It's a cool June day. Not cold. Just cool. And it is fine and clear. Mmm, might even get the top down on the MG today - but later.
I turn the heater on and weave through the commuter traffic to pick up my passenger for the day, Rod Phillips, an ex-pat Kiwi who now lives in Canada. He's back home to visit family. Safely in the car, we head north in the opposite direction of the commuters. Our side of the motorway is empty and I have to keep one eye on the speedometer to ensure I stay within the limit. At times like this 'cruise control' would be handy. My car likes going fast and this stretch of road is a well-known haunt of the plain clothes motorway police.
Pretty soon we are in the country and within half an hour of leaving we are at our first stop - Ransom Wines.
The newly-completed winery extensions look stunning. Marion has tastefully decorated autumn grape leaves on the table, bringing the feel of the vineyard indoors. We talk about the new television soap, Mercy Peak, in which the winery stars.
Then we taste the wines.
Ransom Pinot Gris 2000
Fresh citrus and pear aromas with a hint of melon and yeasty things. Warm, a little honey, lovely rich texture. Developing nicely with a creamy and toasty citrus flavour lingering. Hot on the finish and a welcome warmth, I must add..
Ransom Cabernet Vin Gris 2000
Sweet floral and berry aromas. A subtle spicy light 'pretty' wine. "Pinks" are making a great resurgence on the International scene. When the word gets out, this wine will be popular in the summer months.
Ransom Gumfield Chardonnay 2000
Fresh peach and fig flavours with a pleasing texture and richness and a touch of butterscotch emerging. Fruity finish. Fermented in SS and half aged in old oak.
Ransom Barrique Chardonnay 2000
Oak a little dominant at this stage. Spicy oak, creamy texture and stonefruit complexity, pineapple emerging with some toasty figs. Toasty and dry.
Ransom Dark Summit Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 1998
Leathery and tight but with hints of cherry and sweet fruit emerging but huge tannins overpower at this stage.
Warkworth and Matakana Winery Guide
1. Ransom Wines
2. Ascension Winery
3. Matakana Estate
4. Hincho & Monarch Downs
5. Heron's Flight
6. Hyperion Wines
and The Antipodean Vineyard
7. Hyperion Wines 'Omaha' Vineyard
and Providence Vineyard
8. Takatu Vineyard
9. The Castle Vineyard
10. Brick Bay
11. Mahurangi Estate
We head back to the car and nicely warmed, the top comes down for the 5 minute drive to Ascension winery.
Here owner Darryl Soljan, back from a much needed Australian holiday, welcomes us. The wines are open, ready and waiting.
Ascension Methode Traditionelle
60 Pinot 40 Chardonnay
Lots of fizz and a pleasing yeasty flavour with soft citrus, a touch of strawberry and a lightly earthy finish. Refreshing.
Ascension Chardonnay 2000
(day old bottle)
A little flat, but spicy leesy flavours with a hint of pineapple emerge. Nice mouthfeel but fairly simple today.
Ascension 'The Ascent' Chardonnay 2000
Soapy, floral aroma. Better - vibrant in palate. lemon hints with a toastiness emerging. Lemons, lime, peaches and lots of yeasty flavours linger.
Ascension Barrique Selection Pinotage.
Cherry coloured. Earthy, hints of cherry, tomato, savoury meats, spices. Very pleasant drinking. Rich finish.
Then we head off, up the main road and then into the metal Tongue Farm Road that leads us to Hyperion Wines. Talk about contrasts. From two stunning brand new winery complexes to a converted milking shed.
We taste the wines in the barrel room, which has an interesting polished ceiling - the kind of feature you usually see on the floor.
John Crone was in a generous mood and had plenty of wines to show us, including a few that were waiting in tank for the tanker, which was to take the wine for bottling that afternoon.
Hyperion Phoebe Pinot Gris 2000
Flinty aromas. Nutty and peachy in the palate. Nice texture. Enriches on the finish. The best Pinot Gris from this producer to date.
Hyperion Selene Chardonnay 2000
80 Chardonnay / 20 Pinot Gris
Sweetish, fruity, leesy character, easy drinking food wine with spicy peach citrus and a touch of coriander herbs. Nicely balanced.
Hyperion Helios Chardonnay 2000
Lovely aromas - spicy peach and fig flavours in the palate. A soft, woody component. Vibrant fruit. Good acidity.
Hyperion Pinot Noir 1999
Cherry, slightly savoury. Tarry note. Fairly simple, slightly beetrooty. Lacks depth. Very light style.
Hyperion Pinot Noir 2000
(finished tank sample)
Better definition of fruit. Quite dry. Tropical fruit - guava , strawberry and hints of cherry. Very good lingering flavours. Slightly viscous texture.
Hyperion Millennios Cabernet Sauvignon 1999
Bordeaux blend of the 'leftovers' and contains 20% merlot.
Tarry aromas, fruit flavours, very easy and warm drinking. Well priced winter quaffer.
Hyperion Kronos Cabernet Merlot 1999
(60 Cab Sauv, 40 merlot)
Warm note of American oak and a touch of mint. Warm, vanillin, well balanced cassis and plum. A refined, stylish wine. All from Omaha vineyard. 75% older oak.
