John Barry, a wine enthusiast who has enviable comprehensive knowledge of New Zealand’s Wairarapa wine region, reports, “Coney Wines in Martinborough do a great Ritz reisling, a sassy spritely wine in stark contrast to the more earthly Pinot Noirs that the region is famous for.” He adds, “The owner Tim Coney is an informative host and an entertainer in his own right, which makes his winery a must see for visitors to this area.” Turns out the Coney’s started the vineyard as a simple retirement project, but the operation took off, turning into a “24/7 bustle of vinetending, winemaking, marketing and restaurateuring, each operation undertaken in the hallowed, self-flagellating Martinborough tradition: manual labour.” Hubbie tends to the leaf-plucking and bunch-thinning (all while jamming away to ‘70s hits) while wife, Margaret, whips up homemade meals for her cafe that is located on the premises too. The Trio Cafe offers the likes of spicy duck pie served with quince jam, followed by venison and red wine hotpot topped with a roasted garlic mash. Cheers to Tim and Margaret for founding Coney Wines by turning a 16 acre sheep-dotted paddock into a vineyard of 10,000 vines (purportedly armed just with spades!).
Fiona Hewitt gravitates toward vineyards like Judge Rock in the Alexandra Basin because they’re off the tourist’s beaten track. But what’s more important about Fiona is that she is one in-the-loop chick, and thus a great connection right at your fingertips: Fiona’s husband runs the biggest bottling and warehousing facility for wineries in Central Otago, and, in turn, she has friends-in-the-wine-industry galore, as well as exclusive access to guide through the VinPro factory where he fortunate hubbie spends his days. Two of her friends include Paul and Angela Jacobson of Judge Rock who, she says, “describe themselves as the ‘Higgs Bosun’ of the Wine World: tiny (almost invisible!), but extremely important.” In other words, Judge Rock packs a punch at merely 4 hectares in size. According to Fiona, what makes Judge Rock that much more special is how it came about: Paul, a civil engineer, learned the art of winemaking by spending his holidays working unpaid as a cellar hand! Also, she raves about the lovely setting stating, “This is a fantastic tasting experience sitting outside under a green canopy of climbing roses at Paul and Angela’s home…and travellers can choose to stay in the gorgeous vineyard cottage accommodation.” At Judge Rock, Fiona says, “Tastings are often vertical with 3 years presented for comparison…Highly recommended for Pinot Noir lovers.”
Of Como Villa, Fiona says, “Johnny Chapman has created a magical step back in time in his pioneer-themed tasting room set in a restored cottage built in 1865 [that is filled with] artifacts to create a museum of the gold rush, with great wines served at the saloon bar.” Decor aside, Como Villa makes Fiona’s list of faves for its charming owners (Johnny and Pam), range of product (Como Villa produces Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Rosé, and some experimental blends that are made locally by French Winemaker Antony Worch), and uniqueness (this vineyard’s wines are only available at the cellar door, so it’s a charming now-or-never type of deal).
Fiona enjoys Perseverance Estate for its pool-side wine-tasting under the gaze of a beautiful Mediterranean-style home, and its mascots: Poppy and Rosie, two miniature schnauzers. Fiona adds that since Jennie (the female half of the couple that founded the vineyard in 2003) collects antiques and art, “a visit to their home with a glass of wine is an uplifting experience.” Perseverance Estate specializes in Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Rosé (many of which have gained medal wins!), and she scores highly in international wine competitions. In shorthand: you just gotta go here.
When a wine tours guide says, “No wine tasting trip to Alexandra would be complete without a visit to Two Paddocks Vineyard,” you know it’s one to add to the list. Two Paddocks comes highly recommended by Fiona for its ownership (actor Sam Neil – you know him from his role in Jurassic Park – is the man behind this vineyard), Riesling (grown specifically for Neil’s Japanese wife who needed something to accompany her native cuisine), and collection of local art, which, by the way, Fiona tips that you have to use the bathroom to see. Fiona admits, “Sam is a busy man, so he’s not always available for tastings, but his staff are all locals who do a fabulous vertical tasting,” and also praises the vineyard for its “lavender products which are also grown on site.” Wine and lavender: Oh, Two Paddocks, you do know the way to a lady’s heart.
Fiona’s final suggestion is VinPro. Here, she leads guests around the 90 tonne winery, barrel halls, bottling hall, and warehouse. According to her, the highlight is a barrel tasting with one of the winemaking team, and we couldn’t agree more; after all, not much beats tasting the difference between plant clones, new and old oak, and wine growing sub-regions. The bonus: talking to the winemaker about their vision for each customer. How cool is that?
Christine Gisby’s sightseeing and wine tasting tours of Waiheke Island include the likes of Kennedy Point, an organic winery tucked among the 300 year old pohutukawa trees overlooking Kennedy Bay. What makes Kennedy Point extra special is that tasting doesn’t stop at wine; there is also olive, avocado oil and honey tasting. The only danger of paying Kennedy Point a visit: you may never want to leave.
After departing from Queenstown with Sam de Reeper for a kayak trip to Pigeon and Pig Islands, followed by a horseback ride across the river valley and into the mountains, a visit to Amisfield Estate Vineyard will be well earned. Formerly a high country sheep station, Amisfield switched gears to winemaking in 1999, and is now one of the largest single vineyard estates in the Central Otago region. But Amisfield’s wine is not the only star of their show: the vineyard’s bistro (whose menu that focuses on local produce changes daily) won the runner-up best winery restaurant 2014, and Cuisine Magazine (June 2014) says it’s “a stunning setting for top-notch wines and honest food.”
In the spirit of yin and yang, Craggy Range is the perfect day-after activity for whitewater rafting on the same island with Luke Boddington. Though enjoying an ice cold beer alongside Luke following a thrill-filled float down the Wairoa and Kaituna rivers may be hard to beat, as one of the most technically advanced wineries ever built in New Zealand that is known for uncompromising standards and meticulous craftsmanship, Craggy Range offers an equally as pleasant an experience. The owners of Craggy Range, Terry and Mary Peabody, understand that “land is the most important thing if you’re going to start a winery,” hence their decision to found themselves in New Zealand where “the country’s exceptional climate, the youth of the wine industry and the pioneering spirit of the people aligned with [their] own philosophy and desire to cut a different path…to create new benchmarks with wines that would become internationally known as the New World classics.”