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From Kerikeri to Karikari and New Zealand’s northern most vineyard

August 3rd, 2008-- by Sue Courtney

The white sands of Karikari Beach, on the northern side of Karikari Peninsula, seem pristine, untouched. Walking barefoot along the beach I hear the sand squeak beneath my weight and feel the dry grains of quartz run between my toes. Way above the high tide mark are sporadic clusters of scallop, tuatua and other exotic shells taken to their resting place by a recent storm to die a lonely death. White Sands of Karikari Beach. Photo Copyright to Sue Courtney. On the dunes, tussock grass is trying to take hold. It’s so quiet and tranquil, it’s easy to forget about life on the main street. It is peace at its finest.

Suddenly I sense movement close by. Where? It takes a moment to spot the well-camouflaged breeding bird hackling its feathers in alarm at my approach. This stretch of beach, backed by sand dunes and wetlands, is over five and a half miles long and with little public road access it is a sanctuary for the NZ dotterel, bittern, variable oyster-catcher, fernbird and marsh crake. I take a wide berth so not to disturb the bird, further.

Taking time out to visit Karikari Beach is always a highlight of my visits to Karikari Estate Vineyard, part of Carrington Resort and the northern-most vineyard in New Zealand.

Carrington Resort was the dream of American Paul Kelly*, who developed part of the 3000-acre property into lodge and villa accommodation overlooking the private golf course and wetlands to the sand dunes and the South Pacific Ocean beyond. The property also incorporates a working Angus beef farm and the 100-acre vineyard while recreation activities, in addition to golf, include diving, fishing, skeet shooting, horse riding, kayaking and of course, wine tasting.

Resort guests scoot around the property on golf buggies with an under-road tunnel providing safe access to the winery, café and wine sales facility on the other side of Matai Bay Road. Wine tourists come by car.

Wine Tasting Platter at Karikari Estate. Photo Copyright to Sue Courtney Wine tasting at Karikari Estate is a casual, do-it yourself affair once you have your platter of five wines ($12) and accompanying notes. On a hot, fine day it is just idyllic sitting at one of the outdoor tables on the lawn, tasting the wines and drinking in the view. On a clear day you can even see Cape Maria Van Diemen, the most northern point of the North Island, in the distance.

The vineyard has six soil profiles and because the area has no history of viticulture, therefore no history of success or failure, a number of grape varieties was planted to see how they would handle the soils and climatic conditions. It can be quite windy here at times, probably why the area was named Karikari by the native Maori. Karikari translates to ‘windy, windy’.

The first block, planted in 1998, included chardonnay, semillon, viognier, cabernet sauvignon, merlot, syrah, grenache and malbec. Later pinotage, montepulciano, cabernet franc and two other clones of syrah were planted. Now the vineyard has 60,000 vines. Grapes are also sourced from Marlborough and Gisborne to complement the range.

Under the craftmanship of viticulturist Ed Broderick and winemaker Ben Dugdale, Karikari Estate has already won a number of gold medal awards and trophies, particularly for its chardonnay,  pinotage and Bordeaux-style blends.

However I was particularly impressed the Karikari Estate Tannat 2006 – the first 100% tannat wine I have tasted from New Zealand. This deep cerise coloured wine is big, rich and succulent with aromas of savoury vanillin oak, old spice, musk and pencils shavings. It has amazing plush red fruits in the palate with tobacco, spice, cigar and grippy tannins that balance the creamy structure. It’s what I call ‘OMG’ stuff.

Also impressive was Karikari Estate Cabernet Merlot 2005. It is deep and dark in colour with a rich berry aroma and a full flavoured palate embossedwith cedary oak and a savoury meaty richness. Firm, fine-grained tannins add grip and the succulent finish is robust and flavoursome.

Wine can also be bought by the glass or the bottle and there’s a blackboard menu that display the day’s menu, which includes a ‘Karikari Platter’ of tempting, tasty treats.

In April 2008 the opening hours for Karikari Estate Vineyard and Winery were 11am to 5pm daily from November to May, and 11.30 to 3pm, Wednesday through Sunday, from June to October.

Karikari Peninsula is just over an hour’s drive from Kerikeri, featured in my last episode of Travels with Wine, and about four hours north of Auckland City. Travelling from Kerikeri you can take a scenic detour off State Highway 10 via Matauri and Tauranga Bays. That will take at least another hour. Paewhenua Island sign. Photo Copyright to Sue CourtneyNearing Mangonui Harbour and the idyllic Coopers Beach, you will pass Paewhenua Island, an actual island that State Highway 10 discreetly passes over, with a bridge on one side and a causeway on another. It is only the sign that lets you know that you are at this location. This is one of the newer Northland vineyard developments with lifestyle-sized properties offering viticultural opportunities for prospective buyers.

*In June 2008, Carrington Resort became part of prestige Heritage Hotel chain. I also recommend San Marino Motor Lodge as alternative accommodation.  It is absolute beachfront at the south end of Coopers Beach.

Map of the Kerikeri to Karikari route with sites specific to this article
Kerikeri to Karikari Route Map by Sue Courtney.

Relative Links:
Carrington Estate – www.heritagehotels.co.nz/Carrington-Resort
Karikari Estate Vineyard – www.karikariestate.co.nz
Paewhenua Island – www.theisland.co.nz
San Marino at Coopers Beach – www.sanmarino.co.nz

© Sue Courtney, August 2008

Tags: New Zealand · Sue Courtney · Uncategorized

1 response so far ↓

  • 1 Jacqueline Ottaway // Mar 31, 2011 at 1:47 am

    Wine, summer sunshine and endless stretches of water and white sand … Sue Courtney’s website takes the reader on a time travel trip to Nirvana!

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