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Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
Wine tour operator, wine writer and lapsed physiotherapist. "Nature abhors a vacuum. I personally hate dusting."

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Hello, Good Evening and Welcome ... Waiheke Island Rant

Hi again, dear reader.  Looks like I'm back on the boards for another year of fear and loathing in the new challenging economic environment.

By way of researching a tour option to Waiheke Island, my charming assistant and I recently ventured over the water to spend a day of tasting and driving the circuitous lanes of Wine Island Auckland.

Now, as a mainland City-based operator, Waiheke is a tad vexatious in that - heaps of foreign visitors want to go there and seem to have been primed before stepping off the plane with the concept that wine in Auckland = Waiheke Island. 

Not true.  Historically, winemaking in NZ was largely begun in Kumeu wine region (30 min drive from the City) by Croatian immigrants way back in the early 20th century.  Waiheke is a relative newcomer with vines being planted in the 1980s.  And just an hour's drive north of the City we have Matakana - a boutique region only about 15 years old, which produces some of our best Sangiovese and Montepulciano.

Just the same, the wine fans stumble zombie-like off the international flights, eyes glazed, repeating 'I wanna go to Waiheke. I wanna go to Waiheke.'  Thus, I guess I'll have to set up some kind of Waiheke option.
Soooooo... we arranged a hire vehicle on the other side.  After picking us up from the ferry, the rental car guy's offsider drove for miles, and miles, and effing miles to the seedy car hire office.  The owner had an American accent and looked like an arms dealer - unshaven and ingratiatingly smiling as he talked flat out and got me to sign here.. and here.. and here, and finally - here; whence we uplifted the wreck of a vehicle and drove off.  (Slightly uncertainly as I have an automatic transmission and kept forgetting the old 'foot on the clutch when you start in gear' thing.)

Okay - Waiheke is bloody gorgeous.  I was biased, but after a day there I realised it is unique and does live up to the hype. The locally grown wines are fantastic, the food is fab, the scenery is breathtaking and (for the most part) winery staff are charming, patient and helpful.

Highlights:

Beautiful sunny day, with a relaxed ferry journey bookending the journey.
Sampling Stoneyridge Larose 2008
Scenery, wines and great staff at Cable Bay
Olive oil sampling at Rangihou Olives


Lowlight:

Snotty Maitre D' at one of Waiheke's top eateries - po faced and officious when I suggested that the glass containing my wine had caught some kitchen odours and smelled of fried fish.  He appeared spectrally at the table side - clearly offended.  He had poured a new glass and claimed he could tell no difference.  I still could.  It ended in a nil all draw - he could have handled the whole thing much better.  Bad luck for him- won't be taking my clients there for lunch.

Phil runs wine tours in Auckland
www.insidertouring.co.nz

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