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Featured Restaurant
Originally posted September 2002, updated December 2007

Ascension Vineyard and Oak Grill Restaurant
Matakana Road
North of Auckland
Phone (09) 422 9601

Open daily for lunch from 11am
Open for dinners on Friday and Saturday nights
Your hosts: Darryl and Bridget Soljan

If you had to name just one thing that has really made the Matakana Wine trail come alive it would have to be the superb wine tourism facilities at Ascension Vineyard in Matakana Road.. The stunning complex is impossible for anyone travelling along Matakana Road to miss and if you haven't visited the area before, your head will surely turn the moment you first come over the brow of the hill heading north from Warkworth and see the expanse of vineyards before you.

The Matakana region is now a popular destination for the wine tourist although it hasn't always been. That is because the vineyards were tucked away up side roads or in hidden valleys and Heron's Flight was the only vineyard open to the public. But now the Matakana wine region is burgeoning.

It was in 1996, when the first posts were rammed into the ground on the 16-hectare Matakana Estate with its extensive frontage alongside Matakana Road. And beside this extensive venture was a less publicised endeavour, the four hectares of Ascension Vineyard on the north facing slope adjacent to Matakana Estate.

Now Ascension's southern California mission-styled winery and function centre with its Belfry tower and backdrop of vines is the showcase for the passing motorist.

Ever since the restaurant opened in October 2000, it has blossomed both in popularity and size. When I first visited not long after its opening, the inside dining room looked huge. But get it full of people and it looks tiny. Consequently the dining room extends to the paved courtyard between the tasting room and the barrel room looking on to the vines, where there is plenty of room for tables and umbrellas on a sunny day. There's another outdoor dining area on the north side of the building under the eaves, with temporary plastic walls which can be quickly dropped down if the weather turns a little inclement.

In October 2007, Ascension renamed the vineyard restaurant to the Oak Grill. Food is cooked over a flaming grill fired with French oak barrel shavings that have been soaked in red wine. I have to say the day I dined there in November 2007, the sweet smoky scent wafting into the car park was absolutely salivating.

"It brings the vineyard and winery into the kitchen and on to your plate," said owner Darryl Soljan, explaining the concept..

There is an excellent choice of light meals ($23) or main meals ($35) with the price including bread and dips, potatoes, kumara wedges and fresh garden vegetables.

Every meal has a recommended wine match.

I chose the Moroccan Spiced Lamb Loin from the main menu and my friend chose the Wild Hare Pie from the light meal menu to accompany Ascension The Parable Pinotage 2006. This delightful bright-fruited red has a gamey, savoury backbone and lovely use of French and American oak. It's available by the bottle or the glass in the restaurant and was an inspired match to both meals, which were acclaimed as excellent.

The restaurant does get busy, especially in weekends, so bookings are recommended.

When the restaurant is busy there may be a wait so while you are waiting you can visit the cellar shop and taste the wines. I recommend you do this to choose the accompaniment to your meals for only Ascension's own wines are available in the restaurant.

There is a charge for wine tasting, although you do get to keep the glass. There's a host of other goodies in the cellar shop too, from jams and pickles to platters to Ascension-branded clothing.

Open daily for lunch from 11am, Ascension is open for dinner from 6pm on Friday and Saturday nights and bookings are essential in the evenings.

Darryl and Bridget are excellent hosts with a good team of workers to support them.

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