Matakana Wine Trail     
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Mahurangi Matters - October 2013

Some tips for enjoying wine

Get a half bottle with a screwcap closure. A half bottle is 375mls and is ideal for saving the remains of a full bottle. Many a great wine has turned bad after being left on the kitchen bench after a day or two half empty. A little half bottle that you keep handy reduces the exposure to copious amounts of air which will oxidise the wine. This also means that you will decrease the chances of drinking the bottle “because it’s open” that night, of which your heart, liver and brain will thank you when the sun comes up. The screw-cap closure is a more effective seal than a cork which will dry out and deteriorate over time.

White wines in summer will need cooling, but don’t go icy cold. One of those wine chillers or I used a kids sand bucket for a few years, as it was small enough to not use huge amounts of ice and had a wee handle. Otherwise a chilly bin – but put the wine and beer in first, then the ice. Red wines, when they say serve at room temperature they don’t mean 25 deg C – so if they are too warm, chill them by fridge or ice bucket – but keep an eye on them – too cold and the tannins appear raw and harsh.

Decant reds – this means pour out a bottle into a jug or similar – I have a plastic 1 litre pub jug or if you have the money, buy a decanter with a good glass stopper. Do this about 15-30 minutes prior to drinking. Pour it like you are pouring a beer to minimise the frothy head. If the wine has a bit of sediment, keep an eye on it and try to not get it in the jug. With the advent of Screw-caps, I have found wines need a little air after opening to ensure the smells and flavours are maximised.

If you really like the wine, take a photo of the label. My cell-phone has numerous label shots which is a handy, quick way to recall just what I had the previous night. I recently had a Red Mountain Syrah Tempranillo from Myanmar, and having an image of the label enabled me to seek out further details online.

Use up that last little bit of wine in your cooking. That little bit of leftover wine (if it’s been sitting for over 24 hours) is best used in a risotto/paella/stir-fry or as part of a marinade. Even a little bit in a homemade salad dressing. Best not to drink something that’s below par – life is too short..

Lastly – Calories – if you are measuring your calorific intake, then a 150 ml glass of wine (or 1/5th of a bottle) equates to approx. 125 calories
Ben Dugdale - President Matakana Winegrowers

Mahurangi Matters - September 2013

New Old Wines

Innovation in the Wine industry falls into two camps; Technological advances in processing grapes into finished wine or growing a different variety to what is currently been grown in a particular area. In terms of Technology, this means a very expensive machine, gleaming stainless steel with numerous tubes, valves, chambers, buttons and sparkly lights. However, the only people that get excited by these things (apart from the Sales agent commissioning it) are accountants. Some of these new machines do amazing things, and they are all based in the larger, more industrialised regions, where a 1% extra yields is worth many thousands of dollars in income.

Different varieties however, are much more interesting. People plant various varieties for many reasons. Some sound (they are well suited to the environmental conditions of that area) and some no so sound (That person planted it, ergo, I will plant the same thing to replicate their success). Matakana has a lot of soil types and various meso-climates. A microclimate is the area around a vine; a meso-climate would be the area around a vineyard or two. Macroclimate would be (in our instance) the area from Puhoi to Te Hana. Various Matakana vineyards have planted ‘new’ varieties. Varieties which have in fact been around for the same amount of time as the more popularly known ones like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Chardonnay. Ransom Wines has the rare Carmenere (from the French word for Crimson) – an old Bordeaux variety that emerged (phoenix like) in Chile where it was thought to be Merlot, as it had a similar flavour profile. Heron’s Flight has both Sangiovese (the name means Blood of Jove (Jupiter)) – from Tuscany and Dolcetto (tl. “Little sweet one”) from Piedmont, both Italian, and rarely grown in NZ. Mahurangi River Vineyard has produced a Roussane and more recently an Albarino – the name derives from the Spanish for “white wine from the Rhine” which suggests it started off as a Riesling from Germany before making a new home in Spain. Pinotage is grown locally by a couple of vineyards and a single variety produced by Ascension Wine Estate. This wine is but a mere child as it was developed in 1925 in South Africa and is a cross between Pinot Noir (which couldn’t cope with parts of the South African climate) and Cinsault. Oddly, the South Africans called Cinsault “Hermitage” presumably as that grape originated from the South of France around the town of “Tain L’Hermitage”. Therefore the name Pinotage is a blend of both Pinot Noir and Hermitage. Matavino Vineyard – which you can see on the right hand side of the road leading to Snells Beach across from the Solway Deer farm -produces a few wines including Barbera – another Red wine from Piedmont in Italy. All these new (but old) varieties add different, exciting flavours, smells and characters to the Matakana wine region. Don’t take my word for it, try them yourself.
Ben Dugdale - President Matakana Winegrowers

