West Auckland – Part 3

Mates barrel hall 2022

Travelling back towards the main highway – SH16 – which is a busy, busy road. You’ll be turning towards Auckland, heading East and the speed along here is brisk, but be prepared and keep an eye out for the sign to Coopers Creek on the right-hand side of the road. At the time of writing, there was a food destination next door – the Tasting Shed – but it is unclear whether this will be re-opening. For now, we’ll concentrate on the winery.

Coopers Creek has been a mainstay of the wine scene in Auckland since opening in 1980. The Cellar Door is excellent – spacious and with an amazing range on offer. In Summer, there are the famous Jazz sessions held in the grounds, where people will typically bring a picnic complete with blanket, snacks and glasses – and buy a bottle from the shop to enjoy. There’s also a giant chess set and playground to keep everyone entertained.

Coopers Creek

The Cellar Door is a treat to visit at any time, and they have an exhilarating range of wines on offer to taste. Coopers Creek are well known innovators – dabbling in varieties that are not necessarily well-known in New Zealand. Our interview with long-time winemaker Simon Nunns is here – www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=4124 and he references that here:

“We were able to make some wines I was very proud of. And the other exciting thing with Coopers Creek was the fact that we were allowed to engage ourselves in new varieties in New Zealand, and much of that was through a single grower in Gisborne, Dave and Delwyn Bell. 

They planted Arneis early, so I probably made the first Arneis in New Zealand. I made the first Gruner Veltliner in New Zealand – that was through Paul Tietjen across the road. I wasn’t the first with Viognier but I was early with that. The first Albarino, the first Marsanne, the first Fiano. Arguably, although I’m not sure as Jenny Dobson may have beaten me there, the first LaGrein. The first Vermentino… so that was exciting times. Grape varieties that no one had any institutional knowledge of.”

My picks of the wines, moving through the ranges would be – from the Classic range – the local Kumeu Pinot Gris, and then any of the Gisborne wines are worth a look – maybe the Chardonnay-Viognier blend, or the ‘Four Daughters’ white blend. 

Moving up to the Select Vineyard wines, you’re spoilt for choice. The Limeworks Chardonnay was recently including in the first ‘Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay Collection’ that highlighted the very best of the variety from that region. At under $25 that’s a scoop. And you have to try the ‘Guido in Velvet Pants’ Montepulicano from Kumeu – it is terrific.

Moving on, and travelling along SH16 you will pass through the pleasant small town of Kumeu. Once a small rural village, this is now a much bigger settlement – now boasting a New World Supermarket! The vegetable shops here are well worth a look for super produce at competitive prices. The veggies and fruit will often be local, from the fields around the local area. However, the most-planted thing in Kumeu now is housing… with many local fields and vineyards lost to the march of housing subdivisions. This has also led to another consequence – traffic! The local jams are legendary now.

Anyway – back on track, and pull into the welcome site of Kumeu River on the right hand side as you leave the township, just across the creek, and with vineyards across the road and even next to the winery. One of New Zealand’s most celebrated family wineries – I’d argue that this is the finest in the country – run by the Brajkovich family since 1944. Their history is a mirror of New Zealand’s wine history. From the early pioneering days to today’s recognition internationally – the family show that New Zealand can produce world class wines. You’re in for a treat if you drop in here for a tasting.

In 2017 they also expanded beyond their own 30 hectares in Kumeu, buying a property in ‘Ray’s Road’ inland Hawke’s Bay – with a wine that was added to the line up of single vineyard Chardonnay. You can try this alongside others from the range at the Cellar Door – Monday to Friday 10am to 4pm, and on Saturdays from 11am to 4.30pm. Where to start? Well, this is WineFolio, so go for Chardonnay!

The Estate Chardonnay is superb, but the range labelled ‘Kumeu Village’ is also exquisite. The single vineyard Chardonnays from Kumeu aren’t just amongst the best in the country, but are simply world-class. At a tasting in London in 2014, they were judged against equivalent wines from Burgundy, and won every class except one (they were equal top in that last one). 

My personal choice is Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay. It is their top wine, but try it and tell me it isn’t worth the price tag. It won our Top 10 tasting of Chardonnay in August – www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=6284 Also look out for the Estate Pinot Gris, the Kumeu Cremant sparkling wine, and the two Pinot Noirs – one from the Hunting Hill vineyard and one from Ray’s Road.

