A Special Tasting at Mills Reef Winery
I had just left Matamata. On a high from visiting the Hobbiton Movie Set and showering for the first time in four days, I was ready for a full day of exploration. As much as a road trip causes excitement, it brings about an equal dose of exhaustion. But not on this day. I felt put together, clean. Thanks, shower.
Headed East with little structure for my itinerary, I saw a sign I had seen multiple times over the last ten days, but disregarded with a hint of sadness. The sign read: WINERY. After over three months of daily indulgence on wine, cheese, and everything of the like, I had not been able to bring myself to stop at one of seemingly endless amount of vineyards for the first week and a half of my solo car trip. Maybe sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. The day had come for me to return to the tasting room. Upon my arrival at Mills Reef Winery, I was the only person in there. I told the man (whose name I am currently forgetting, which I feel terrible about) that I absolutely love red wine. He told me I would probably get to taste about four or five different wines.
Despite drinking my weight in New Zealand wine, I still knew very little about it. I arrived at Mills Reef Vineyard with more knowledge than had I come four months prior. Where I used to sniff, swirl, taste in silence with the occasional, “mmm,” I now at least knew how to ask questions and make comments. That’s the extent of it though. But the man in the cellar door definitely believed otherwise.
Once I mentioned that I had been living on Waiheke Island, he seemed to think I was a wine expert. Often referred to as the “island of wine,” Waiheke holds a certain level of respect and prestige in the New Zealand wine world. I certainly consumed a lot of Waiheke wine, but I didn’t make it or even work at a vineyard. My wine knowledge ended at knowing what I liked, what I didn’t like, and kind-of-sort-of how to describe different types of wine to other people.
After the conversation started flowing, the initial promised five wines had been tasted. The wonderful cellar door man said, “hold on, there are a few more I want you to taste. Let me see which bottles they have opened in the dining room,” and he disappeared for three minutes.
Four or five new bottles in hand, he returned with a huge smile on his face. The pours got more generous and I told him about my travels. I had just entered Tauranga in the Bay of Plenty region. He gave me many great suggestions on what to do as well as the city’s proper pronunciation (“TOH-rang-uh”). A destination vineyard, Mills Reef has beautiful outdoor seating and rests five minutes from the city center. It looked like a proper wedding vineyard. Well known for its red varietals, I can attest that literally every single red bottle I tasted was delicious. It took a lot of self control for me not to buy a bottle or five.
After an hour of a generous free-of-charge red wine tasting accompanied by lovely conversation, I walked out to my car and, per suggestion, drove toward Mount Maunganui.