Home to grapevines since the late 1800s, Gisborne has grown into the third largest grape growing region in New Zealand. With production long dominated by large wineries such as Montana/Brancott Estate (Pernod-Ricard), Corbans and Villa Maria, more recently the region has embraced small-scale quality-focused producers who are experimenting with varieties, sites and styles.
Travelling along the New Zealand wine trail to the sunny Gisborne region brings you to a laidback corner of the world where things just move a bit slower. Allow yourself plenty of time to explore and keep your planning to a minimum to allow opportunities to find you.
If you’re flying in, be sure to get a car rental. Driving up from Napier along SH2 you’ll travel windy roads through rain forest that opens into coastal views. En route you can detour off to the Mahia Peninsula for surf, scuba diving, hiking and fishing or stop off at Morere Hot Springs to unwind in the plunge pools or stretch your legs along the 2.5 hour Nikau walk.
If you’re wanting a road less travelled, enjoy the still windy, but more rural views of SH35 and Gentle Annie hill, but don’t be surprised if you’re held up by a herd of sheep moving paddocks.
As a smaller region with fewer travellers beating down the path, most cellar doors are open by appointment only. To help acquaint yourself with what the region has to offer and where you want to visit, stroll along from Waikanae Beach to the Inner Harbour and the Gisborne Wine Centre. The wine centre runs sample tastings; they also have up-to-date cellar door hours and can help you out with booking in to those places you want to see more of.
No trip to Gisborne is complete without a visit to inestimable Millton Vineyard – champions of biodynamic, all wines are produced and bottled on site and are certified organic. If it’s open be sure to try the Libiamo – a skin contact Gewurz that’s unfined, unfiltered and utterly beautiful.
Spade Oak is another must-see cellar door. Winemaker Steve Voysey has been a winemaker for over 20 years, most of which has been spent working for some of New Zealand’s biggest companies. Spade Oak is his own personal label.
At Wrights Vineyard and Winery you’ll find a family run outfit from third generation winemakers. Their Natural Wine Company label is their fruity, aromatic range, while the more serious Wrights label is wine designed to be enjoyed with food. Fermented on skins and aged in barrel, the Fume Blanc is worth a try.
Pad out your wine tasting list with visits to HiHi Wines, TW Wines and Matawhero Wines. HiHi makes affordable, easy drinking wines with fun names like Gizzy Fizzy, The Full Monty Chardy and Lock Stock – a Merlot-dominant red blend. The TW Chardonnay Viognier is not at all serious but definitely delicious. The Matawhero line-up offers an alternative to Chardonnay (if you need one), with the likes of arneis, chenin blanc, albarino and gruner veltliner. Many of the wineries offer platters to enjoy with the wines.
In between wine tastings take a drive and visit some of the neighbouring beaches. Whangara Beach, a mere 32km away boasts wild stingray feedings, at 50km you’ll find Tolaga Bay, New Zealand’s longest historic pier and the Cook’s Cove walks. The East Cape, the most easterly lighthouse in the world and the first place to greet the sun each day, is a further 150km away.
If beaches aren’t your thing, head inland to the Rere Falls and Rock Slide. The Rock Slide is a natural water slide along the smooth rock formations over which the Wharekopae River runs. Locals careen down on boogie boards, tyres or whatever is to hand.
Finally, whether you’re looking to set yourself up for a day of wine tasting or you’re shaking off the dusty feeling from the night before, Frank and Albie’s on Ballance street has coffee to make a Wellingtonian sit up and take notice. Happy travels.
Top image: Millton Vineyard