If you love food, wine, and unique travel experiences, New Zealand is probably already on your bucket list. You can get many big-name brands of New Zealand wine at your local restaurant or supermarket, but the most memorable experiences are created by visiting the remote but accessible corners of the Auckland wine region, where you personally meet winemakers, drink the world’s best wine and eat meals to match.
New Zealand winemaking
This New Zealand wineries guide for travelers has been written by experienced tour guides who’ve been running small group tours around New Zealand since the 1970s and figured out where the best wines and wineries are. This article is for overseas travelers planning a trip to New Zealand’s Auckland and Waiheke Island wine regions and suggests the best wineries to visit and recommends the best wines to try on your trip.
New Zealand is one of a group of ‘new world’ wine-growing countries changing the global wine landscape – and while our viticulture history doesn’t go as far back as the traditional wine-growing areas of Europe and the Middle East, it hasn’t taken long for New Zealand wines to gain a fantastic international reputation.
As the youngest country on earth, our winemaking history is relatively short; the first grapes were introduced by missionary Samuel Marsden in 1819 who remarked: “New Zealand promises to be very favorable to the vine”.
Wineries in Auckland
The first larger-scale wineries were established by Croatian immigrants around Auckland at the end of the 19th century, but it wasn’t until the 1970s and 1980s that the industry really started to develop. Ironically it was the relaxation of import controls on foreign wines coming into New Zealand in 1985 which lead to local producers going on an export drive which has been a stunning success. From that time the New Zealand wine industry has gone from strength to strength, with new regions, wines and individual wineries cropping up all over the country.
So, it might surprise visitors to Auckland that our biggest city has some wonderful wine producers and culinary experiences that fit nicely into your trip and combine easily with visits to the scenic highlights of the Hauraki Gulf and Waitakere Ranges.
The Auckland Geographical Indication (GI) is small but also the warmest of New Zealand’s wine-growing areas. Lying around the city, there are three sub-regions: Waiheke Island, Kumeu and Matakana.
The region of Huapai and Kumeu, as far west as Waimauku and east to the southern edge of the town of Riverhead includes some of the founding vineyards of the New Zealand wine industry. Some of the country’s oldest wineries such as Montana Wines (now Brancott Estate), Babich, Nobilo, and Cooper’s Creek are here, established in the late 1800s by Croatian settlers working the Kauri gum fields. The area is most notable for its excellent Chardonnay, which takes up 85% of the vineyard area.
Waiheke Island is a short 30-minute ferry ride east from downtown Auckland and with around 30 wineries across 92 square kilometers (36 sq mi) to choose from, it’s the perfect place for a day trip from the city. A dry and warm mesoclimate suits Bordeaux type grape and the red wines produced there are considered to be significantly ripe and full-bodied. While the island is primarily planted with French red grape varieties such as Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Cabernet Franc; its white grape varieties also have a good reputation.
Just an hour or so north of Auckland lies the Matakana region – home to rolling hills, green valleys and pretty beachside towns. Wine began to be made there in the sixties but the oldest current vineyards, Heron’s Flight, Providence Wines, and Ransom Wines, were established in the late eighties and early nineties. Protected from the prevailing wind by hills, the area has a warm mesoclimate and produces Pinot Gris, Syrah and Bordeaux Reds for many boutique, non-commercial wineries.
Down-to-earth, warm and embracing, New Zealanders are known for their friendly hospitality… the perfect way to sample the top drops while relaxing in beautiful sunny settings and enjoying gourmet spreads.
A day out to Waiheke on the ferry from Auckland CBD is one of the most popular day trips from Auckland for visitors. Visiting the West Coast beaches and Waitakere Ranges is another great full-day option from the city which will give you the chance to visit the Kumeu wineries on the way out or back.
The Auckland wineries to visit:
- Kumeu River
- Soljans Estate Winery
- Tantalus Estate
- Man O’ War Vineyards
- Mudbrick Vineyard
- Plume Matakana
Special mention goes to Villa Maria Winery in Mangere, a tranquil oasis close to Auckland International Airport. If you have a flight to catch and would love to fit in one last tasting and lunch, this is the spot for you.
One Auckland wine you have to try:
SOHO Revolver Merlot Cabernet Franc Malbec 2016; or if you’re feeling wealthy, the Larose from Stonyridge Estate is often compared with some of the best Bordeaux wine in the world.
What to eat:
With farming making up the backbone of the New Zealand economy, it’s no wonder we’re a country passionate about our meat. Succulent beef eye fillet or scotch – lightly cooked to perfection – is a specialty, as is roast lamb rump. One of the best red meats money can buy, the lean, flavorsome taste of venison is best served with Kumara (sweet potato) and a glass of full-bodied merlot. Also, strawberries grown just out of Auckland during summer are delicious – a punnet or two is the perfect accompaniment to any picnic lunch.
Our favorite restaurants in Auckland:
As our biggest city and the first stop for many people on their trip to New Zealand, there are so many great restaurants, cafes and food trucks to discover. Heaps within walking distance of the central city. Particular areas to try are Viaduct Harbour, the newer Wynard Quarter and Ponsonby Road, just to name a few.
- Best Overall – Soul Bar – Food lovers in Auckland adore this waterfront spot, serving up locally sourced dishes in a stunning setting.
- Best International – Ebisu – The best of ancient Japanese traditions and fresh Kiwi fare, in the trendy Britomart precinct.
- Best Value – Sri Pinang – A BYO spot with a laidback atmosphere and affordable prices, Sri Pinang is located on K Road and is known as one of the best Malaysian restaurants in town.
- Best Takeaway – Petra Shawarma – This family-run business in Kingsland is your best bet for hearty, tasty and generous portions of authentic Middle Eastern food.
- Best Variety – Elliott Stables – Located in the heart of the city, Elliott Stables is an enchanting dining village where you can browse the menus of 12 international restaurants with ethnic and local fare.