A Wine Tour of NZ, from A to Q (Auckland to Queenstown)

I’ve been to NZ three times and it still feel as if I have only scratched the surface of this amazing place! Every trip is a new journey, a new exploration, and a new chance to explore beautiful vineyards, fabulous new restaurants, and picture perfect scenic places. The vineyards in NZ are some of my favorite in the world, and I highly recommend anyone check them out if they have the chance. Here are my favorite vineyards in the North and South Island and reasons why you should visit them!

North Island:

Auckland:

It’s highly likely you’ll fly into Auckland when arriving into NZ, so why not spend a day or two there?

Waiheke Island: If you’re in Auckland and you don’t make it to Waiheke Island, shame on you! Seriously, it’s well worth the 40-minute ferry ride from Auckland! The experience at the following vineyards are well worth a stop. (Please note, most Waiheke wine tours will take you to Mudbrick and Cable Bay as they are close to the ferry).

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Mudbrick:

Mudbrick is spectacular; the views are unlike anything this traveler has ever experienced before. The cellar door restaurant and colorful outdoor garden are located on the top of a hill and overlook the glistening water and multiple islands far out in the distance. I reckon there are very few vineyards in France that top the views at this vineyard. The vibe is romantic and cozy with candles on every table, and during the winter months they build a real wood burning fireplace. The wines at this vineyard are amazing, as is the little gift shop inside the tasting room. While you’re here, I highly recommend giving the Syrah a try. If you have the time, get a glass of wine and sit outside with a cheese plate enjoying the view. I’m so jealous of anyone who gets married here! I should just surprise my mother and tell her I’m getting married here, so what it’s a 24-hour trip over from New York, no big deal Aunt Betty!

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Cable Bay:

You simply cannot go to Waiheke without stopping at Cable Bay, it’s like going to NYC without visiting Brooklyn. Just do it and secretly thank me later. At Cable Bay vineyards there’s a high-end dining room, a terrace (less formal, but still a bit pretentious), and a large outdoor lawn in the back of the property where you can relax on bean bag chairs, drink wine, and stare out at the rolling hills and beautiful houses. We had lunch in the terrace and enjoyed pizza, salad, appetizers and a cheese plate and then sat outside for an hour to enjoy the view. Although the restaurant has a bit of a ‘exclusive, snobby’ vibe, sitting outside on the lawn was very peaceful and relaxing. The Sauvignon Blanc and Rose are on my recommended list

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Tantalus:

There are a million reasons to love this vineyard/restaurant. To start, the architecture and craftmanship inside the restaurant are second to none. In the middle of the venue is a real stone fireplace and surrounding the fireplace are floor to ceiling glass windows overlooking the vineyard outside. In fact, the entire restaurant is floor to ceiling windows showcasing the magnificent vineyard. Go past the fireplace to the right of the restaurant and you’ll find yourself in a conservatory like room, which opens up to a covered patio. Hopefully the weather will be kind to you and you’ll have the chance to walk out back and relax on the comfortable bean bags, while gawking at the helicopter pad. (In case you were wondering, my personal helicopter was out of commission the day I went, aw shucks, so we went with an accompanying bus tour instead). To top it all off, they also produce beer here, and there’s a fabulous brewer’s lounge – reminiscent of a speakeasy from the Prohibition era on the ground floor.

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There’s my helicopter right there!

Hawke’s Bay: (Napier/Hastings):

A 5+ hour drive from Auckland through via miles (kilometers) of windy roads and magnificent views of sheep and cows grazing on the greenest hills you have ever seen, you’ll come across a beautiful region on the North Island called Hawke’s Bay. On my last trip over, I stayed in a little town called Napier in Hawke’s Bay and had a look around their ‘art deco’ inspired downtown before heading to the following wineries about 15 minutes away.

Napier:

Mission Estates:

Mission Estates is New Zealand’s oldest winery, and part of the reason I made the trek down to Napier. The vineyard was established in 1851 and still maintains its colonial character. Make sure to check out the tasting bar while you’ve there, you get 5 different tastings and a free wine glass for $5. It’s a steak! The Sauvignon Blanc was a definite favorite. After that, I turned around and headed down the long hallway into their award-winning restaurant to have lunch. I was seated outside on their patio which looked a bit like the daughter of the Treasury Secretary’s wedding in ‘Wedding Crashers’. It was beautiful beyond words, classy and luxurious. Wicker tables and chairs with large umbrellas were setup on the perfectly manicured lawn. It was a bright sunny day in December when I arrived and I ordered the ‘Twice Baked Cheese Souffle’ and a glass of wine and stared out into the courtyard area. After lunch, I checked out the fountain in the middle of the courtyard and stood on the balcony overlooking the vineyard below. The food, wine, and views were all incredible.

Church Road:

This vineyard was down the road from Mission Estates, so you really have had no excuse not to pop in and check it out. Parking is available in the back where they are beautiful views of the mountain and large tent setup with tables and chairs where you can enjoy your wine without getting a nasty sunburn. The cellar door is meant to feel like you are in the confines of a real cellar door, where wine is still stored. It was cool, dim and musky. At the tasting bar, one of the workers who gave me 5 tastings for free. I asked about the rows upon rows of wine barrels in the back of the room (and the tables and chairs setup for a special event). The manager said they were having a local school event that evening, but that they also hosted small, intimate weddings.

