Friday, 10 February 2023 16:25

Altogether Unique: Waiheke

Written by  Sophie Preece
Tantalus Estate Tantalus Estate

With more than 30 boutique vineyards and 20 commercial cellar doors within its beach clad borders, Waiheke’s wine industry is truly bespoke.

There are plenty of complications making premium wine from tiny vineyards on a little, but eagerly populated, island. Not least among them this season has been the shortage of staff, as cellar doors and restaurants re-open to international tourists after the hiatus caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Marketing and Relationships Manager at Tantalus Estate, Chrissy Powlesland, notes that the likes of Airbnb have enabled bach owners to make some money when they’re not on the island, but have been a blow to staff accommodation, already limited by the island’s development restrictions. Tantalus, along with many other operators, is ensuring it has good onsite staff accommodation and this summer the company has refined its menu and capacity, to ensure guests continue to receive a five-star experience at the restaurant and cellar door.

Visitors are an “integral” component of making wine on Waiheke, says Chrissy. “In more commercial wine growing regions, you would have a cellar door as a brand experience and there’s not as much of an expectation around it being profitable. Whereas here, 99% of the wine is sold through the restaurant and the cellar door.” That worked perfectly from the opening of Tantalus in 2016 to the beginning of 2020, with the strongest tourism stats ever. When the pandemic closed borders and locked down the regular stream of Auckland visitors, it faced major challenges but also fortuitous opportunities, with other sales channels such as Farro in Auckland opening up. Now Tantalus is casting its eyes at wider domestic and international markets, despite having just 8 hectares to grow from.

Waiheke’s tagline is ‘A world apart, not a world away’ which “perfectly captures its proximity to Auckland, and the diverse cultural mix on the island”, says Chrissy. Estate Winemaker Alex Perez agrees. “You can encounter an international and multidisciplinary community on Waiheke. I believe it’s quite enriching to be immersed in that cultural pluralism and humbly contribute to it.”

He likes to encourage a “vintage blend” in the small winery, with young oenologists and cellar hands from around the world. “That interdependence with mother nature and each other harmonises our unique terroir”.

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