A Winery In Horowhenua? Where!
Ōhau Wines, Ōhau, Horowhenua
Jo Scully, Sales & Marketing Manager
It is the only commercial vineyard in the Kāpiti/Horowhenua region, Ōhau (pronounced oar-hoe) is the country's newest wine sub-region, situated on the west coast of the lower North Island in New Zealand.
No, it's not in Wellington, still visualising where? Hint: It's situated in the Manawatu-Wanganui region and is the neighbour of the Wellington region. If you’ve ever driven on State Highway 1 between Ōtaki and Levin, you would have driven right through the vineyard, possibly without even realising it! We caught up with Jo Scully, sales & marketing manager at Ōhau wines to find out a little bit more about this unique location.
Horowhenua is not commonly known as a winemaking region, and there has to be a story behind the location. Can you share with us the story on why, or how the place has come to be?
In 2006, a large area of farmland at Ōhau, just south of Levin, was being subdivided for housing, and the soil was tested to see what crop could be planted between the sections. Experts found that the river terrace soils could be likened to some of the better vineyard sites in Marlborough. The area also has a unique microclimate with minimal frosts, and long dry autumns with cool nights, ideal for the slow flavour development during the ripening of the fruit.
The recommendation was ‘fewer houses, more vines!’, and Ōhau Wines was born. In November 2006, 10 hectares of pinot gris and pinot noir vines was planted. That first vintage won Pinot Gris of the show at the Bragato Awards (Aotearoa’s wine industry awards), so we knew we had something really special here. We have since grown to 35 hectares, managed by a team of permanent vineyard staff and casual workers from the local area.
Tell us, what’s the landscape like from where you are? Any particular or peculiar characteristics on being on the west coast?
We have incredibly fertile soils and good rainfall. The fertile soils are more of a hindrance, really – we do a lot of canopy management to ensure the grapes get enough air and sunlight. Also to make sure the plants put more effort into growing grapes than leaves! The rainfall means we rarely need to irrigate. So during summer, we have lush green vines, with grass growing between them, when many other vineyards are in drought conditions. Behind our vines we can see the mighty Tararua ranges, solid and dependable!
Can you tell me more about the wines that you produce, and how the region influences its quality. Also, if you had to pick one, what would be your favourite?
We currently make sauvignon blanc, rosé, pinot gris and pinot noir. In 2022, we’ll be harvesting chardonnay from vines that were planted three years ago - it’s been a long wait, and we’re very excited to see what that fruit is like. Our wines are incredibly aromatic and fruit forward.
This is particularly true of our pinot gris, which have won awards domestically and internationally since the very first vintage. Our new Not the Norm range has a stunning skin-fermented pinot gris – textural, elegant and complex (that’s my current favourite!).
What sort of food or dishes would you pair this Pinot Gris with?
The weight and complexity of the Not the Norm Pinot Gris pairs really well with meaty fish, chicken, pork and lamb. Having said that, we always say that it’s not what you’re eating, it’s how you’re preparing it. Creamy or spicy sauces are a good match for pinot gris, as are fresh crisp vegetables or roast chicken. It’s an incredibly food-friendly varietal.
Not many travellers would make a stop in Horowhenua. For the next time our wine lovers are travelling along State Highway 1 in the North Island, we want them to make a trip out of it when they are in the region, can you share with us what other exciting, new or interesting activities can be found around you?
The Horowhenua has some wonderfully wild beaches along the west coast, cracking cafes, and important heritage sites; you can visit Te Awahou Nieuwe Stroom to discover the stories of the Dutch settlers in Foxton and the long history of Ngāti Raukawa in the region.
For nature lovers and day hikers, take a walk around Lake Papaitonga comprising of forest and wetland, it is the only remaining lake bordered by undisturbed native forest in the Horowhenua region.
Or if you're looking for something adventurous and new, try Off the Loop Wake Park for a spot of wakeboarding!
Lastly, don't forget to pop by the cellar door to enjoy a tasting of (or take home) some of the wines!
Note: Operating and visiting hours will be in accordance with Alert Level/Traffic Light Orange guidelines. Please check with the winery directly before visiting.