There are a few smaller vineyards scattered around this area – I haven’t called in on them, so can’t give you the lowdown on what’s best, but there is a website – www.wineriesoutwest.co.nz that should have plenty of info. I know that they helped organise an ‘open weekend’ a few years back, with buses between the Cellar Doors and special menus at the ones that did food, etc.

The two ‘extras’ that I know of are Kerr Farmwww.kerrfarmwine.co.nz at 48 Dysart Lane – go past the showgrounds and turn right after a couple of kilometres. Not sure if they’re open at the moment, but call and ask Jaison Kerr on 021 778702. The other is Twin Totara run by father and son Harry and Greg Haddon. They are at 816 Old North Road, Waimauku – Phone 09 411 9675 to see if they are open at the weekend, or they will take bookings and open up for you. They do a Chardonnay and a Cabernet Franc/Merlot red. Take a look at www.twintotara.co.nz.

Soljans Barrique Res HB Syrah

Soljans Estate Winery is also on the road heading towards Auckland after Kumeu. With a wonderful Bistro restaurant to go with some excellent wines and a large Cellar Door, this is an easy place to while away a few hours. My chat to one of the family – Tyler Soljan is here – www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=3495. They also won the first Top 10 tasting we had – the Pinot Gris – with their local wine. The restaurant is very popular – you’ll need to book. Tyler had this to say about it, and the location:

The café has become sort of its own thing. We started out doing only wine, but slowly built on the café. We were originally on Lincoln Road, and that was rural once. It was a big trek out from Auckland city once. Now you’d never have thought that it was full of vineyards. But now Kumeu is developing very very quickly and lots going on. You will likely meet a family member of the family-run winery, and could ask us anything and we’d probably know, because this is our life!”

Tyler Soljan

Their Legacy Méthode Traditionnelle sparkling wine is superb – they are one of the few producers around who have all their own kit to be able to make this style of wine, and on open days they can show you the old ‘riddling racks’ – or just ask when you’re at the Cellar Door. Also worth a look are the huge 500 gallon Totara barrels from the 1940s that are full of maturing port. The Founders Tawny Port is available in piccolo size or a lovely gift decanter. It is very good.

With vineyards in Hawke’s Bay as well as Kumeu, their range is impressive, including some excellent reds like the Tribute Merlot-Malbec, and the Barrique Reserve Syrah. But don’t go past their Pinot Gris, or the Chardonnay which is made in a couple of styles – the top tier of which is the Fifth Generation Series Kumeu Chardonnay.

Soljans Bistro is open 6 days a week – Monday – Friday: from 10:30 am  (last booking 2pm). Closed Tuesdays, then open Saturday and Sunday from 10:00 am (last booking 2:30pm). They are closed on Public Holidays.

The Cellar Door is open from 9am till 5pm Monday to Friday and 10am to 5pm on weekends for tastings and wine, or gift shop purchases. You can also make a booking to do a Vineyard tour and Tasting – available for groups of 10 or more at $25 per person. Their website is comprehensive – www.soljans.co.nz with a place to make bookings, lots of wine on sale (often with good prices) and information.

The last place you should visit in the West of Auckland – and apologies it is not on the map below – as it is a reasonable distance away from the cluster in Kumeu – is Babich. Set in the picturesque rolling country in Henderson Valley, the Babich Cellar Door has one of the most picturesque vineyard views around and is open 6 days a week. The Cellar Door is open 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday and then 10am-5pm Saturday. Closed on Sundays and public holidays. You’ll find it at 15 Babich Road, Henderson Valley, Auckland. Telephone: 09 833 7859.

Babich St John Hawkes Bay

Babich have vineyards in Hawke’s Bay and were one of the pioneers of growing grapes in Marlborough as well, so you can imagine their range is extensive. For example, they are into their seventh year of making a single vineyard Albarino from their Headwaters Vineyard in Marlborough. The region also contributing three versions of Pinot Noir to the Babich range. The Irongate Vineyard is an iconic Gimblett Gravels site, and the wines from this Hawke’s Bay vineyard are well worth investigating. A Cabernet-Merlot-Franc red blend is very good, and the Chardonnay is legendary. I’ve done a few reviews of this – the latest one is here – www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=5197.

https://www.babichwines.com has all the information on this local legend.

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