Brilliant time with knowledgeable and helpful host. Even took us on a bit of a tour of Napier on the way back to our hotel! Cheeses and wine were delicious...loved the extras like the pear jelly! Ross even made a special trip back to our hotel the next morning to bring us the wine we had inadvertently left on the minibus. Can thoroughly recommend this excellent tour.
My wife and I were picked up at 1 pm at our Holiday Park by Pauls partner Lesley Taplin. Lesley is a small but formidable lady who protested that we were late and she would have to get her skates on to collect everyone else for our afternoon wine tour. We explained that 1 pm was the time agreed with Ross Lepper and Lesley said that, in that case, she would be having words with him!
Lesley turned out to be a great hostess with a wicked sense of humour and, after picking up a number of other Lions fans from various holiday parks dotted around Napier, we headed to our first winery.
The Mission Estate Winery, established in 1851, by pioneering French Missionaries is New Zealand's oldest winery and the birthplace of New Zealand wine. Our visit here established a pattern that was to be repeated at all the other wineries on our trip as I purchased a bottle of the wine we liked best at the tasting, we sampled 6 different wines each time, in this case I bought a bottle of their Vineyard Selection 2016 Pinot Gris. On leaving we were each presented with a gift boxed wine glass a nice touch.
Next it was a short hop to the Church Road Wine Estate where Chris Scott achieved the distinction of being named New Zealands Winemaker of the Year for 2016. We enjoyed several of the wines here including the Rosé but my personal favourite was the 2014 Blanc De Noir, the name indicating that the wine is made entirely from Pinot Noir as opposed to the more common blend of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and a bottle of the bubbly was added to my collection.
From Church Road, we made the long drive out to The Linden Estate in Eskdale but the trip was a worthwhile one as we settled down for a meal of cheese and biscuits to accompany the wine sampling. The sun was shining and Alison, along with Tina and Mel, 2 other Lions fans, who we bumped into previously at Huka Falls, seemed ready for either a snooze or a sing-song depending on how the wine was affecting them! The wine of choice at this one was the Sauvignon Blanc, a complement to the winery as Sauvignon Blanc or Sav as it appears to be universally known in New Zealand seems to be the standard by which all other wines are measured. This won silver awards at shows in both 2016 and 2017. Wonder what won gold?!
Driving back towards Napier we came to the Esk Valley Winery at Bay View in the north of Hawkes Bay. The winery sources fruit from Hawkes Bay, including the world-renowned Gimblett Gravels and Marlborough, as both regions consistently produce grapes of an extremely high quality. At Esk Valley we were lucky enough to be entertained by the Senior Winemaker, Gordon Russell who gave us a fascinating talk on how he goes about making the wines and what he looks for in a good one. Gordon believes that the concept of 'texture' in a wine is as important as the aromas and flavours of the wine. By 'texture' he means the balance and harmony of the wine, together with complexity and palate interest. He aims to produce premium hand-crafted wines that are both elegant and sophisticated, and which truly reflect the character of the individual vineyards. We both enjoyed all the wines we sampled here but eventually we settled on a bottle of their 2016 Pinot Noir which isnt available in the shops yet.
Following a very interesting tour of the winery Lesley rounded us up and we headed back to Napier where she very kindly dropped Alison and I at Taradale Town Hall, built in the Art Deco style in 1932, so that we could attend a meeting of the local Rotary Club.
All in all a superb afternoon and highly recommended to anyone wanting to sample the best wines New Zealand has to offer.
Ross our guide was very interesting and helpful, with a pleasant personality. He had worked as the winemaker at one of the vineyards, and so had a lot of knowledge about the process of making the wine, including the use of contract labour, and contract growers. We can recommend his tour without hesitation.