Waiheke Island, just off the coast of Auckland, is one of New Zealand’s newest wine regions, boasting 22 wineries within the 92km2, all of which have popped up within the last 40 years. We catch the ferry over and find our way to Batch Winery, the highest on the island and purveyors of not only great wine but also some seriously travel-worthy food, exceptional views and the best hospitality on the island.
With so many wineries to pick from, it’s hard to figure out which you should choose, especially if you’re only visiting for a day or two. So, let us help. Batch Winery is a simple must-visit.
Batch Winery – A Brief Overview
The family-run winery was bought in 2009 by the Thomas family and specialises in small batch wine-making (hence the name), producing between 20,000 and 30,000 bottles per year. The Canadian owners wanted the new cellar door and restaurant to recall a New Zealand “bach” (a modest holiday home made up of different rooms added onto a shack and developed over time), giving the spot a relaxed, familial feel where visitors can come to escape the drudgery of every day life.
Before the Thomas’ came along, the spot was a working vineyard that planted its first vines back in 1995. These were inherited by the new owners who kept a few as well as planting their own. Today, Batch has five varietals on site – Pinot Gris, Flora, Chardonnay, Riesling and Syrah – as well as producing wine from Gisborne, Hawke’s Bay and Martinborough (where other varietals grow better).
A Quick Tour & Tasting
We’re delivered to Batch by the Thomas Batch Bus service that picks us up at the ferry port. On arrival, we are met by Frank Lepera, our gracious host for the day. He takes us straight through to the tasting room where get started with a glass of Thomas Blanc de Gris 2017. As we get our first taste of Batch wine, Frank talks us through the Charmat method that the sparkling wine is produced by, describing it as “invented by the French but perfected by the Italians. It’s the same way they make Prosecco”. Batch has the only Charmat tanks on the island and are therefore known best for their sparkling wines, as well as their Chardonnays and Syrahs.
The wine itself is off-dry in style. Grape-y on the nose, it is quite dry and easy-drinking. The delicate carbonation hides a good deal of the residual sugar sweetness; this proves to be a good introduction to what the team do here.
Glass in hand, we’re taken on a tour through the state-of-the-art, gravity-fed winery. Everything for the Thomas Estate wines is done on site, from the growing and fermentation to the ageing and bottling. “We are mostly organic with our farming methods and are certified sustainable”, says Frank.
“All of the grapes are hand-harvested and hand-sorted. We still do foot-stomping, partially for nostalgic reasons as it’s good fun, but it’s also less intrusive for the grapes. Everything is gravity-fed and the juice flows directly into the fermentation tanks below. We also only age in French oak, with the amount of new oak used ranging from about 33% to 50% depending on the wine.”
We wander outside, passed an impressive mesh sculpture that the owners purchased a few years back from a local sculpture festival, and towards the vines.
Frank takes us through the neat rows, pointing out each varietal from the pink Pinot Gris grapes and similarly coloured Flora, to the unripe Chardonnay that will soon turn golden and black Syrah that still have a month to go (it’s March now and harvesting will soon begin). He points out the loose clusters, explaining that these as well as the warm South-facing slopes and good breeze help to keep rot at bay.
“This is the perfect place to try our next wine”, Frank announces, producing a bottle of rosé from behind is back. This is Thomas Field Blend Rosé 2018. The winemaker makes the blend in the field – hence the name – and it changes every year. The 2018 is made up of 77% Syrah, 11% Pinot Gris, 9% Flora, 2% Chardonnay and 1% Riesling. “This wine is really representative of what our vineyard is as every varietal is in it.” Similar in style to a Provence rosé, the vintage is dry, light and creamy, with an undercurrent sweetness from raspberry, redcurrant and strawberry notes.
Sipping the rosé amongst the vines it’s been made from, we turn to face the restaurant up on the hill. The glass-fronted building seems perfectly placed to make the most of the breath-taking views from the Coromandel Peninsula to Auckland’s iconic Sky Tower. We wander slowly up to it, enjoying watching the other guests strewn across the lawn in a gentle afternoon wine haze.
Frank directs us to lunch table in a prime location on the terrace flanked by walls of flung open windows, before bidding us farewell and leaving us in the equally capable hands of our server, Alex.
Lunch at Thomas’s Bach, Batch Winery
The food menu at Thomas’s Bach is made up of Kiwi classics with a modern twist. Seasonal, relaxed island-eating is at the heart of the restaurant, with lunch easily stretched out for hours on end and enjoyed with a good deal of Batch wine.
