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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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Saturday, December 9, 2017

Auckland's newest wine label - Hunting Lodge




 











A few years back, there were rumours in Auckland that Australia’s Treasury Wine Estates were planning to pull Matua winery out of Waimauku to centralise operations to Marlborough. And sure enough, in 2015 they announced that the entire site would be shut down and put on the market. Up for sale on the 31 hectare property was a large winery and bottling plant, admin and cellar door. Also for sale was the heritage listed Hunting Lodge built in 1868 as the property's original farm homestead - and formerly one of Auckland’s renowned fine dining restaurants.  The Matua label was established in 1968 by brothers Bill and Ross Spence from very humble beginnings in an old tin shed in Swanson. They pioneered Sauvignon Blanc in Waimauku, with mixed results. And the first Montana plantings of Sauvignon Blanc in Marlborough were propagated by Ross Spence. Matua went on to become a major player, with the brothers eventually selling in 2001, and it has been owned by Treasury Wine Estates since 2011.
With around 50 jobs gone, and in the wake of an identical move by Constellation Brands USA shutting down the Nobilo site in Huapai, things were looking pretty grim for both local employment and west Auckland wine tourism.

But, to the rescue came the Sutton Group, a NZ dairy and infant formula company founded by Brent and Denise Sutton who are locals and have been friends of the Spence brothers for many years. Sutton Group is family-operated and has an estimated net worth of $55 million.
Since 2016 there has been a major revamp of the site and branding as Hunting Lodge Winery.
Says Michelle Hayes, cellar door manager who previously worked for Matua, “The biggest change obviously is that it’s come back to being a family business, which is what Matua originally was. And also not being run by big corporate that wasn’t really looking after the property. So the ethos behind the whole Hunting Lodge Winery is quite unique and there are so many different things going on here. It’s quite exciting.”
 
Some very smart branding and logos emphasise the sustainability angle of the new winery, with plans to eventually have a ‘farm to table’ dining experience using fresh produce from their own Waimauku market gardens. In addition to the totally renovated cellar door and admin block, there is a new tasting room café, and a brand new wedding and functions facility. The sizable winemaking and bottling plant has expanded its bottling line capacity, and the historic Hunting Lodge with be reopening in November with a return to its rustic fine dining roots, headed by former Clooney chef Des Harris.
On the winemaking front, former Matua winemaker Pete Turner has come back to oversee production of their own boutique Hunting Lodge label wines, as well as a large amount of continued contract bottling for Matua, plus bottling and contract winemaking for other labels. Around 50 staff have been re-employed and now back on site in and around the winery.

The Hunting Lodge wines are now made from contract grown fruit, but there are new Chardonnay plantings and plans to make a barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc from Waimauku fruit. Meantime the tasting room features a diverse range of very elegant wines at $20 to $38. Current line-up is a Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough Rosé, Gisborne Viognier, Marlborough Pinot Gris, Marlborough Albariño, Gisborne Marsanne/Viognier, two Marlborough Pinot Noirs and a Hawke’s Bay Syrah.
With a return to a functioning winery and vibrant visitor experience, Hunting Lodge has fortunately reversed the all-too common phenomenon of large corporate buyouts of family owned wineries. For now, the future of the label and local winemaking in Auckland is looking very positive.

Phil owns and runs Fine Wine Tours Ltd. in Auckland

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