Waiheke Island – part 3

Man O' War Tasting Room

After your exertions in the middle of the island and the Onetangi Valley’s plethora of attractions, it is now time to head east and explore the less-populated side of Waiheke. You’ll probably need transport for this – either find someone who is prepared to be the ‘designated driver” (it is usually me) or make sure your battery is fully charged on your e-bike!

You’ll be leaving from Onetangi – maybe you stayed at the beach, as I usually do, and had breakfast at Charlie Farley’s (recommended) and the first opportunity to get stuck back into wine tasting presents itself at Awaroa. Not somewhere that the casual visitor has always heard of, but it has carved itself a tidy reputation amongst those in the know – and is the most-awarded vineyard of its size (under 5 hectares on Waiheke).

Awaroa bottles

Set up by six partners at Orapiu Grove Farm, this organic farm also features three olive groves alongside the vineyards. A small-scale operation with a lot of work done by hand – including foot-stomped grapes at harvest, and a big focus on the viticulture. Their winemaker of fifteen years, Dr Steve Poletti is a passionate producer and proud of his terroir-driven wines. The Syrah is their most recognised, but they also produce a red blend, and a second label ‘Waiheke Road’ using top quality fruit from elsewhere – notably Hawke’s bay for a Chardonnay.

The Tasting Room is open every weekend 11am to 5pm, and in summer they also open on Thursday and Fridays. You can get a platter to eat alongside the tasting. The address is 324 Waiheke Road, and for more information (or to book a table) the website is www.awaroa.co.nz.

Awaroa vineyards

Your next visit is, unsurprisingly, another gorgeous property. The vision of owner Antonio Crisci, who was born in Naples to an Italian family immersed in food and wine. He arrived in New Zealand in the ‘90s and first established Toto restaurant in the city, then Non Solo Pizza in Parnell. Poderi Crisci opened in 2008, with the restaurant added two years later and now offers the fabulous old world charm of a Tuscan Estate, lined with bountiful kitchen gardens.

Barrel Hall at Poderi Crisci

The wines are all made from fruit grown on site, and go from rosé to Arneis, and Merlot to Montepulciano. The Restaurant faces west, capturing the sunset, and with views over the valley. Their ‘Long Sunday Lunch’ is famous and is booked up weeks in advance. You’ll also be advised to book for any potential visit in Summer. Tastings are available without having a meal however – there is a venue – La Locanda where a range of cheese, bread, meats and snacks pair well with the wines available by the glass.

Of course it is a popular venue for events, weddings and celebrations of all kinds. It hosts music during the Waiheke Wine and Food Festival – this year it is 14-16th May. They’ve had Opera in the Barrel Hall, Jazz at the Long Lunch, and don’t forget that you can also ask about cooking classes with Antonio as host! www.podericrisci.co.nz has all the details. Find them at 205 Awaawaroa Road in Awaawaroa Bay.

Passage Rock, Waiheke

Over the hill, or a short drive back around, is Passage Rock – Waiheke’s most awarded winery, at 438 Orapiu Road. Down the driveway into this fabulous setting, past the vines on your right and surrounded by nature – a marine sanctuary ahead of you and protected bush-clad hills behind you.

When owners David and Veronika Evans-Gander arrived back in New Zealand from Switzerland in 1993, they found this plot within a week of landing – going on from their initial ideas of a ‘lifestyle block with some vines’ to the immaculate Estate that now exists. The Restaurant serves classic kiwi-style bistro food and I can definitely recommend their Gourmet Platter, the mussels, and the pizzas – it’s all great! Open Fridays and weekends, but the Tasting Room is usually open on Weds and Thurs as well for informal tasting flights.

Popular as a venue, with extensive areas to wander and explore amongst the grapes – artwork around the property is mostly made by Veronika. Features such as a secluded pergola (great for weddings) and benches to sit with a glass of their excellent wines make for a very relaxing visit. www.passagerockwines.co.nz is a wealth of information and you can book here too.

Passage Rock

David makes the wines – with Johnny – a second generation – coming through to assist, and you can’t go past two of their classics – the Reserve Syrah (a Super Classic in Michaels Cooper’s books) and the Reserve Viognier. But as part of the tasting you’ll be offered a superb Sauvignon Blanc which I would also recommend. At the bigger end of things, their ‘Magnus’ is a blend of multiple varietals including Montepulciano and Syrah – a review is here: www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=4788. A new wine is the ‘Generation Cabernet Sauvignon 2020’ which I tried at the winery with David and he regards as the best wine they’ve ever made.

Waiheke Distillery Co

Travelling further east around the island there used to be a winding drive up through the bush on a gravel road until you reached Man O’ War, but now you can break the short journey with a stop at a new kid on the block – the Waiheke Distilling Co. at 258 Cowes Bay Road. I’m often asked “what place has the best views on Waiheke?” and it would be a difficult choice. Not now – this place does. The views are jaw-droppingly good.

The Garden Bar offers the range of spirits in varied formats – the cocktails are amazing, but I’d recommend a ‘Gin Tasting Board’ of the three varieties with assorted garnish and top quality tonic water. I didn’t try the food but what was being delivered around us looked wonderful – oysters, tacos, crudités, cheese… My personal favourite was the ‘Spirit of Waiheke’ Gin, but drop in and pick yours – there’s Vodkas now too!

Man O'War Tasting Room

OK, final push. You’re on your way to one of the most popular places on Waiheke now – at Man O’ War Bay you’ll find the Tasting Room for Man O’ War. Open 7 days a week, people not only drive here to the far eastern side, but arrive in droves by sea – the beach will be full of tenders and dinghies from the boats anchored up in the bay – their sailors sitting at a table in the extensive grounds enjoying the wine and food on offer at this iconic spot. 

There’s not too many Cellar doors right at the beach like this, and on a sunny day – at any time of the year – this is a place that is quintessentially New Zealand… and that makes me happy to be here.

Food is available – burgers, salads, cheese and olives – and it is good tucker to go with the wines. Everyone has their favourite Man O’ War wine, and where better to sink a bottle than around a table with friends at the source? ‘Pinque’ is the popular rosé offering – read here: www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=951 and their ‘Exiled’ Pinot Gris is another attention-grabber. I’d recommend the ‘Gravestone’ Sauvignon Blanc – www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=4873 or the ‘Valhalla’ Chardonnay is also considered a “cult classic”.

Outside the Estate and Flagship ranges, Man O’ War have been fine-tuning their ‘Kulta’ range of premium wines – something that winemaker Duncan McTavish has been working towards for 13 years! Aiming to make wine as good as the benchmark styles from the ‘Old World’ – think right-bank Bordeaux, Hermitage Syrah, white Burgundy and grower Champagne. I’ve tried all of this range and can report that this collection (limited to a few hundred cases of each a year) are terroir-driven wines at their finest. Consider them the Man O’ War ‘signature’. With a ‘Kulta Family’ membership on offer, it is likely that these wines will quickly only be available to members  – try them whilst you can. Here is my 97/100 thoughts on the Chardonnay – www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=1799.

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