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New Zealand March/April 2017

New Zealand produces less than 1% of the world’s wine, yet it offers an impressive variety of grapes and styles. We (four winos) spent three weeks (March 15-April 6, 2017) touring and tasting our way through both the North and South Islands. In a series of three blog posts I will highlight the North Island’s Kumeu and Hawke’s Bay and the South Island’s Marlborough, Central Otago and Queenstown regions. 
Auckland has a choice of wine regions within easy reach of the city, including the distinctive vineyard island of Waiheke and the historic Kumeu regions. Hawke’s Bay’s impressive variety of wines, especially full bodied reds, attracts enthusiasts from around the globe. With 90% of the country’s Sauvignon Blanc plantings, Marlborough is New Zealand’s (some say the world’s) Sauvignon Blanc capital. One of New Zealand’s most picturesque wine regions, Central Otago and Queenstown, produce some of the finest Pinot Noir in the world, as well as vibrant white wine varietals. 
If you are thinking of visiting NZ or just interested in learning more about the country’s dynamic food and wine scene read on for details! See facebook for photo album.

The North Island

The evening of Wednesday, March 15 we flew – so conveniently - direct on American Airlines from Los Angeles, CA to Auckland, NZ. The flight was approximately 13 hours, and as NZ is 19 hours ahead, we arrived the Friday morning of St. Patrick’s Day - a fact that had escaped me when planning this trip. Auckland was definitely getting its green on!
Where did we stay?
Would I recommend? Yes
It’s about a 30 minute drive from the airport in a great location right on the water. The hotel has a modern, nautical style and is an easy walking distance to the harbor ferries, numerous dining options and shopping.
Dining highlights
“Serving fresh and unpretentious food alongside tasty handcrafted cocktails…spectacular sunset views looking out over Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour.”
“Mediteranean Meals and Tapas” – we ate here twice!
“The perfect place to drop in and refuel…order a selection of small plates and pass them round.”

Kumeu Wine Country

It was only a 30 minute drive from our Hotel to Auckland’s Heritage Wine Region.  There are wineries dating back to the 1930’s, ranging in size from boutique artisan winemakers to some of the best known names in NZ wine.
Founded in 1980, Coopers Creek Vineyard has grown and matured over three decades into a top class winery with a strong international presence. It continues to innovate, particularly with new wine styles, introducing and pioneering promising new grape varieties that are ideal for cool climate regions.
Very welcoming and knowledgeable. A diverse selection of wines was available to taste as you will see from the photo album.
The Brajkovich family came to New Zealand from Croatia in 1937 and brought with them their knowledge of wine-making. They went on to be a founding family of the New Zealand wine industry.
We thoroughly enjoyed our tasting with Melba Brajkovich, the family matriarch.  Their Chardonnay was some of the best we enjoyed on our trip!
Family owned and run since 1937, Soljans is known for their sparkling Muscat and Tawny Port. They also have a Café so this is a good option if needing lunch.
If in the area another great option for lunch or dinner is the Tasting Shed where you can enjoy "an entrée style gastronomic voyage that takes your taste buds on an adventure."  