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Hastings:

Craggy Range

I am still talking about my obsession with this vineyard, three weeks after my trip! Craggy Range was well worth the 25-minute drive from Napier. I was told to stop by this vineyard by some of my mates in NZ, and the second I arrived, I knew why. Words cannot begin to describe how stunningly beautiful this vineyard and restaurant are. Upon arrival you enter a massive, state of the art building is a classy, meets sophisticated, masculine looking tasting room with leather booths and bookshelves of wine aligning the walls. Past the cellar door and out through the back doors was a hedged in patio, that had large square plots for growing local vegetables and comfortable wooden tables and chairs overlooking the breath-taking setting behind the cellar door. After my tasting, I asked about the availability of a cheese platter and was told to check out Terroir Restaurant in the front of the vineyard. I was then seated on the outdoor patio overlooking the pond and the lovely mountain range in the background. If the vineyard didn’t close at 6, I would have stayed here all evening.

Other notable vineyards in the area include: Trinity Hill, Elephant Hill, Te Mata estate.

I did not get to Martinborough, NZ but was told the following vineyards are worth a stop: Palliser Estate, Ata Rangi, Te Kairanga.

South Island:

Marlborough (tell the locals it’s Blenheim and they will know you know you s***), it’s the Sauv Blanc capital of NZ – as I am sure you already know. Going to Marlborough was like going to the Hobbiton for a Lord of the Rings fanatic. The minute I arrived in Marlborough, I nearly had a heart attack I was so excited. People in this small, quaint little town must have thought I had a little something extra with my flat white coffee as I was running around like an absolute lunatic, taking more pictures than Kim Kardashian takes of herself. Stop. Wait. Is that even possible? Eh, probably not. In any case, these were my favorite wineries. Have you ever had these wines? If so, what are your thoughts?

Cloudy Bay:

Cloudy Bay was my favorite vineyard to visit in Marlborough. The Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir were delicious and the tasting room had a cozy vibe that made me feel right at home. The spacious and inviting cellar door had beautiful wooden floors, high ceilings and bookshelves aligning the walls encased with wine. I arrived in January on a bright sunny day, the kind of day I imagine it always is (Marlborough is located in a sunny valley sheltered from NZ’s maritime weather). The cellar doors that lead onto the outdoor patio were kept open bringing in lots of natural light and giving the cellar a cheery, upbeat vibe. The outside patio area had lots wooden benches, high top tables, and semi-circle bar in the corner. Past the patio was a beautiful vineyard overlooking the mountain. Apparently now have a raw bar in summer. As if this vineyard couldn’t get any better!

Spy Valley:

The motto of Spy Valley wines is, ‘some secrets are worth sharing’. I love it and I highly agree! Their Gewürztraminer was excellent; the lychee flavor was very dominant on the pallet with this wine. I also recommend the Pinot Gris, very pear, and citrus forward with a touch of honey. The outside of the building fits the ‘Spy’ theme and looks like something out of a James Bond movie. The vineyard 100% personifies the Spy theme by also having James Bond posters everywhere inside the tasting room. This visit was in late January where the tasting was done outside.  It’s easy to see why Trip Advisor gave it the 2017 Certificate of Excellence

Saint Clair:

The tasting bar here is really funky with warehouse looking light bulbs hanging from the ceiling and steel pipping used as a standing foot rest. Not only are the wines great, but they also offer some amazing food! You can either sit outside and eat on picnic tables in the vineyard or enjoy your wine, coffee and snacks inside by the cozy fire. In addition to wines, they also have an extensive range of craft beers from kiwi breweries. Fabulous!

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Central Otago (aka Queenstown): For a more comprehensive review, check out my other article, Eating and Drinking My Way Around The Adventure Capital of the World – 5 Things I loved about New Zealand. I wish I had the chance to check out more vineyards, but here are three I visited that I highly recommend!

Amisfield:

If you get a chance to stop here, you must do the tasting menu, you’ll thank me later! The restaurant is relaxing and beautiful, and has a trendy, sexy, and classy theme all at the same time. I highly recommend you sit outside on the courtyard if the weather is nice and enjoy the sun and the gentle breeze on the tables and chairs surrounding the outdoor fountain.

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Peregrine:

Peregrine is a small tasting room, but the Pinot Noirs are spectacular and well worth the visit! The 2011 Bottle is spectacular!

Kinross:

Kinross does not actually produce their own wines, but sources them from the vineyards around the area, so you get to try a variety of wines, which is awesome. When I stopped here, I checked off a variety of wines on their tasting menu and sat outside in their wine garden. Paradise. They also have accommodations, so you can drink all the wine you want and not have to worry!

Other wineries worth checking out in the region: Mt Difficulty, Carrick, Mt Rosa and Brennan.

Nelson: I had never even heard of Nelson until I visited NZ, but now I love it for so many reasons. It’s a two-hour drive from Marlborough, and they have lots of vineyards, great food, and fun biking paths surrounding the area. It’s always sunny, clean, very friendly, and probably the safest place in the world. Check out the following vineyards when you’re there:

Mahana:

Mahana wines are certified organic and made from minimum input. The vineyard hosts a cellar door, restaurant and luxury Villa. This is a perfect place to hold a wedding.

Fossil Ridge Wines:

Fossil Ridge is an adorable tasting room located in Richmond, NZ. This vineyard offers indoor and outdoor seating alongside the beautiful pond covered in lilies. Sitting there makes you feel like you are part of a Monet painting.

I also recommend Te Mania and Brightwater vineyards.

A list of vineyards can be located here: www.winesofnz.com/new-zealand-wine-regions/nelson-wine-region/

I would love to hear about your wine travels in NZ if you have ever been. Please let me know what your favorite wines are and what vineyards you visited. Cheers!

 

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