Hyperion Kronos Cabernet Merlot 1998
(70 Cab Sauv, 30 merlot)
Much darker than the 1999. Very appealing aromas. Warm, minty, sweet ripe plum, blackberry and cassis. Pretty big tannins - will keep really well. Sweet, opulent and velvety. Great, sweet, long and slightly minty finish. Interesting to see how this wine has developed over the past two years.
Hyperion Gaia Merlot 2000
First whiff - strong tobacco aromas. Quite 'hard' on the palate. Fruit is hiding between the obtrusive French oak though a nicely perfumed flavours lingers on the palate.
Hyperion Kronos Cabernet Merlot 2000
Sweaty, a little leathery, black plum, redcurrant fruit. Strong tannins. Pretty spice and a lovely lift on the finish.
Hyperion Theia Late Harvest Pinot Gris 1999
Feijoa on the nose and intense feijoa fruit on the palate. Sweetish, aperitif style. Light with a shortish finish.
Hyperion is next to Antipodean Farm, the first vineyard to become established in the area. They are closed to the public.
We had been invited to The Castle in Whitmore Road, for lunch with Ross and Val Sutherland. This gave an opportunity to detour on the way into Hyperion's Omaha Vineyard next door to Providence Vineyard, then pass the new Takatu Vineyard in Whitmore Road before arriving at The Castle.
Lunch, a fillet of salmon on a pumpkin and feta salad, was served with Brick Bay Pinot Gris - the textures and lifted flavour of the wine combining very well with the food
Now the weather has taken a turn for the worse and it has started to drizzle, so the tour of The Castle's tiny vineyard vineyard was a visual one - from the upstairs balcony of The Castle.
We head off to Herons Flight, a little piece of Tuscany in the Matakana Hills where David Hoskins takes us through his wines.
Herons Flight La Volee Chardonnay 2000
A light style with pleasing peach flavour and a touch of spice. Very easy and palatable drinking.
Herons Flight Barrique Chardonnay 1999
Toasty colour. Rich flavours of figs and melons. Quite tasty with honey complexities emerging.
Herons Flight Merlot Sangiovese 1999
Rich, clear, cherry colour - very attractive. Earthy tobacco flavours, a little oxidised. Plenty of spice lingers on the finish. 2000 will be the last vintage of merlot. The vines have been pulled and replaced by Dolcetto.
Herons Flight Cabernet Sauvignon 1998
This is the last cabernet sauvignon produced by Herons Flight.
Medium bodied wine with redcurrant, raspberry and a touch of dried spice.
Herons Flight Sangiovese 1999 (pewter label)
Lovely ripe fruit. Dense, very sweet, floral, vanillin, loads of berries, raspberries and cherries. Earthy with loads of spice lingering on the finish. A very special wine.
Last tasting visit was to Matakana Estate.
The vines were looking so splendid with their autumn hues, a photo stop was essential.
Peter Vegar pours the wines. "We don't have many corked wines", he said. Maybe not before the two I found today!
Matakana Estate Semillon 1999
The first bottle was ever so slightly corked but the lanolin, oily, nutty flavours gave the appearance of a 'grigio' style. The second bottle showed better weight, texture and balance with citrus and subtle hints of herbs.
Matakana Estate Semillon 2000
Dry, dusty at first, then rich fresh peach, a hint of honey, baked apple and citrus. Good intensity of flavour and aromas with fat, fleshy fruit.
Matakana Estate Pinot Gris 2000
TCA again in this dull, woody wine with spicy lemon, warm wet wool and lanolin flavours. What a contrast in the second bottle! This was a vibrant, honeyed wine with hints of bubble gum, a touch of spice, flavours of apple, pear and peach and a full, rich texture.
Matakana Estate Chardonnay 1999
Another vibrant wine with rich fig and toasty aromas. Rich and toasty in the palate too with honeyed oak and a touch of spice. Warm, long and flavoursome. Classy!
Matakana Estate Cabernet Merlot Malbec Franc 1998
A blend of 33% CS, 31% Merlot, 26% Malbec, 10 CF
Toasty, tobacco-like aromas. Underlying huge tannins was sweet vanilla, blackcurrants, plum and brambly raspberries. A rich dense wine with a little earthiness emerging. Probably from the malbec component.
Matakana Estate Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon Franc Malbec 1999
A blend of 37% Merlot, 22% CS, 21% CF, 20% Malbec
regrant aromas. Lifted redcurrant and red cherry fruits. A meaty, bacon-like, nuance. Complex, intense and beautifully balanced. A very enjoyable wine with a huge spectrum of fruit.
Matakana Estate Syrah 1999
(previously featured as WineoftheWeek)
I was looking forward to tasting this wine again. Would it be as good as the bottle I previously enjoyed so much. The answer ' Yes'. White and red pepper on top of raspberry and vanilla leap out of the glass. In the palate there's plenty of peppery spice in this dry, yet juicy wine. Lovely flavour and texture.
We bid farewell and take a bit of a tiki tour on the way home, driving back up Sharps Road past Herons Flight to see the new vineyards at Monarch Downs, then over to the Snells Beach Road where further along a side road provided a good view of the Brick Bay Vineyard. And lastly through the back, loose metal roads to do a drive through of Mahurangi Estate.
It was dark when I dropped my guest for the day off in Glenfield at the end of a worthwhile winter reconnaissance to the Warkworth and Matakana Vineyards.
Rod Phillip's Worlds of Wine website