There are many reasons for buying a vineyard but Shelley Trotter's reason is probably quite unique. The deer farmer, who is the fourth generation in her family to farm north of Auckland in the Duck Creek catchment of the Mahurangi River near Warkworth and Matakana, was looking for land to develop a walkway from Warkworth to the coast. The Mahurangi River Vineyard was in the ideal position for the crossing of private land. That there was a vineyard, winery and restaurant was a bonus.
The river to coast walkway was put on hold as Shelley and Gary got to grips with their new business venture. With the vineyard, the winery and the restaurant, it's really like having three businesses, not one. And now a vineyard walkway has been added to the plan. It will start at Mahurangi River's top of the hill restaurant and traverse Shelley's deer farm and other vineyards on the way north to Heron's Flight. It's one of a series of walkways that are being developed in the region.
Shelley and her partner Gary Heaven bought the vineyard in December 2008 and before they knew it, harvest 2009 was upon them. Gary, as self-appointed cellar rat, quickly became ensconced in the winemaking side of the business working alongside newly appointed winemaker Sam Whitmore of nearby Mt Tamahunga vineyard. Gary also enlisted Karikari Estate winemaker Ben Dugdale as consultant, mentor and straight talking friend.
Shelley's passion is working on the land and now she's experienced two vintages, she loves every aspect of vineyard work and reckons she has touched every grape at least three times by the time it reaches the winery. But pruning is a particularly special time as it prepares the vineyard for the new season ahead. The vineyard had been pruned and was looking meticulous when I visited.
Shelley also loves her garden where she grows produce for the restaurant.
The restaurant, in a state of renovation when they bought the property, opened in December 2009. Large decks make this seem like a summer venue but the low slung sun late winter sun was streaming through the windows on the day I was there. It's such a tranquil, peaceful, rural setting with a vista of vines, olives and farmland with the eye drawn to Mt Tamahunga in the north west. But from the car park there's an almost 360 degree vista, including nearby bays and the ocean.
I enjoyed a delicious thick and chunky Spicy Tomato and Chorizo Soup and a glass of Mahurangi River Field of Grace Chardonnay 2007. This wine, made by the former owners, gave an inkling of the high quality that can be achieved from the Mahurangi River Vineyard's sloping site.
Shelley and Gary decided to emulate the wild ferment, new French oak style for their 2009 reserve wine with a sister barrel fermented Chardonnay having less emphasis on brand new oak.
We tasted the new release Chardonnays at home
Mahurangi River Winery Field of Grace Chardonnay 2009, $39, is a light lemon gold in colour and has fruity aromatics with a lemon-infused mealy scents. A ripe, creamy wine with nutty oak, nutmeg-like spices and bright tropical and citrus fruit with a hint of butterscotch on the finish. I rated this 3 stars.
Mahurangi River Winery Field of Grace Reserve Chardonnay 2009, $54, is a lovely bright lemon gold colour with tantalising French oak and nutty, mealy aromas underscored with peach. big, big, wrap your tongue around it Chardonnay with a smooth, seamless texture, lovely butter and citrus flavours, loads of smoky, savoury, mealy influences with butter caramel and hints of grapefruit on the lasting finish. New French oak and wild yeast fermentation really becomes this wine. I rate it 5 stars.
The 'Reserve' is definitely the more powerful, the more refined, the more mouthfilling, the more harmonious. Once you get past that new oak edge that will integrate with a little more time, it's all peaches, cream and butter caramel. Simply yum.
I also had a preview of the Mahurangi River Winery Companions Syrah Viognier 2009, due to be released in October.
Mahurangi River Winery Companions Syrah Viognier 2009 has a moderately deep crimson red hue. An earthy, savoury wine with well-structured tannins, cherry and cracked berry fruit and peppery spice, it shows clean varietal character and the finish is long with a vinous sweetness emerging. Improves with decanting at this young stage of its life. A blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Viognier, it will cost around $39 a bottle.
I say take a trip north and experience what Matakana has to offer. Breakfast or an early lunch at one venue, a late lunch at another. Mahurangi River Winery is definitely worth one of theose visits and if you love big, blockbuster chardonnay, then you simply have to try the Mahurangi River Winery Field of Grace Reserve Chardonnay 2009. I drank it over several nights and discovered the peach-like characters compounded. Needless to say I enjoyed every mouthful. The last words were, "Darn, the bottle is finished".
Gary used to be in the IT business and he created a smart new website. Check it out at www.mahurangiriver.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
17 Aug 2010