A Bit More Wine…
We take Alex up on his offer to bring us a selection of dishes, relaxing into our surroundings with two tasters of the premium estate Thomas Legacy Reserve collection. The Chardonnay 2014 is up first; a very good vintage for Chardonnay in the area, which has now been well aged. Starting with lime and opening up to pineapple, it’s a fruit focused wine with crisp acidity and a touch of oak. There’s a rich creaminess to the texture giving this wine a full-bodied character.
The Cabernet Sauvignon from the same year is remarkably soft for the varietal and in need of further ageing. Red bell pepper is the strongest aroma, although Alex tells us this is dissipating nicely as the years go on. Cherry, plum, juicy blackberry, spice (similar to paprika) and thyme are also present on the nose. These don’t all translate strongly on the palate but the bell pepper, black cherry and gentle warming spice adorn this dry and easy-drinking Cab Sauv well.
We take a quick look at the wine list and are struck by how reasonably priced everything is, with glasses purchasable from $12 and estate bottles from $45!
Alex returns with another taster that he wants us to try, this time a Thomas Riesling 2018 from Martinborough. “Our winemaker is a massive fan of Riesling” he explains. “He tried to make a late harvest Riesling last year but we had a number of big cyclones come in, which made it hard. This year, we made one in Martinborough.” The result is a well-balanced wine with an initial peach-y sweetness tapering into a dry, crisp finish full of stone fruits and a lilting linger.
As we nose our glasses, a procession of dishes starts to arrive one after another, starting with Chopped House Smoked Salmon Mousse ($18) served with crisp slices of charcoal ciabatta, and Smashed Cucumber ($10). The mousse is decadently creamy and filled with silky smooth salmon pieces, playing texturally against the bread. Acidity from our Chardonnay pairing cuts through the fish’s fullness, working with the body of the dish.
The lightly pickled cucumber works a treat with the rich salmon, its sesame, soy sauce and Sichuan oil dressing adding round nuttiness, umami and a numbing tingle that is finished with a smattering of fragrant sumac.
Next up is a vegan Taco Salad Bowl ($28), complete with walnut meat, avocado, tomatoes, mixed greens and cashew nut sour cream. This is mixed at the table with tangy, zesty dressings that compliment the robust nuttiness. This proves to work a treat with the Riesling, with its light sweetness cutting through and the wine’s tarter elements synergising with those the salad.
David, the CEO of Batch comes out to welcome us, pouring us water and clearing our table with unassuming humility and natural hospitality. He then brings us a Thomas Syrah 2016 from Hawke’s Bay to accompany a perfectly cooked lamb dish complete with buffalo mozzarella, peas, vine tomatoes and a powerfully flavoured jus. The liberal black pepper, nutmeg and spice notes in the wine marry handsomely with the red meat, with black forest gateau fruit character bringing out further complexity in the dish.
Our stomachs are struggling slightly with all the incredible options laid before us but the dishes keep on coming and look too good to pass on.
Fish of the Day and Twice Cooked Chunky Chips ($34) is one such. The meaty gurnard is coated in a delicate herb parmesan and pistachio crust, and a side of deconstructed tartare caters to the individual taste of the diner. A side of Roasted Gold & Red Beets ($12) challenges us as our final savoury item, turning out to be a delightfully fresh summer salad, festooned with caramelised walnuts, feta, green beans and ripe peaches.
The sun is setting (we’ve been eating lunch for a while) and we roll out of our chair to watch its quiet drama unfurl on the sea below. Other visitors are doing the same, enjoying wine in the grounds and looking out towards Auckland’s far-off cityscape. It’s a profoundly beautiful sight and one of the true joys of the Batch Winery location.
We waddle back inside and find Batch’s famous Pavlova ($18) and a Plum & Strawberry Trifle ($18) awaiting us, alongside a glass of peachy, floral dessert fizz. A NZ icon, we whack our spoon into the gloriously smashed mess of brown sugar meringue, roasted fruit, mascarpone and lemon curd. The dark sugar makes the meringue richer and crumblier than its white counterpart, whilst the lemon curd dashes the fat from the cream, stopping the dish from becoming too sweet or heavy.
The trifle is another work of art. The jam is moreish and fresh; peach layers bright and elegant; and the vanilla top delectable smooth. Juicy strawberries finish the piece off, amalgamating in the gob with the sodden biscuit base.
We leave Batch Winery delirious with gourmandised joy. There was nothing that could be faulted with our visit. The kindness and knowledge of all the staff was apparent and deeply appreciated; everything we sampled shone with passion and balance; and the scenery could not get much better.
If you are looking for a full service wine experience on Waiheke Island, look no further than Batch.
Batch Winery, 129 Carsons Road, Waiheke Island, Auckland 1971, New Zealand