Mahurangi Matters - August 2013

The Winter Prune

Right now all of the Matakana Vineyards will be in the middle of the Winter Prune. This means we cut away and dispose of the plant material that is not wanted and retain the buds from which the new season’s growth will shortly appear. On the dry day’s pruners enter the vineyard and begin to select canes to “lay down” - this means they choose healthy canes, with about 10-15cm between buds of a suitable length. The length is determined by the distance between two vine plants – generally the canes are half that distance. Once these favoured canes are chosen, all other canes and material are “pruned” off and either placed in the centre of the row for Mulching, or collected into incinerators and burnt. Mulching returns valuable nutrients to the soil, whilst burning prevents diseases overwintering on the debris and become a possible source of future disease pressure. Vineyards choose either way which best suits their situation and risk assessment. The canes that have been selected are then “wrapped” gently (as to not damage the all-important bud) around the fruiting wire and tied off with a clip or cloth loop. On the trunk, a couple of canes will be selected and pruned to a nub about 2-3 inches long with 2 distinct buds. These are called “replacements” and will be used the following winter for cane selection. This method is the most common practice and the second most common is the Spur prune. This is where a permanent cordon (an extension of the trunk along the aforementioned fruiting wire) has spurs rising from it. These spurs will have 2 or 3 canes coming off them. The pruner merely cuts back the canes so that the required number of buds is left behind. Again the unwanted material is either mulched or burnt.

The buds begin to swell when the weather warms up, they open and the first green shoots slowly emerge. In the southern regions of New Zealand this is a stressful time for Vineyard managers. The arrival of a frost is most unwelcome as the frost can burn the tender young shoots and pretty much destroy the flowers held within the tender grasp of the early leaves. It’s not just frost; I have seen a fierce storm blast salt spray of a block of Chardonnay which had the same effect. Eight tons of fruit was eliminated in a few hours. The vineyard staff and I commiserated by walking along the beach picking up fat, juicy scallops, shucking them over a few beers and pan frying them with butter and the merest sliver of garlic. The previous vintage of Chardonnay went down very well with those fresh from the ocean beauties. And that’s the thing with Winegrowing, Good seasons or bad seasons, there is always another wine to taste, vine to prune and bunch to press. No point dwelling on what may have been, just look to what may emerge in the springtime.
Ben Dugdale - President Matakana Winegrowers

Mahurangi Matters - July 2013


As a Winemaker, I’m asked a lot of wine questions – particularly at social functions. The most common question is “What’s your favourite wine?” The truth is, I don’t have one. So much about wine is contextual – that is, the environment in which you are drinking it. A peachy, pungent and chilled Chardonnay on a sunny afternoon in late February, accompanied by pan fried Kawau Bay snapper and Mahurangi Harbour Oysters, would come out tops – but not so much 6 months later, where winters chill and soggy mud makes one crave a muscular Syrah with reheated beef and bean stew by a glowing, bone-warming fire. After a day’s work, a nice pleasant red whilst making dinner works best for me, but just what that red is primarily depends on what’s on special at the local supermarket or wine shop. Recent news articles about wine tasting have pointed towards the unreliable nature of wine judges and/or wine critics. The key argument is the term “unreliable” which means that the score is not replicated with subsequent tastings by the same people, of the same wine. An American Wine producer was puzzled by varying scores of his and other wines, and set out to chart the “reliability”. Not unnaturally he found that the same wine would have high scores one day and low scores the next. This proves that wine is an ever changing sensory product and should be consumed, not just with food, but with an open mind. If winemakers strived to make a product the same, year in year out, then we would start to produce and market water, Coke or globally branded lager. The context in which you drink wine plays a big part in your perception of that wine. Wine judging is very far removed from how people drink and enjoy wines. The main purpose is to promote wines that are true to type character and free of fault. This means that a highly awarded Merlot must smell of, and taste like, a Merlot and then not have any negative smells, tastes and textures that are derived from inferior grapes, spoilage micro-organisms or excessive acid and tannins. However, it must be said, that all Wine shows are merely reflections of what the Judges thought, at that time, on that day and within the fact that the wine was judged alongside its peers – up to 45 at a time. One should use medals and awards as a suggestion or a rough guide because, once you enter the worlds of tastes and textures you will discover flavours and experiences that are beyond words, numbers and star ratings. I very much encourage the wine imbibing public to look beyond the racks at the local supermarket and discover the fascinating tastes and characters of the local winegrowers. Then, ask them what their favourite wine is…Their answer will be different to mine, and just as valid.
Ben Dugdale - President Matakana Winegrowers

