Volcanic Hills Winery

We are always eager to visit anywhere with the word ‘winery’ or ‘vineyard’ attached to the name and so, after a few hours absorbing the sulphurous splendour of Whakarewarewa, we sought the more mellow tones of Volcanic Hills Winery. While the wine making facility is located at ground level, the tasting room, high on the side of Mount Ngongotaha, can only be reached by a 900 metre ride on the Skyline Gondola.

The Skyline complex offers cafes and restaurants as well as luge, ziplines and mountain bike tracks for the thrill-seekers. We prefer our thrills on the more sedate side. Volcanic Hills was established in 2009 with the tasting room opening three years later.

There are no grapes grown in Rotorua, instead the best grapes are sourced from various wine regions in New Zealand and the finished product is only available at cellar door and hand chosen outlets, restaurants and hotels. We enjoyed a five wine tasting, guided through by a very knowledgeable Larissa, wife of winemaker Brent Park. The gondola continued its circuits on one side of the window

while magnificent views across the town and lake filled the rest.

Lake Rotorua was formed around 200,000 years ago following the eruption of a volcano and is the second largest lake in the North Island. The resulting caldera is about 16km wide, although with an average depth of only 10 metres.

Mokoia Island is a rhyolite lava dome in the centre of the lake, created when magma was pushed through a crack in the caldera. It is now a bird sanctuary and home to several rare species.

We wandered around the complex but, tempting though the restaurant was

we stashed our bottles of 2019 Hawkes Bay Rose and 2019 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and made our way back to Matamata as the sun descended on another wonderful day.

Mudbrick

There was no shortage of spectacular views, along with magnificent food and wine, on our Taste of Waiheke Tour. Just when we thought we’d seen it all, our third and final winery, Mudbrick, delivered in spades. The initial vista was very impressive across the Hauraki Gulf, Rangitoto Island and Auckland in the distance but there was more to come.

We made our way to the terrace for an introduction to the winery, its history and a spot of tasting.

Robyn and Nicholas Jones bought the land as a lifestyle block in 1992. Both accountants, they had no experience in winemaking or hospitality but obviously had incredible vision. They spent weekends at the property planting everything from shelter belts to vines on the bare block as well as completing a multi-purpose mud brick building. The café soon followed and, 18 years later, is now a world famous restaurant. With glass in hand, we embarked on a tour of the vineyard while learning more about Mudbrick and the process of making their award winning wines.

There wouldn’t be many better places in the world to have a house.

As we climbed higher, the views became even more stupendous.

At the top, we had a 360 degree view of Waiheke Island from the helipad. Yes, you can arrive and depart Mudbrick by helicopter.

We returned to the restaurant

and wandered for a while around the flourishing potager garden.

Vegetables, herbs and edible flowers provide fresh ingredients each day to grace the plates presented to diners. Any organic waste from the restaurant is returned to the soil in the form of compost, recycling at its best.

Our day on Waiheke Island was almost over, what an exceptional day it had been.

Casita Miro

Set on a hill with spectacular views overlooking Onetangi Beach, Spanish influenced Casita Miro was the second winery of our Waiheke Island tour.

A magnificent mosaic wall follows the entrance driveway, an intricate work of art created by the Bond family who have been growing grapes and making wine here for twenty years.

We were greeted by a lovely lady with the unusual name Meander, a legacy of Dutch hippy parents apparently, who led us through the award winning tapas restaurant.

The steps to the Bond Bar,

our venue to indulge in tastings of the Miro Vineyard wines, were edged with more astounding mosaics.

The view from the top, across vineyards to the ocean, was breathtaking.

In a sublime atmosphere, Meander navigated us through four wines, each one matched with a tasty morsel.

The Madame Rouge Walnuts were delicious. Roasted in Madame Rouge aperitif, a fortified blend of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon grape juice, along with butter, cayenne, salt and brown sugar. With a glass of wine in hand we farewelled the Bond Bar and retreated to the restaurant to purchase a bucketful for future consumption.

Stonyridge Vineyard

A stunning scenic drive from Matiatia Bay along narrow, winding roads brought us to the first port of call on our Taste of Waiheke Tour, Stonyridge Vineyard.

It wasn’t long before we were greeted with a lovely smile and a tray of welcome tipple.

Gathering in the dappled shade of the olive grove, we heard more about the superb wines we were tasting in the company of gnarly aged cork trees.

Stonyridge became the first commercial olive grove in New Zealand after friends and family initially planted the trees in 1982.

The first Bordeaux vines were planted the same year followed by Cabernet Franc and Malbec in 1983. Owner Stephen White produced the first vintage two years later and Stonyridge is now recognised as the home of world class Bordeaux style red wine. There was no shortage of comfortable seating to relax and savour a beverage while enjoying the expansive vista across the north facing vineyard.

Tables were set for our little group and we selected a wine to accompany the delicious quiche & salad.

We would have been happy to stay all afternoon but this was just the beginning.

RetroGusto

Arriving in Bolsena, we found a very convenient car park in Piazza Matteotti, a perfect starting point to explore the town. Through the medieval arch leading to Corso Cavour,

we were distracted from our mission upon discovering RetroGusto. The unassuming exterior belied the wonder within,

this place was much more than just a grocery store.

The range of local produce was boggling

but with a little help and a few samples to taste, we indulged in a delicious platter accompanied by a glass of exquisite vino rosso.

Armed with a selection of goodies for future consumption (the truffle salami could not be left behind), we thanked la bella signora and returned to our mission.