Nestled in the foothills of the Alpine Pacific Triangle, the charm of Waipara Valley is found not only in its picturesque beauty, but in the character of its people. Home to Southern Boundary Wines – a conglomerate of family estates that have adopted new attitudes toward the wine industry – as well as smaller, more boutique-style vineyards like Torlesse and Terrace Edge, the valley is as diverse in its topography as it is in its vineyards and the families who own them.
One of the fastest growing wine regions in the country, Waipara is only an half hour drive from the sandy beaches of Pegasus Bay and less than hour away from the bustling, new-age city of Christchurch. In the lee of the Teviotdale hills, these vineyards are open to the warm, northwest winds, providing an ideal climate for rich Pinot Noirs and aromatic Pinot Gris.
“If you go around New Zealand, you’ve got three fundamental topographies,” said Kym Rayner, owner of Torlesse Wines.
The Melody of New Zealand
Story by Hailey Grace Steele
and Madison Sullivan
Photos by Mary Kathryn Carpenter, Christopher Chase Edmunds and Cara Walker
“You’ve got valley floors, hills and slopes, and then you have stream influences – after the stream you get terraces. So one of our vineyards is a two-tiered terrace vineyard, one of them is up on the slopes, and there are two on what we call valley floor – but in New Zealand nothing is particularly flat, so valley floor is still kind of angulating.”
Rayner and his wife, Maggie, have been pioneers in Waipara Valley since they first opened their cellar door in 1991. An Australian transplant with a brazen sense of humor, Rayner has been in the business since 1972. He bottled his first barrel in McLaren Vale, Australia, his hometown and an internationally recognized wine region south of Adelaide.
The walls of Rayner’s cellar are decorated with paintings from local artists, and his shelves are stocked with artisanal honeys, clay pottery and jewelry made by friends and budding entrepreneurs – all for sale, of course.
“The point of this exercise is to have your little surprise face on,” Rayner said, speaking to an unexpectedly full cellar of wanderers looking to escape the afternoon sun and, perhaps, learn a thing or two about the region’s wines. “There are two of the Savvy [Sauvignon Blanc], but they are very different.” Rayner noted before launching into an explanation of oak aged barrels and stainless steel tanks.
His banter is playful and warm. His wine is serious business.
“The stainless-steel tank is easier, but it’s inert,” Rayner explained. “It brings nothing to the equation. Whereas, the barrel has its own flavor from the oak. It breathes. It has intimate contact. Each barrel is slightly different. When you’ve got 20 barrels, every one has it’s own little personality. Whereas a tank is a tank is a tank.”
He explained that the only way to achieve this is to plant the grapes, make the wine and each year learn how to fine tune.
“Year by year you make the wine match the soil and match the climate profile better and better,” Bond said.
Each of the wines available for tasting come paired with a homemade delicacy. From a freshly baked focaccia bread and tapas coated in pesto, to Kalamata olives marinated in honey, red wine and citrus, visitors to the vineyard can try it all. Just be sure to taste the wine first, food second, for a fresh palette each sip, warns George Bond, Casita Miro’s sommelier and the owners’ son.
“We love what we do, and there’s not any amount of money that anyone could offer us that would substitute our love of this place,” Barnett Bond stated. “Everything about being here, that ocean, this land, what we’re doing. You know, playing with mosaic tiles, playing with food. We wake up in the morning and we sort of enjoy knowing we’re looking forward to enjoying the day. I can’t imagine being somewhere else.”
Southern Boundary Wines
Just down the road from the barn-wood red, rustic cellar door of Torlesse Wines, sits the modern, meticulously manicured terrace of its old friend – Southern Boundary Wines.
CEO Andrew Moore, son of Bruce and Jill Moore who planted their first vines on Waipara Springs in 1982, is smart, forthright and sincere. He takes the production of his wines very seriously.
Waipara Springs, along with four other labels in the area, make up Southern Boundary wines. The company has been awarded in both national and international competitions. Its product can be found across the globe and, lucky for visitors not native to New Zealand, ordered online. The grapes, winemaking processes, barrels and machinery are carefully monitored by Moore for quality and the attention to detail shines through each glass.
