New Zealand Wine – A Day On The Northland Wine Trail


Heather Markel, Writer, Speaker, Photographer, Traveler, Business Strategist

Sometimes a day out with wine is a great day…

Over the past three years, I have been so fortunate to discover amazing wines from around the globe.  Let me preface this article with full disclosure – I’m a red wine kind of gal. I do like some whites, but I’m just never as satisfied with them as a good, deep, full bouquet glass of red wine. Thus, I have so far been profoundly disappointed with red wines in New Zealand. Up to now, the only ones I’ve had are in bars, and, of course, they no doubt are not the cream of the crop of New Zealand. Happily, my recent wine tasting experience led me to some delightful experiences that have begun to change my mind about New Zealand wines.

I started a Facebook group at the start of the pandemic for people stuck abroad. Through it, I have been lucky to make some new friends, some of whom are in New Zealand! That’s how I met Marlene and her husband Steve. Floridians who, like me, are happily marooned in New Zealand. They drove up to explore New Zealand’s northland a few weeks ago, so I had the pleasure of  meeting them, and thanks to them, doing my first wine tasting in the country! We visited three vineyards, and a chocolate cafe, in one day. If you’re ever in the area, I highly recommend this as a day trip! Below is a map showing the area we explored, in the order we did it.

Marsden Estate

Marsden was a sensory delight. We started here with lunch, and the food was delicious. I had the seared tuna salad, and every bite was delectable. We decided to pair lunch with a wine-tasting flight which meant we could choose any 3 wines on their list for 15 NZD.  My two favorite wines were had with lunch – the 2020 rose, and, the 2019 Pinotage. The latter surprised me since I think of South Africa for Pinotage, and had no idea they made it here in New Zealand. Rose, if you paid attention to my earlier statement of being a red-wine girl, is not a red wine! But, it had that perfect blend of tart and well balanced.

Marsden Estate Kerikeri
Marsden Estate Kerikeri

If you dine at Marsden Estate, you’ll also be treated to a fabulous view, and, if you wander outside, ducks of various ages will follow you. Careful, if you put your hand out, they’ll try to eat it, and it’s not as pleasant as you might think. It was however, quite funny to take their photo outside, return to the table, and find I was followed by three of the youthful ducks who then decided to sit by our table until they got annoyed we weren’t feeding them.

After our meal we headed over to the tasting area, and for $7 NZD we sampled five more wines. These are slightly smaller pours, which is why they’re less expensive, but, I think they threw in an extra. By that time I was already quite happy, so I don’t really remember. I tried the Pinot Gris, the Chardonnay (another excellent wine, even though it’s not red!),  the Chambourcin, which is a new grape to me! Can’t say I liked it, but I tried it! The Merlot was also good.  I think I tried a port as well, but, like I said, I can’t quite remember… 😮 All-in-all, I found the wines to be like a mature, well-blended experience and plan to return to drink more wine with Marlene and Steve.

“Three Vineyards And A Chocolate Cafe In One Day…oy vey!”

Mike at Cottle Hill Winery. 

Photos by Heather Markel. Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

Cottle Hill Winery

This may be the coolest wine tasting ever. Right away, you’re gonna love Mike. He calls his wife God, no joke. Who doesn’t love a man that calls his wife God? They’re from California and came over to New Zealand ages ago and stayed, and the vineyard is their dream come true. They’re preparing for retirement, and if I understood correctly, are selling their existing stock, and then that’ll be that! So, get there soon if you’re going. This was the lowest key, most laid back tasting we had. Mike is clearly proud of all their wines, and loves educating you about them. Though I did like the wines, I have to admit, my favorite was their walnut liqueur. There’s one you don’t taste every day.  I also loved the story behind their Dolcetto wine. It involves a trip to Italy, an old Italian lady, some begging, and a return trip to Italy. Go ask Mike about it when you visit Cottle Hill. The only problem you may have is that the atmosphere, combined with talking to Mike, may find you wanting to stay forever. Such a pleasant experience!

Makana Chocolate Cafe

This cafe has been on my list for months. The problem is, it’s a long walk from where I’m staying, and the only time I’ve been close to it is on a Saturday when it’s packed. So, I was so happy when Marlene and Steve were up for a sweet treat and a cup of coffee. There are two parts to the visit. First we went to the cafe. I had a fabulous piece of carrot cake and a flat white coffee. Perfectly quenched my hunger and absorbed some of my inebriation. Next door is the Makana Chocolate Factory where you can sample chocolate, watch them making various candy and buy some if you’re so inclined. It’s the perfect stop in-between wine tastings. We had just enough time to make it to our final vineyard of the day before closing time…

Hole in the Rock, New Zealand

In and outside Makana Cafe. Photos by Heather Markel, Copyright 2020, All Rights Reserved.

Ake Ake Vineyard

We made it here with, literally, minutes to spare before closing. Like many places in New Zealand, instead of telling us it was almost closing time, they let us come in and enjoy some wine. The inside is beautiful. There’s a restaurant, and the entire place has a homey, comfortable feel. I was, at this point, fairly intoxicated, so will have to return a second time to truly get a taste for their wines. 

One of the things that sets Ake Ake apart from other vineyards is that their wines are organic. I tried the Skin Fermented Flora – it’s the second orange wine I’ve ever tasted. The first was with a friend in Wellington. I had never heard of orange wine before coming to New Zealand, so am intrigued with it. Like the Chambourcin, it’s a wine you can’t really reference with your taste buds. You can’t compare it to something you’ve tasted before. I’ve decided I need to try more of both to figure out whether or not I like them. I also tasted a Syrah and their Reserve Pinotage. I hope to go back another time, perhaps earlier in the day, to get a better feel for their wines. I also get the feeling their food is delicious if you’re in the mood for a semi-romantic, lovely meal.

I’m still amazed that, six months after arriving here in Kerikeri, I’m still finding new places and new things to do. This really is a special place!

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