Man O’War Vineyards was my last stop yesterday on Waiheke Island before heading off to the mainland wine regions and Hawke’s Bay. Duncan McTavish, Winemaker for the last five years, and Matt Allen, Vineyard Manager, showed me around the tasting room and property, the grapevines for which were first planted in the late 1990s. We tasted through their line-up, including the wild ferment Valhalla Chardonnay and two vintages of the dense, smoky Dreadnought Syrah, one of their signature wines that’s also available in the States (and by the glass at The Musket Room in NYC). Duncan took time to answer a few questions about the winery’s viticulture philosophy and the pros and cons to winemaking on Waiheke.
- Dreadnought Syrah NZD$55
- Valhalla Chardonnay NZD$34
What philosophy guides your viticulture? We have 76 vineyards spread over 175 acres so a lot of small parcels of fruit arrive at the winery. We want to understand each vineyard so the approach is to let each parcel speak for itself by doing as little as possible in the winery.
What is your biggest challenge as a winemaker e.g., volatility of Mother Nature, expense to income ratio, having to actually market your wine? All of the above!
What are the benefits and drawbacks of grapegrowing/winemaking in your region? The benefits are that 90% of our property is bordered by the ocean giving us a unique maritime climate coupled with volcanic soils and a varied topography allowing us to produce a diverse range of wines from a single estate. The drawbacks are that it is a challenging landscape and very labour intensive.
What excites you most about New Zealand wines right now? The people–there are some interesting characters in NZ making interesting wines.
How do you think Americans (or the outside world generally) perceive NZ wines? I would hope they are regarded as premium wines.
What is your favorite non-kiwi wine region? Favourite would be a tie between the Mosel and Burgundy (like, probably, 90% of kiwi winemakers). I’d love to travel to Portugal, but as I haven’t been there yet, I can’t call it my favourite. Least? I don’t have one.
Which wine or grape is the least understood or respected? Pinot Gris.
What do you drink at home when relaxing? Depends on the season but white Burgundy and Northern Rhone.
How do you spend your free time (if you have any)? Fishing and 2 young kids.
If you could be traveling somewhere else right now, where would you be? I’ve just come back from a two week around-the-world sales trip so I would travel down the road to my local beach; that or be transported to the Maldives.
Give one surprising fact about yourself. I’d be surprised if I could answer that…