When the wine begins to pour, however, the shift in Moore’s demeanor is palpable. Just as sincere, his business-like attitude and razor-sharp focus begin to blur with his playful, adventurous disposition. It does not take much time at his polished, wood-slab bar to recognize that here – discussing aged wines and serving new friends – is where Moore feels most comfortable.
“Wine is a little bit like music, you know?” he suggested casually as he poured the next sampling. “Sometimes you want it loud and noisy, whereas sometimes you want it to be quiet. To just sit and sip. Wine is a bit like that – it goes with your mood.”
Across the Hauraki Gulf, only a few miles off the coast of Auckland, sits Waiheke Island, a paradise better known as the Island of Wine. As travelers coast into the cove they might catch a glimpse of a sign, “Slow Down, You’re Here.” And slow down they will.
Waiheke’s “shy cove,” was given its name for “hiding from the outside what it has on the inside.” Home to many gems, from local art galleries to glistening beaches, Waiheke has it all, and people flock from around the world to experience its laid-back vibe.
Boasting a population of just 8,500, Waiheke is divided between urban and rural landscape. Of that population, some 2,000 were born in countries other than New Zealand.
“At the end of the day, we are all immigrants to this place,” explained Wayne Eagleton, owner of Waiheke Island Wine Tours.
“It’s just a matter of when you arrive. People listen to the siren of Waiheke. It attracts people–it sounds crazy, I know, but it has a heart.”
Take a winding tour across the island and stumble across quirky vineyards and alluring locally owned restaurants. In the case of Casita Miro, owned by Barnett Bond and his wife, Cat Vosper, visitors will discover the “Best Destination Restaurant” in Auckland, a renowned selection of wines and a stunning hilltop view of the gulf, wrapped up in one family-owned package.
“Wine is a little bit like music, you know. Sometimes you want it loud and noisy, whereas sometimes you want it to be quiet. To just sit and sip. Wine is a bit like that – it goes with your mood.”
A Proud History
New Zealand first made its appearance on the international wine market during the late 1980s with the unveiling of its zesty Sauvignon Blanc. With a crisp acidity unparalleled by much else on the market even today, the success story of the country’s most popular wine still enchants winemakers, sommeliers and connoisseurs around the world.
But the story of New Zealand wine is not one of singular importance. In fact, if left unprompted, most winemakers and vintners will speak of the Sauvignon Blanc in the same way they speak of their big brother, Australia: with a humble appreciation heavily masked in feigned annoyance.
As one of the smallest and most isolated developed countries in the world, the men and women of New Zealand are no strangers to long hours and hard work, which often goes unnoticed, or whose benefits are reaped by someone halfway around the globe. Yet, you will find no allusion to this circumstance from a Kiwi. A proud and loyal people with a quick wit and superb sense of humor, a bit too far off the beaten path to subscribe to ideals of political correctness and attitudes of superiority, it comes as no surprise that the Kiwi lifestyle is one often emulated and rarely replicated.
It would not be possible to understand this lifestyle without first understanding the vineyards from which it is nurtured.
uch can be learned of a foreign land by listening to its music. Its joys and triumphs, struggles and angsts, love stories and battle cries melded together in an irresistible harmony meant to be shared with others. The best songs tell the stories of the people who created them. They share secrets of the toil, boast tricks of the trade and offer a glimpse into the heart of their composer.
In this story, the land is New Zealand and the music is wine.
Just down the way from Casita Miro lies Obsidian, a winery Wayne Eagleton explains as, “literally running out of walls to hang their awards on.”
Founded in 1993, its original intent was to exclusively create Bordeaux-style wines, however much has changed since that time. Michael Wood, winemaker for Obsidian, said they currently grow 11 different varieties, due largely in part to consumer demand.
Fairly unique to New Zealand, and even more so to Waiheke, Obsidian grows Montepulciano and Tempranillo, found rarely elsewhere in the country.
“We were the first to plant Montepulciano,” Wood said. “And the first wine we made from those grapes was in 2006. It’s subsequently become a really important wine for us and it’s proven to be pretty popular. It’s really cool to be able to make lots of small batches of quality wines from the one vineyard. I think it really demonstrates what the site is capable of.”