Hawke’s Bay

Located on the eastern side of the North Island, Hawke’s Bay is the oldest and second largest wine region in New Zealand. With high sunshine hours and low rain fall, it is perfectly suited to growing wine grapes and crafting premium wine. The region is NZ’s leading producer of full-bodied red wines: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and blends. They also make some equally impressive Chardonnay and aromatic Pinot Gris.  In cooler locations, plantings of Pinot Noir are revealing quality results.  
Where did we stay?
Black Barn Vineyards in Hawke’s Bay offers 17 unique properties for nightly vacation rental. Each is fully self-contained, exclusively yours for the duration of your stay and selected for its prime location, unique character and original style. 
Would I recommend? Yes, I’d advise anyone planning on an extended stay in the area to check out Black Barn’s properties – exceptional! The pictures on their website do not do it justice.
Wineries & Restaurants
Produce an extensive range of world-class wines from Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough that is available to taste in their very warm and welcoming Cellar Door. They also have a retail gift store with local food products, chocolates, local and international cheeses, unique collectables and glassware. You can also make the most of the gorgeous Hawke’s Bay sunshine and select your own cheese platter to enjoy with a bottle of wine on their sheltered terrace or outside next to the vines.
A boutique family owned winery set in the premium Bridge Pa Triangle growing area of Hawke's Bay. They concentrate on the key Hawke's Bay varieties of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Their Cellar Door is situated amongst rows of olive trees and grapevines. A relaxing environment to taste their wines!
Produces single-estate-grown wines and is situated in the heart of the Gimblett Gravels wine growing area of Hawke's Bay. We enjoyed a tasting and lunch. The restaurant is set amongst a lush vineyard backdrop that features local produce with a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern leaning. The dishes are designed for sharing so we enjoyed an assortment of small plates, bites (the dill, lemon and snapper croquetas were fabulous) and Charcuterie with a bottle of their 2016 Left Field Rosé – a very unique blend of Pinotage, Arneis and Pinot Gris.
Established in 1896, Te Mata Estate remains family owned, producing internationally recognized wines exclusively from its Hawke’s Bay vineyards. In 2012, Te Mata Estate launched Estate Vineyards - a collection of five varietally-designated wines; Merlot/Cabernets, Syrah, Gamay Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
A single estate winery located in the winegrowing district of Havelock North in Hawke’s Bay.  They had a number of wines available to taste at their informal cellar door: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon based blends, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, and dessert wines.
A boutique vineyard located five minutes from the Village of Havelock North in Hawke's Bay. Their focus is on Bordeaux styled reds of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and whites of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. All of their wines are Estate Grown and with just over 25 acres of vines most wines are only available through the Cellar Door and website. Be prepared to spend some time there as in addition to tasting you can explore their Kitchen store and have lunch at the Bistro. In the summer months on Saturday’s there is a grower’s market and evening concerts in the amphitheatre. As mentioned above they also offer seventeen unique properties for nightly vacation rental.
Established in 1997, Craggy Range is a family-owned winery situated in the shadow of the spectacular Te Mata Peak. The Cellar Door and their restaurant Terrôir is located at their Giants Winery in Havelock North. The setting is stunning! Prior to going to lunch we experienced a relaxed tasting of their latest release wines. A personal tour of the winery and the grounds is also available for those that would like to learn more about Craggy Range and ‘The Legend of the Sleeping Giant’.
At Terrôir Restaurant you'll enjoy fresh, seasonal produce sourced from the gardens of Giants Winery paired to Craggy Range wines. To pair with our fresh market fish we chose the 2015 Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay. A perfect match!
Established in 2003, Elephant Hill is located within a stone’s throw of the Pacific Ocean on the idyllic TeAwanga coast of Hawke’s Bay. We enjoyed dinner in their stylish, warm and inviting restaurant. The food was delicious and the wine menu included some well chosen international options. The views over the vineyard and Pacific Ocean made this an ideal spot to unwind and appreciate the experience.
Established in 1851 by pioneering French Missionaries, Mission Estate is NZ's oldest winery and birthplace of NZ wine. Housed in an elegantly restored historic seminary building with sweeping views of Napier, Mission Estate offers visitors a year round complete wine experience. We visited their Cellar Door and tasted an extensive range of their current release wines. For those interested in history, they offer tours twice a day. 
Lunch or dinner is available in their renowned Mission restaurant. We enjoyed a casual lunch of fish and chips with a bottle of their Reserve Chardonnay out on the terrace. 
With a history dating from 1897…the Church Road Winery was renovated and reopened in 1989. From the 1990 vintage they produced their first Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Today when visiting this boutique winery guests have the option to choose a behind the scenes tour, explore the fascinating underground museum, sample a range of wines at the Cellar Door, or enjoy a delicious à la carte lunch in their restaurant. We opted for the “Prestige Tasting” and were not disappointed. The tasting experience was one of our best and not just because the wines were good. The welcome was friendly and our educator was very informative and entertaining. The Syrah and Cab/Merlot were the group faves. 
A highly awarded boutique winery with a focus on low allergen, natural winemaking with the belief that the less interference from the “meddlesome hand of man”, the better! Their passion for wine and what they do was very apparent and appreciated. The relaxed and personalized tasting at their Cellar Door was a nice way to end our day and our time in Hawke’s Bay.