Waiheke Island's fine time for wine

Glorious weather is boosting the chances of a vintage to remember for winegrowers on Waiheke Island.

The tourist hotspot in the Hauraki Gulf, just 35 minutes by boat from Auckland, has been building a reputation for its wines since its first boutique vineyards became established in the 1980s.

Since then, more than 30 now pepper the island between Oneroa in the west and eastern Man O'War Bay.

The island's second-oldest vineyard is Stonyridge in Onetangi and business manager David Jackson said grape growing conditions were currently excellent.

"We've had a good fruit set, good flowering and early indications are that we are heading towards an exceptionally high-quality vintage."

The vineyard is already well known for quality wines made from varieties of Bordeaux and Rhone grapes cared for by vineyard manager Dayne Stagg and made by winemaker Martin Pickering.

It has won a special reputation for its sought-after en primeur Larose, recently awarded 97 out of 100 points in a 10-year vertical taste test by world-renowned wine buff Robert Parker's Wine Advocate magazine.

"Stonyridge owner Stephen White chose the site deliberately to grow grapes because it's sheltered by the ridgeline, which offers the advantage of trapped heat," Jackson said.

"Some summers, we can have in excess of 18 days over 30 degrees Celsius in the vineyard enabling us to get these varieties beautifully ripe and therefore create wines of great power and intensity."

Jackson believes climate change is having an effect on Waiheke's wine industry, saying the vineyard's records from the past 30 years show it's getting warmer - which is ideal for grapes.

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He said long range predictions for Waiheke this summer from weather experts NIWA are quite positive, with slightly cooler but drier conditions and the chance of northerly flow that could produce weather bombs.

Former broadcaster turned wine-writer John Hawkesby, who is an island resident, has 900 vines on his Church Bay property and calls it the world's smallest vineyard.

Its merlot grapes produce enough wine to make bottles for family and friends and Hawkesby says grape growing is perfect for the island as its maritime climate keeps temperatures even.

He is excited about the coming vintage, usually harvested around March.

"It's looking good," he said. "We're coming off a number of years of astonishing vintages. Waiheke is somewhere that people are really taking note of.

"Part of the reason is the high quality.

"It's come about because a lot of the more established vineyards have vines with a level of maturity now and a number of owners have worked out what does best on the island.

"We know Pinot Noir does not do very well here but Bordeaux blends, Chardonnay, aromatics and Syrah do."

 - Sunday Star Times

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