A trip to Waiheke Island wouldn’t be complete without a visit to one of the island’s most iconic vineyards. Set on a majestic sloping site with vineyards stretching down to Man O’ War Bay, this family-owned winery has a complex topography and sites ranging from hot and sheltered – perfect for reds – to elevated and cool – ideal for whites. The micro-climate is helped along by the coastal waters and complex volcanic soil of Waiheke, not found anywhere else in the world.
We talked to Duncan McTavish, resident winemaker at Man O’ War for the past 10 years, to find out about the establishment of this iconic Waiheke wine label. He has worked in vineyards around the world and has 28 vintages under his belt, tasting plenty of great wines along the way.
HOW WAS MAN O’ WAR FOUNDED?
Man O’ War is a family-owned winery; it was originally, and still is, a sheep and cattle station, with vineyards planted in the early 1990s as a way of diversifying production. In recognition of the potential to make great wines from the most challenging of sites, in 2002 there was a concentrated planting of some of the steepest hillside vineyards in New Zealand.
WHY THE NAME MAN O’ WAR?
The name comes from Man O’ War Bay, which is where our tasting room is located. Captain Cook named the bay in 1769 in reference to the magnificent Kauri trees that grew on the property, which he determined were ideal for masts and spars for man-o’-war battleships.
HOW DO THE WINES GET THEIR NAMES?
The owners are passionate about naval history – Ironclad and Dreadnought are types of man-o’-war battleships – and they also have Scandinavian heritage, hence Valhalla and Valkyrie.
WHAT MAKES THE WINE UNIQUE?
There are very few truly coastal winegrowing regions in the world; 90 percent of the Man O’ War property is coast line, so cooling sea breezes have an influence [on the] soil type, altitude and winemaking attitude!
WHAT’S YOUR FAVOURITE WINE MEMORY?
I’ve many great memories of being in the Napa Valley in 2009 for my first truly international vintage (Australia doesn’t count as international!) It was a hell of a contrast to smalltown Taranaki where I grew up, and the level of investment and attention to detail blew me away. I was also in my early 20s, so I had a hell of a good time just getting amongst it!