Auckland Wine's Volcanic Influence

( One of the most intriguing aspects of tasting a series of wines from around the greater Auckland region is to contemplate the influence of Auckland’s unique volcanic geology.

Members of the New Zealand Sommeliers and Wine Professionals recently met with Bob Campbell MW and Michael Brajkovich MW to taste and discuss wines submitted as part of an Auckland Wine of Origin initiative at the New Zealand School of Food and Wine. The goal of this tasting was to get a better understanding of the wines and terroirs of Auckland and increase the visibility of local Auckland wines.

Auckland’s Volcanic Field consists of at least 48 volcanoes with the Waitemata and Manukau harbours considered ancient rivers, surrounded by dry land, that overtime has been submerged by the sea. Waiheke Island, now important as a wine-growing region, remained above sea level. The numerous small scoria cones, that on average range from 10 to 120 meters in height, contribute a unique and unexplored aspect of Auckland’s wine terroir.

Internationally there has been a surge of interest in wines from volcanic regions. In 2016, Master Sommelier, John Szabo published the book Volcanic Wines: Salt, Grit and Power which looks closely at Mount Etna on Sicily, Sardinia, Spain’s Canary Islands, The Azores (Portugal). Other regions now celebrating their volcanic soils include the Dundee Hills in Oregon, Mount Vesuvius with the Italian wine region of Taurasi and the slopes of Mount Fuji in Japan.

Calling for samples of wine grown exclusively from grapes grown across Auckland, 34 wines were tasted. Chardonnay made up 27% of wines submitted, Cabernet Merlot Bordeaux blends 24%, Pinot Gris 12%, Syrah 9% and the balance of the white wines were from the grapes Viognier, Verdelho and Gewurztraminer. Interestingly there was no Riesling.
There were also two rosés and three vintages of the Italian black grape Montepulciano, from Coopers Creek.

Bob Campbell MW led the tastings which were conducted over six flights of wine. The highlight in the whites was the range and depth of Chardonnays. Styles included the ripe peach and rock melon from the Passage Rock Reserve Chardonnay 2017 from Waiheke Island to the lean, crisp characteristics of Westbrook and Soljans; to Villa Maria’s Ihumatao Chardonnay 2014 showing notes of baked peach, nectarine and toasted hazelnut with a lingering savoury finish. Kumeu River Hunting Hill Chardonnay 2017 and Estate Chardonnay 2017 were tasted with their winemaker Michael Brajkovich MW.

Waiheke Island dominated the red wines and there was broad appreciation from the group of their exceptional quality. The Bordeaux blends of Destiny Bay’s Destinae 2014, Frenchmans Hill Blood Creek Eight 2013, Te Motu 2013 and Goldie Reserve 2013 are wines which already have some age but will confidently continue to age for another 5 – 10 years.

The high quality of Waiheke Syrah from Frenchmans Hill Estate Rock Earth 2013, Passage Rock Syrah Reserve 2013 and Goldie Syrah 2015 also reflects the potential of this style of wine both as a wine for drinking now but also for aging. Cork closures were a common feature of the premium wines.

The aromatic wines of Viognier, Gewuztraminer and the Portuguese grape, Verdelho are less well known and Villa Maria’s Ihumatao vineyard, adjacent to Auckland International Airport and the Mount Mangere volcano shows this location can achieve a purity of fruit and aromatics which is world class.

“At the Ihumatao vineyard, you can see with your own eyes the slope of an ancient volcanic cone and this is also where the highly-rated Ihumatao Chardonnay is planted,” comments Celia Hay, chair of the New Zealand Sommeliers and Wine Professionals.

“In Auckland, you can find some of the top restaurants in New Zealand and as the current trend is to feature local foods, part of this must be to also celebrate the local beverages and especially wine when pairing with a meal. So often international visitors fail to find an Auckland wine option on the city’s restaurant and café wine lists,”

“Perhaps it is time to re-evaluate the influence of Auckland’s volcanic heritage and promote this as an innovative way to increase the visibility of the Auckland wine region”, says Celia Hay.

Media Release 31 August 2018.