already was a big fan of New Zealand wines, but now my appreciation for their wines is even higher. It’s a pity that many of their wines are not available for sale in China yet (or only at very high prices), but this may be a question of time. Once Chinese start to appreciate white wines New Zealand may be country that can deliver them. Especially the more fruity varieties may do well (Riesling, some Chardonnay wines, and of course Gewurztraminer). I will keep on following NZ wines closely from now on. I’ll be back!
A selection of all the pictures I took during this trip is here in a set on Flickr.