When you are driving north from Auckland to Whangarei you pass few vineyards along State Highway One on the way. If you are quite alert when you are heading into Warkworth you will spot the vines of Ransom Wines off to your left after passing the winery sign saying it is there. You have to be even more alert to spot the vines at Te Hana because for this location there is no winery and there is no sign so you really have to know where the grapevines are.
Once you cross the bridge at Te Hana you've left the Auckland Region and what's soon going to be called the Super City. But it's not until you crest the Brynderwyn Hills that you really get the feel of the north with the statuesque outcrop of Whangarei Heads appearing before you and the offshore islands, such as the Hen and Chickens, also coming into view.
After descending the Brynderwyns the road traverses flat land for the next 30-odd kilometres so best to set your cruise control to keep within the tolerated speed, then when you reach of Otaika and start to put your foot on the accelerator for the passing lane up the hill, slow down because Longview Estate is on your left.
In the grape-ripening season Longview could be one of the most spectacular vineyards in Northland if they still fly life-size, bikini-clad blow-up dolls as bird scarers. The dolls are not present now as it is springtime and buds are only just starting to burst. But this is the time to taste and buy one of Northland's, if not New Zealand's, most unique wines. It's called White Diamond and it's possibly made from some of New Zealand's oldest grapevines too.
Mate and Milly Vuletich bought the land in 1962 and when they started planting grapevines, White Diamond was one of the varieties. Longview Estate, named because of the magnificent views across Whangarei Harbour almost to the Pacific Ocean with Matakohe (Limestone) Island the centre piece to the backdrop of Whangarei Heads, was established as a trading business in 1969 although rumour has it that White Diamond was available to those in the know a couple of years before then.
It used to sell in flagons but now it comes in respectable screwcapped-closed 750ml bottles.
"Once tasted, never forgotten," says Mario Vuletich, son of Mate and Milly and now head of the estate.
He's right because this wine is really different and wine tasters should be warned to go easy on the 'nosing' because it's an incredibly strong smelling wine that almost knocks you for six. The bouquet is like a bunch of table grapes and that distinct grapey flavour comes through in the taste. It's a sweetish wine but not overly sweet and chilling it down, as it should be drunk, adds to its fruity charm. Clean, fresh and intoxicating, not only from the alcohol but also from the memories it invokes - especially if you were a kid that put your hand through the fence to steal the neighbour's grapes.
Longview White Diamond 2010 is now available. It has 13.5% alcohol and cost $28 a bottle. It's worth it for the experience so don't dilly dally because this wine quickly sells out every year. Check out www.longviewwines.co.nz for more.
What is White Diamond? Sadly it is not mentioned in Jancis Robinson's Pocket Guide to Wine Grapes so the preferred method of research these days, ie the Internet, was whirled into action. White Diamond is known more commonly as Diamond. It's a Vitis labrusca (a native North American grape), rather than a vitis vinifera (the native European grapes which include most of those we commonly know, eg Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Noir, etc). White Diamond is a cross developed in the 1880s from Concord and Iona and is sometimes compared to a similar grape called Niagara. Funnily enough, it grows in the place called Niagara too.
© Sue Courtney
28 Sep 2010