For most Aucklanders, The Hunting Lodge is a venue synonymous with Kumeu, drumming up nostalgic memories of long summer lunches gone by.
Set among the sprawling vines, you'll discover a verified hub of local winemakers, dedicated to harvesting the region's best grapes, having garnered a reputation for delivering some of the country's crispiest, driest white varietals.
For winemaker Pete Turner, Auckland's "wild west" has a lot more to offer than meets the eye.
"For me, wines need to have a sense of place, showing where it is that they're from, through their terroir," he says. "A Marlborough pinot noir has most of the qualities you would expect from that region. Here, we've taken a slightly different approach, we intend on the range to be continuously evolving – seasonally. We've got some staples, obviously, the sauvignon blanc, pinot gris, rosé, pinot noir and then we have a few lesser-known varietals as well."
"That's what we'd like to champion in the future, introducing people to lesser-known varietals and different alternatives and styles, while still offering the classics in the range that people are comfortable with."
On a cloudy Monday afternoon, a tour bus carrying a group of cruise boat guests parks up and unloads for the afternoon, many of whom are American tourists that appear to be just as blown away by the perfectly manicured grounds as they are by the wine on offer. The Hunting Lodge has managed to achieve what many vineyards dream of – a complete reinvention and rebrand, without diverting from their roots, steeped in heritage.
These days, The Hunting Lodge aims to cater to everyone, not just the wandering wine crowd. There's an activity lawn boasting giant Jenga and pétanque, plenty to keep the kids occupied. The grounds alone boast a number of different venues and strikingly different spaces, with The Barn still dressed in white florals from the wedding that took place the night prior.
The attitude here is refreshing – let the wines showcase themselves and keep the menu refined, fresh and seasonal. For lunch, we graze on a Spanish-style platter of tapas, a selection of Mahoe Blue cheeses and marinated mushrooms, olives and artichokes, accompanied by a fresh baguette and deliciously dry glass of albarino, the lesser-known cousin to riesling.
Those who visit for a wine-tasting will be delighted by Pete, and while his wine knowledge is something to be admired, the team make a conscious effort not to bog you down with terminology that only a seasoned sommelier would recognise.
The beautifully crisp and understated wines on offer here hold a European-style restraint. Blush pink rosé and dry-as-a-bone chardonnays make the tasting twice as nice. For the curious, Pete offers a barrel tasting of the sauvignon blanc –cloudy, fermented and showcasing the subtitles of tomato vine.
While Waiheke Island is still front of mind for most of us when thinking of vineyards close to Auckland city, The Hunting Lodge further reaffirms why a 30–minute journey out west is well-worth the mileage, provided you can settle on who's driving home.
To read more about the newly revived The Hunting Lodge, see their website here.
The Hunting Lodge,
307 Waikoukou Valley Road,
The story of the Hunting Lodge starts in 1868, with the current owners' connection to the land going back to the 1970s. Having grown up among the vines, there have been many great times and stories shared about The Hunting Lodge and the community around it.
Today, the vineyard garden is all about truly delicious wine that can be enjoyed in a backdrop that makes memories of any occasion.
"That's what we'd like to champion in the future, introducing people to lesser-known varietals and different alternatives and styles, while still offering the classics in the range that people are comfortable with." – Pete Turner, winemaker.