Tell me, what do YOU see?
A human skull?
Head of a whale?
A bull’s skull?
A tiger’s tooth?
What is the first thing that comes to mind when asked “What do you associate with New Zealand?”
Oh yes, sheep, lots of wooly sheep. And after that? Wine? Or maybe Mānuka honey and Hobbits – not necessarily in that combination – but this is material for another post.
Let’s come back to wine. New Zealand is world famous for its wines and they constantly receive premium awards. A wine tasting tour is therefore a Must-Do when in the country.
The signature wine regions are Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough (best for Sauvignon Blanc), Martinborough and Central Otago. Smaller vineyards can be found around Auckland (Villa Maria headquarter), Gisborne and Waipara.
Many tour provider specialise in offering wine tasting with a twist, for example being chauffeured around in a vintage car or on a three-seater-trike, drive a 1960’s Moke or go by bicycle. Each tour provider favours different vineyards but offer bespoke tours as well, for an upgraded price.
For my wine tasting experience in Hawke’s Bay I opted for a small group tour in a minibus. ‘Vines & Views Wine Tour’ (link below) is the only tour going to Esk Valley, one of the Villa Maria labels. Ross, the tour manager, is a working vineyard manager, and well known at the wineries. Currently he is managing the vineyard at Esk Valley and gave us interesting insight into his duty as well as an exclusive tour of the barrel room and around the facilities, explaining the process of wine making.
This vineyard is a little bit outside of Napier which is why most tours don’t stop here. A mistake, I personally think. The location is stunning and the wine, oh well, I do look happy, don’t I? Esk Valley was our third stop and we had been tasting up to 5 wines at each cellar door.
We first stopped at the Church Road Estate with their open barrel room and the biggest entrance door made of railway sleepers I’ve ever seen (not that there are many around anyway!). Besides tasting beautiful wine you can dine al fresco under parasols. We didn’t see the Wine Museum but I have been told it is worth another visit. Some of the exhibits are said to date back 3,000 years.
Next on the list was New Zealand’s oldest vineyard, the Mission Estate. The former home to monks with its colonial style buildings is nowadays also well known for the summer concerts held on the estate. Starting back in 1993, the event is well received and tickets sell out quickly. No wonder with top head liners like Ray Charles, Dianne Warwick, Shirley Bassey, Engelbert Humperdinck (honestly), Rod Stewart, Tom Jones, Sting, Carol King, Billy Ocean and Eric Clapton, just to name a few.
Our last stop after Esk Valley was Linden Estate, which lies even further away from Napier, again making it very difficult to reach with any other organised tour. I found a 2009 Cabernet Sauvignon here. Exquisite!
Our guide Ross was well received everywhere and had a light banter with the winery hosts, adding to the overall pleasurable experience. To top it all off Ross has an exclusive viewing platform high up on the Esk Valley hills with stunning panorama. The complimentary cheese platter, cracker and another locally produced Sauvignon Blanc were the perfect ending for a splendid tour.
I can only highly recommend Ross and his tour! I am certain, my fellow tasters would agree.
For more information and bookings through the i-site:
Vines & Views Wine Tasting Tour
For a detailled map of all wineries in and around Napier:
Hawke’s Bay Winery Guide
For a self-drive tour through three wine regions:
Classic Wine Trail – self-drive