Trainee Manager of Majestic Wine Sevenoaks, James Reina shares his travel stories from travelling around New Zealand. James tells us about the fantastic wineries he’s visited and how his travels inspired him to start a career into the world of wine…
A few years ago, I found myself perched atop Coronet Peak mountain, majestically poised in the heart of the Southern Alps of New Zealand’s Central Otago region. The brisk wind swayed me as I admired the wonderful view down the Kawarau Valley to Lake Wakatipu from 1649 metres up. I had just qualified as a fully-fledged snowboard instructor and was enjoying my last few days in Queenstown.
My girlfriend (now wife) and I had arranged to do the ‘done’ thing and hired a camper-van to explore the rest of the country. We collected our van the following morning and began our quest for the sights and sounds of New Zealand. Little did I know that this journey would be the catalyst for a newfound passion that would become my career.
We planned a route that would take in most of the classic sights, Milford Sound, Fox Glacier, Rotorua and so on. All well and good, but what I hadn’t counted on was a tiny boutique winery in the small port of Kaikoura. We stopped in Kaikoura to watch whales but on a gloriously sunny afternoon stumbled across the town winery standing proudly on a limestone bluff overlooking the bay. It was here after a captivating visit and tasting that I decided I wanted to work in the wine industry, inspired by the location, geometric beauty of the vineyards and smartly trimmed plants bearing the fruit that creates the most prized of beverages.
Realising we were just a short hop from the heartland of the most successful wine district to emerge in the past 30 years, we decided to head on to Marlborough and see what all the fuss was about.
Arriving in Blenheim the first winery we came to was Saint Clair. Since opening 16 years ago it has become responsible for some of Marlborough’s most talked about wines. Amazingly good quality and super rich in flavour, my personal favourite is the Pinot Noir Block 14/16 Doctors Creek, a hedonist’s dream of a Pinot Noir. Traveling further into Blenheim we stumbled upon Wither Hills, also set up in 1994, they have a dependable, approachable style with the ability to see through vintage variations with little or no fuss. Their hallmark Wairau Valley Sauvignon Blanc represents amazingly good value for money, considering the layers of zesty and ripe fruit that provide a mouth-watering lengthy finish.
Further on up the Wairau Valley we encountered Villa Maria Winery, one of the oldest wineries in New Zealand. Pioneering in their approach and admirably consistent in their style, Villa Maria have got new world wine down to a tee. Their wines offer something at every price point, from every day to every other day to every month! For me the pick of the bunch is their Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc bottling, only made in exceptional vintages to bring out the purity of fruit and fine-tuned balance of acidity, ripeness and minerality. And for something slightly different give their Private Bin Gewürztraminer a go, a luscious, turkish delight and lychee steered wine that works extremely well with all manner of asian cuisine.
Moving on we ventured northwest to the charming town of Nelson. Nestled in the well-sheltered Tasman Bay, enjoying a warm and favourable micro-climate, the area produces some very distinctive wines. Waimea Estates have been making wines here since 1993 and their intensely succulent style has won over many a connoisseur. I have yet to try a wine of theirs I haven’t liked! Standing out has to be the ever so slightly off dry Pinot Gris with its amazingly rich flavour and tantalizing depth, highly recommended.
A short hop over the Cook Straight on a queasy 3 hour ferry crossing and we arrived on the North Island to visit Aunt Pam and Uncle Richard in Napier, Hawkes Bay. Having regaled them with stories of Southern wines Pam seized the opportunity to show off the local wineries, sweeping us off to visit Craggy Range winery a couple of kilometres down the road past Hastings. Relative newcomers Craggy Range have made it their goal to purchase land or grapes from growers that truly reflect provenance and ‘terroir‘. Their success is measured in critical acclaim and awards for their work and wines. Their Te Muna Road Sauvignon Blanc is an example of ‘terroir‘-led provenance, with intense stone fruit driven aromas and flavours coupled with a mineral-laced finish as a reminder of the stony soils from whence it came. The grapes for Te Muna Road are sourced from Martinborough, South of Hawkes Bay nearer Wellington where our ferry docked, but the wine is ‘constructed’ in the winery in Hawkes Bay. It provides a cross-regional reflection of production style coupled with growing conditions – a Hawkes Bay/Martinborough appellation if you will.
Looking back on our journey around New Zealand and its wineries, I realise that this country has so much to offer so many. This is reflected in the wines they produce, from elegant berry fruit Pinot Noir to off-dry tropical Gewürztraminers. I wholeheartedly recommend New Zealand wines and can think of no better place to have kick-started my career.