Obsidian was named for the mineral found on the site when the vineyard was developed. Originally inhabited by the Māori, obsidian is present on the property as it was traded and brought to Waiheke for cutting purposes. One of Obsidian’s most popular wines, The Mayor, was named for Mayor Island, known for its abundance of the mineral.
“This vineyard has an unusual twist to it,” Eagleton said. “It’s not only one of the most awarded vineyards on the island, it’s one of the cheapest as well, if not the cheapest.”
This allows visitors to take their favorite Obsidian wines home at a bargain price.
From the wine itself to the bright, candy flavored bunches overflowing from baskets scattered on the tasting tables, Obsidian grapes shine.
With a focus on quality over quantity, each Obsidian grape is hand picked.
“Handpicking gives us the ability to sort the grapes,” Wood explained. “As a producer of our size, we can’t compete on volume, we’re all about quality. It gives us the ability to remove anything we don’t consider up to our standards.”
And Obsidian’s standards are high. Boasting three “Best in Class” New Zealand International Show awards for their Montepulciano alone, the vintners are thrilled with their consistent success.
Te Motu Vineyard, Cellar Door and Restaurant
Te Motu Vineyard, Cellar Door and Restaurant was one of the first to claim the name of “Waiheke winemaker.” Similar to the foundational vision of Obsidian, Te Motu set out to master wines of the Bordeaux variety, which is comprised predominantly of a Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blend.
Established by brothers John and Paul Dunleavy in 1988, the vineyard’s family lineage runs deep. It was not long after his sons joined the winemaking business that Terry Dunleavy, the inaugural CEO of the Wine Institute of New Zealand, joined in the adventure. Today, the family legacy continues at the hands of Michael and Sam Dunleavy, the newest generation of Dunleavy winemakers and horticulturalists to join Te Motu’s mission.
Eight years ago, Vosper mentioned to her husband that she would “love to have somewhere to sit, have a coffee and watch the ocean.” Bond’s response was the mosaic-tiled wine tasting area atop their vineyard.
Casita Miro was named after Spanish artist, Juan Miro, who Vosper described as a beautiful artist with a witty playfulness, reminiscent of their vineyard. But “miro” can also be found in the local Māori language, meaning “fruit of the forest.”
The tiles and the cuisine are modeled after their love of Spain, but their approach to wine is local.
“This is a family business, my wife runs the restaurant and I’m the winemaker,” Bond said. “There aren’t many of us left. Most of the successful vineyards in the world have been taken over by corporations who put a different sort of flavor on the delivery of wine. We are very interested in making the wine from this part of the world express the land.”
While Sam Dunleavy’s youthful appearance and boyish charm are enough to cause even the most sensible of visitor’s cheeks to turn a Rosé-colored pink, any notion that he is not serious about his role on the vineyard is immediately dismissed when the conversation turns to wine.
“Each single block is harvested separately,” Dunleavy said as he gestured toward the rows of twisting vines looming over his shoulder. “They each have a component of the vineyard in their separate barrels. That way, [we] can make blends accordingly, depending on the characteristics of each component.”
As the conversation turned to textural elements—tannins—that make wines dry, grape stomping and fermentation processes, Dunleavy directed a group in a wine tasting exercise.
“To start off, swirl the wine a bit, bring a bit of oxygen into the wine, which helps accentuate the aromatic profile and character,” he demonstrated, Cabernet Merlot in hand.
“Have a good sniff. See what you get. Remember what you get. Then have a sip.” He draws in a long breath before tasting the elegant red wine.
“Swish it around your mouth, draw the air over your tongue,” at which point he makes a slurping sound similar to that typically reserved for oysters on the half shell in an outdoor pub overlooking the ocean. To the untrained ear, the noise seems out of place against the sophisticated, modern wine shed and rural sloping vineyards. But his methods work. The aromas emphasized, the taste emboldened, the experience enlivened.
The method, Dunleavy explained, is derived from the same principles that govern the swirl and sniff of the wine in its glass. “You want the full character of the wine – the full noise.”
It is the sound of the wine’s music.