Destinations Cities

Alex Bell visits Coromandel

A visit to Mercury Bay Estate near Cooks Beach, on the stunning Coromandel.

With 10 major wine-producing areas and more than 500 winemakers, the red and white stuff I don’t drink very often is an incredible success story for New Zealand.

So what better way to educate my poorly cultivated palate than with a Maui Winery Haven trip to Mercury Bay Estate near Cooks Beach, on the stunning Coromandel.

The export value of wine exceeded $1.22 billion in the last calendar year, representing massive interest around the world for the Kiwi product, but it’s also important to maintain local support – which is where Maui have stepped up to create a truly innovative experience.

In the comfort of a monster motorhome, you can drive to one of four sites – Coromandel, Hawke’s Bay, Martinborough and Central Otago – and park up for an overnight stay at the actual vineyard. Throw in a gourmet hamper for two and a bottle of your choice, and you can see where Maui are coming from.

My partner and I picked up the Platinum Beach vehicle near Auckland airport and set off on the two-hour journey to Mercury Bay.

Thanks to the engine and chassis expertise of Mercedes-Benz, we cruise along the motorway and also manage to patiently negotiate a cycle race along State Highway 25, involving hundreds of two-wheeled nutters who thought traipsing up a massive hill in scorching heat was a good idea. We stop-start for a good 30 minutes, but finally break away and arrive gratefully at our destination.

Named by English navigator Captain James Cook, the gorgeous coastline extends to around 20km, with Whitianga on the shore.While a good location for game fishing, another star attraction is Mercury Bay Estate vineyard, winery and cellar door.

The heartbeat of this boutique business is John and Lorraine Donelley. It’s been nearly a decade since they purchased the pinot noir block, despite no previous viticulture experience, and in 2006 they produced their first vintage.

Now, I don’t really have any clue what all that means, but what I can appreciate is great personal service.

We drive into the vineyard and a sun-kissed John, who certainly didn’t look his more senior years, greeted us with the warmest of smiles and dog Shelby.

As he enthusiastically led us down to our site for the evening (there are three isolated spots where you can park up), he remained calm as I turned the motorhome into one of the wooden poles and knocked off a door handle. He apologised and
said he should have given me clearer instructions to get it into a tight spot, which was of course correct!

Once we had parked safely, John took us through the history of the vineyard and how the whole project is a definitive labour of love.

The Donelleys are not seeking world domination – they merely want to produce quality wine, encourage the success of other businesses in the region, and provide an intimate, personal experience in the most stunning of surroundings.

As we taste a “paddle” of different wines, I am surprised to enjoy the Gem pinot gris. Although I can’t exactly discern the rock melon, it’s the free bottle we decide to go for as we sit in the Cellar Door at the top of the site – a great spot overlooking the water. It’s also the only retail operation of its type in the area offering wine tastings.

The many bottles for sale, from the vibrant sauvignon blanc, to the raspberry, cherry hints of the Red Merc, come from the vineyards at Cooks Beach and Hawke’s Bay. The harvest is hand-picked, while the local region is protected from the prevailing westerly weather by the ranges. The soil is also well matched to grow pinot noir grapes. It’s pretty close to the perfect plonk recipe.

We then set up our mini camp and tuck into our mixed platter, as the sun sets in the distance.

While the heartbeat of this getaway is the Mercury Bay Estate, we also take in the delights of Whitianga.

The stunning, untouched beauty of Cathedral Cove is also a must-see. It’s a DOC site, and there are only 20 people around. A dip in the freezing sea is the perfect wake-up call.

And that just about rounds off our Maui Wine Haven adventure. The motorhome, which has two double beds and boasts a DVD player, shower, toilet and all mod cons, is the ultimate in travelling luxury. And the scenery is also breathtaking.

But our most poignant memories will be of John and Lorraine, whose welcome and service is of a five-star standard. Go and say hi!

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