March 2, 2020, Waiheke Island, New Zealand
It’ the soil and the climate, so says a brochure about Waiheke Island, about 40 minutes by fast ferry from Auckland. The soil is not fertile, but it is mineral rich. According to the brochure this requires careful management. The soil is made up of highly mineralized “rotten rock,” weathered greywacke that has been fractured and compressed by tectonic action, then the various mineral veins were eroded washing different minerals into different valleys. The chemical composition of soils changes quickly throughout the island. On top of that half of the island also was covered with volcanic ash from Rangitoto volcano. The different minerals impart different flavors to the grapes from this 92 sq km island, and different “mouthfeels and structure.” At least that’s what the vintners want you to believe.
And then there is the climate. It’s maritime, with more sun and milder temperatures than Auckland just a few miles away. It is warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer. As a result, 8 varieties of red wine and 5 variety of white wine grapes grow on this island, providing product for 22 wineries on an island that’s not all that big.
From what I understand 40 years ago the island was kind of a hippie haven. The island has a mild climate and great sandy beaches. The hippies turned into artists and it became a wine and art colony. But man does not live by wine alone, especial antipodean man, so the island added some micro-breweries. There is at least one olive press making different olive oils. So, if you spend some time on Waiheke Island you can enjoy a wine tasting, beer tasting, olive oil tasting while, depending on the time of the year, attending a jazz festival or various arts festivals.
The wineries have staked out different territories, Mudbrick winery specializes in weddings, they have the facilities for large parties, villas and lodges to rent and are booked for nuptials two years out. Cable Bay Vineyards is noted for its fine dining and ocean views. Wild is for fun and games (literally) and Thomas Batch for its 360-degree view at the highest point on the island, including the Auckland skyline, and really fine wines and cheeses and for its scenic walks.
We took the ferry to Waiheke Island and then got on the hop on hop off bus that takes you to the beaches, wineries and breweries. The bus company was not doing well. They own three double decker buses. One had its engine impaled by a pylon and was out of service, a second had problems with the emergency exit and was out of service, so there was only one. While we were on it, a double decked bus, sitting on the upper deck, a tree branch impaled an upper deck window and that bus went out of service. The driver announced that he was going to get something stronger than wine and that effectively ended our tour for the day. I was thinking of one more stop but we went back to the ferry. They did have some single decker buses but they hold fewer people so at some stops the bus was full and people were left behind. That didn’t happen to us but you thought twice about getting out of the bus on the far side of the island from the ferry.
We stopped at Wild, not for the wine, but because they brew ginger beer. Their product is only available on the island because it is not pasteurized. This winery/microbrewery is a lot of fun. They have games between the rows of vines. Between several rows they have an archery range, between others bocce ball, and others corn hole. They have a big kids’ playground and also have a range to shoot clay birds.
At Thomas Batch we had a wine tasting and enjoyed a bread and cheese plate. A rose, a sparkling, a white and a red. We also admired a beautifully restored, deep blue, 1957 Chevy Bellaire.
We took a ferry back, not to Auckland but to Devonport where Suzi’s step brother-in-law Jeff has a condo. We sat, talked and had a wonderful dinner at a sidewalk restaurant. We took the ferry from Devonport back to “the city” admiring the brightly lit Auckland skyline.