Mahurangi Matters - June 2013

Rotary Auction at Ascension Wine Estate

On the second of June, over 140 good people of the Rodney district gathered at Ascension Wine Estate to partake in a dinner and a Charity Wine Auction. There was a fantastic silent Art Auction as well, with wonderful pieces particularly from Local artists featuring prominently. The guests of honour were Sir George Fistonich and Lady Gail Fistonich of Villa Maria, New Zealand’s largest “kiwi owned” wine business. Sir George spoke on the history of Villa Maria and the current wine industry strengths and opportunities. It was heartening to listen to someone who had overcome significant financial tribulations, who went on make significant domestic and international contributions to the nations brand story and economy. Then, over the course of the evening, various lots of local wine were auctioned – mostly they were half cases lots – 6 bottles – and some were cellared stock and /or very rare examples. This increased the bidding beyond what these wines would have originally retailed for. I myself bid on various items, and considered myself extremely lucky to win one lot (a magnum and an aged red) which you just can’t find available anywhere. I was appropriately stunned by the generosity of the participating wineries – as they had donated the stock and in some cases, delved deep into their own personal cellars. Some producers unflinchingly donated wine for the tables – again many thanks for this kindness. The money raised netted approximately $20,000.00, which will be used in the local community for various activities. This is a great result and from the Matakana Winegrowers viewpoint, one that starts us on a significant annual occurrence on the promotional calendar. We would like to see this grow and develop into a must attend event, and as such there is talk of having a barrel auction. This is where a 225 litre barrel is auctioned (this will equate to approximately 300 bottles) and usually won by a syndicate who receive personalised bottles, which they can either cellar for their own pleasure, use to promote their activities or who knows, they may start themselves on a pathway to make and sell their own wine.
I wish to profusely thank all those members of Rotary who worked incredibly hard to make this happen. The auction went very smoothly and the event was an excellent example of the community working together for a common goal. Lastly – my special thanks to Darryl and Bridget Soljan of Ascension Wine Estate for their commitment to the evening. They even donated a Guitar signed by all of the Hollies; they have our lasting thanks for their generosity. I am certain next year’s event will sell out even faster than this year, so keep an eye out, and be sure to get your ticket early.
Ben Dugdale - President Matakana Winegrowers

Mahurangi Matters - March 2013

Looking good thus far

The Matakana/Mahurangi region has not had anywhere near its usual allocation of rain. In fact one vineyard recorded no rain at all throughout January. The hills around Matakana are beginning to take on a manila folder colour and the farmers have begun to rightfully worry about grass growth and having enough feed for stock. Winegrowers, on the other hand, look upon this weather with barely contained enthusiasm. We look forward to the next 30-60 days with a nervous excitement, kind of like that first day back at school – happy to see your mates, apprehensive about actually doing any schoolwork and hoping your teacher will be nice. What we want now is nice warm temperatures, clear skies and a little rain to help growth. The key elements are set up for a good harvest. This season has similarities to 2010, which brought winemakers very ripe fruit with lots of character and a warm climate appeal. Similar, yes but not the same. That’s the wondrous thing about winemaking – it’s never the same vintage, with the same flavours replicated. There are elements that are the same (this allows professional wine tasters the ability to pinpoint where a wine is grown) but it’s the subtle differences in vintage conditions that mean one never stops learning when it comes to making wine. Over harvest winemakers must make decisions that have ramifications which are only obvious a year or so down the track. It is both a stressful and rewarding time. Are we excited about the season? Hell yes. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. So while we wait for the berries change colour and catch the attention of various nefarious birds, we begin to consider the last year’s harvest. 2012 was what we call a “challenging” year – which is code for “not ideal”. There were lower amounts of sunshine and slightly more wet periods than one would consider desirable. Initial expectations were not overtly positive. At harvest time, low sugars in the crop indicated a slight drop in perceived quality. However, I have just spent considerable time looking at various 2012 wines from all over the country and am delighted to say that the Matakana wines were consistently riper and rounder than their counterparts in more southern climes. There are some gorgeous, vibrant wines sitting in tanks and barrels throughout the region, patiently waiting to be bottled and released over the coming year .I was very pleased with these 2012 wines – the overall quality is better than expected and they show some real quality assurance gains from the local producers.

In the meantime bunches of grapes are slowly reaching their potential on the vine, and I suggest that winegrowers invite the stressed out dry stock farmers around for a BBQ and commiserate over a succulent local red.

