Auckland's Wine Regions

Members of the New Zealand Sommeliers and Wine Professionals have recently met with Bob Campbell MW and Michael Brajkovich MW to discuss and taste wines submitted as part of an Auckland Wine of Origin initiative at the New Zealand School of Food and Wine. The aim of this was to understand the wines and terroirs of Auckland better and increase the visibility of local Auckland wines.

“In Auckland, you can find some of the top restaurants in New Zealand and as the current trend is to feature local foods, part of this must be to also celebrate the local beverages and especially wine when pairing with a meal. So often international visitors fail to find an Auckland wine option on the city’s restaurant and café wine lists,” said Celia Hay, chair of the New Zealand Sommeliers and Wine Professionals.

With the Waitemata and Manukau harbours considered ancient rivers, surrounded by dry land, that over time has been submerged by the sea; Auckland’s Volcanic Field consists of at least 48 volcanoes. Now important as a wine-growing region, Waiheke Island remained above sea level. Numerous small scoria cones contribute a unique and unexplored aspect of Auckland’s wine terroir.

There has been a surge of increase in wines from volcanic regions internationally. Looking closely at Mount Etna on Sicily, Sardinia, Spain’s Canary Islands, and The Azores (Portugal), Master Sommelier, John Szabo published the book Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power in 2016. The Dundee Hills in Oregon, Mount Vesuvius with the Italian wine region of Taurasi and the slopes of Mount Fuji in Japan have also been celebrating their volcanic soils.

Over 30 wines were tasted at the event; samples of wine exclusively from grapes grown across Auckland. Chardonnay made up 27 percent of wines submitted, Cabernet Merlot Bordeaux blends 24 percent, Pinot Gris 12 percent, Syrah nine percent and the balance of the white wines were from the grapes Viognier, Verdelho and Gewurztraminer. No Reisling was sampled, interestingly, however, there were also two rosés and three vintages of the Italian black grape Montepulciano, from Coopers Creek.

The tastings were conducted over six flights of wine, led by Bob Campbell MW, with the highlight in the whites being the range and depth of Chardonnays. Styles included the ripe peach and rockmelon from the Passage Rock Reserve Chardonnay 2017 from Waiheke Island to the lean, crisp characteristics of Westbrook and Soljans; to Villa Maria’s Ilhumatao Chardonnay 2014 displaying notes of baked peach, nectarine and toasted hazelnut with a lingering savoury finish. Tasted by their winemakers, Michael Brajkovich MW, were Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2017 and Estate Chardonnay 2017.

“At the Ilhumatao vineyard, you can see with your own eyes the slope of an ancient volcanic cone, and this is also where the highly-rated Ilhumatao Chardonnay is planted.”

Waiheke Island dominated the red wines, and the group had a full appreciation for their exceptional quality. Wines which already have some age include the Bordeaux blends of Destiny Bay’s Destinae 2014, Frenchmans Hill Blood Creek Eight 2013, Te Motu 2013 and Goldie Reserve 2013 will confidently continue to age for another 5-10 years.

Also reflecting the potential of this style, the high quality of Waiheke Syrah from Frenchmans Hill Estate Rock Earth 2013, Passage Roch Syrah Reserve 2013 and Goldie Dyrah 2015 are perfect for drinking now or leaving to age. Cork closures were a standard feature of the premium wines.

The aromatic wines of Viognier, Gewuztraminer and the Portuguese grape, Verdelho are less well known and Villa Maria’s Ilhumatao vineyard, adjacent to Auckland International Airport and the Mount Mangere volcano shows this location can achieve a purity of fruit and aromatics which is world class.

“Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the influence of Auckland’s volcanic heritage and promote this as an innovative way to increase the visibility of the Auckland wine region.”