Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Wines of Waikehe Island – A DayTrip to the NZ Island of Wine

(Feb.10, 2010) The conference organizers scheduled an optional field trip to Waikehe Island the day after the conference ended. It appeared as if everyone signed up for it, because there were more than 60 people who sat down for the 3-hour gourmet lunch we had late that afternoon. We caught the 9am ferry to the island, and everyone was delighted with the bright sunny day, and the amazing turquoise blue of the water as we approached the island.

Two large tour buses were waiting for us as we disembarked from the ferry and drove us to the Fossil Bay Vineyards owned by the university. As we drove along the charming windy roads over gently rolling hills, I felt as if I had been transported back to Hawaii. Large colorful hibiscous bushes, flowing red bouganvilla, and small white sandy beaches greeted us around every bend. The only thing missing was palm trees. Small charming shops sold colorful items, and I wished we had time to stop and shop. The island is 25 kilometers long, and is known for its excellent restaurants and more than 35 wineries.

We had a very informative tour of the Fossil Bay chardonnay vineyard and a glass of chardonnay from the 2008 vintage. It turns out that the soil of the island is clay loam and they do not irrigate their vines. Rainfall is around 900ml per year, and they are almost as warm as Hawkes Bay. Summer temperatures are around 32C, and it rarely freezes during the winter. The main issues are humidity which brings on rot and downy mildew. They also struggle with birds – both starlings and wax eyes – and therefore, every vineyard on the island was completely netted. This vineyard used 8x6 foot spacing, cane pruning, and had 3 clones: 6, 9, and Mendoza, on different rootstock. Since it is a university vineyard, it is a learning laboratory for wine science students. They ferment the lots by clone and vineyard section, but each team of students is allowed to experiment with yeasts, fermentation temperature/vessel and oak aging regime. Therefore, the final blend tastes different each year. Before leaving, we walked up the hill to take photos at a breathtaking overlook of the island, surrounding water, and a skyline view of Auckland in the distance.

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