Ben Dugdale - President Matakana Winegrowers

Mahurangi Matters - January 2013

Over the last 5 years Matakana Winegrowers run regular workshops where winemakers bring their new, un-bottled wines which are tasted and critically examined. Each participating member brings up to 5 wines to the workshop. These wines are still undergoing maturation in tanks or barrels and are what we call “unfinished” or “cellar samples”. The wines are then put in brown paper bags, given a code number and then set up on a nearby table.

The winemakers have about 6 empty glasses in front of them and the tasting begins with the masked wines being poured by their particular variety. Each winemaker gets the same set of six wines, and they have no idea whose wine is whose.
Once poured, the tasting begins. This is done in complete silence and lasts about 10-12 minutes per flight of 6 wines. After the allotted time we stop, with everyone finishing their notes. We then start to discuss the quality aspects of the first wine. We examine the general characters, the positives and the wines strengths. We move on to the wines less positive characters, the unwanted characters or elements. Is it too acidic? Too tannic? does it smell of a microbial fault? That type of thing. Each winemaker will provide their take on the wine. More often than not, these notes are very similar. Then we discuss what steps can be taken to improve the wine. We want to reduce or eliminate an unwanted character or flaw, or maybe enhance a desirable flavour or element. It is only after this last task, we unveil the wine and see who the producer is. That producer then speaks about the wine; how it was made, some of the origins of particular characters and can ask for pointers if remedial action is required. Critical feedback is encouraged and has to be accompanied by remedial action. These tastings are not for the egoist and faint of heart, one has to be open to critisim and be prepared to examine every detail of what one does in the vineyard and winery.

These tastings are modelled on the Steamboat Pinot Noir Workshop in Oregon that has been going for 32 years and has its own New Zealand take – the Southern Pinot Noir Workshop and the Syrah Workshops which are both held over the upcoming summer. The idea is to make better wines through the critical feedback and communication. The aim is to have a better product and by continually examining what we do, the result is a higher standard of Matakana wine. We do this because we want to make really, really great wines that people love and cherish. We don’t think that Matakana, and for that matter New Zealand, is best served by allowing low quality and mediocrity to become a benchmark.

Drink better quality and responsibly.

Ben Dugdale - President Matakana Winegrowers

Mahurangi Matters - November 2012<

Ahhh Summer. Bring it on.

As we gently ease into the warm embrace of Summer, several things begin to happen. We suddenly remember all those little jobs round the house that needed doing prior to summer arriving, and lo! A few bright sunny days spur us into action. In vineyard terms, it’s all go from now. Vines which burst forth several months ago, will suddenly gather momentum given sunlight and rain. They will flower in the coming weeks – the weather at this point will dictate the “cropping level” –warm, sunny conditions will increase the amount of pollinated flowers which will in turn increase the amount of berries on a bunch. Towards Christmas, teams of Leaf pluckers will head out into the vineyards to carefully remove the leaves that surround the grape bunches. This will do 2 things: expose the bunch to more sunlight and allow more airflow around the grapes. The sunlight will assist in ripening the grapes and the airflow will decrease the risk of diseases.

All going well, summer will progress from those busy, family days of Christmas and New Years into the sun drenched lazy afternoons of January and February. Bird nets will be unfurled in vineyards and then the wine growers begin the wait, anticipating the upcoming harvest. It is a wonderful, anxious time for all involved as we carefully mull over weather websites and make sure the sprayer is ready to go.

The pre-Christmas time is also when various agencies burst into print, as if to justify their existence by producing screeds of reports. One such recent example was the Vineyard Register Report 2012 produced by the New Zealand Winegrowers.
The Vineyard Register tells us that the Auckland/Northland region, in total, produces 1% of a1l the wine made in New Zealand. Matakanas production would therefore be no more than 0.3% of NZ’s production. That’s OK – I’d rather be small and perfectly formed, than a lumbering behemoth. Those who know me will find that last part amusing.

This got me thinking, Matakana is a very small region inside a quite a small region. How does one compete with the bigger areas – particularly with distribution networks and channels into Supermarkets? One cannot compete on price as there is always someone bigger than you with cheaper costs of production – so therefore the Matakana winegrowers must compete on the unique characters and exclusive flavours of this region. It comes down to having a great product, and unique story and an awareness for service and hospitality. Therefore, over the upcoming glorious NZ summer, I encourage everyone (and particularly those who are entertaining guests from far and wide) to explore our Matakana Wineries and Tasting rooms. There is a wealth of fascinating stories and interesting flavours right here, in our very own back yard. Go to to find where you can start.

Ben Dugdale - President Matakana Winegrowers