Meet the Winemaker: Owhanake Bay Estate

Owhanake Bay Estate co-owner and manager Mike Taylor dobs himself “a classic Kiwi”. He loves the outdoors and doesn’t believe in unsolvable problems; only well-hidden solutions. 

After a ten-year career as a lawyer, Taylor and his wife found the now Owhanake Bay Estate in 2005. Despite not knowing anything about growing grapes, the pair loved wine and new challenges so the already planted young vineyard was very appealing. 

Now, 16 years later, the winery has produced 15 vintages and is a well-established producer of high-quality Syrah. 

The genesis of Taylor’s philosophy began after a special day in Africa when he and his friends celebrated with a bottle of aged port. Taylor claim’s this is what inspired him, and likes to think of what he and his wife are creating is “a little bottle of happiness.”  

Owhanake Bay Estate is buffeted by strong gusts of wind that lifts sheets of salt from the sea and deposit’s it over the vineyard, as well as being flanked by banks of manuka. 

“These two unique characters lead to a slight sea salt character and milk manuka flavour in our wine that sets it apart from others,” Taylor said. 

In the beginning, Taylor and his wife sold their wine online, but in 2019 they built The Harvest Shed – a custom-built wine tasting room and off-license sales outlet nestled in the centre of their flower farm, a stone’s throw from the vineyard.

“By that stage, we had built up a reputation for quality and were building the Nourish Gardens flower brand. 

“We figured selling both, side by side, was a winning formula.” 

The most important thing, Taylor said, is producing the best quality grapes they can, and then producing top-quality wine. 

“I always have the end product of the wine in my mind while making decisions through the season,” Taylor explained.

Owhanake Bay Estate produces a smaller yield in order to concentrate on high flavour fruit, creating a balance of oak and fruit which is softer than other Syrah and Shiraz wines. 

“We aim for a long, lingering, and smooth finish, like the difference between touching cotton and touching velvet.” 

Taylor explained that because their vineyard is so small, they are able to devote more personal attention to each vine. All the fruit is inspected closely through the season and any green, late-ripening or sub-standard fruit is removed. 

“This process is borne from a love for fine wine and is simply not practical in larger operations.” 

Owhanake winery is also a registered Sustainable Winegrowing vineyard. 

“We try to minimise our footprint in many ways,” said Taylor. 

“We double mow each row so the clippings all end up under the vines for both mulch and to minimise under the vine weed spraying. We also work closely with Waiheke High School, providing free lessons onsite in the year and again at harvest.” 

Taylor can talk wine all day long and loves to share his passion for all things viticulture.

“Grapes are unlike any other fruit because they react to absolutely everything and continue to develop within the bottle,” he expressed.

“I love explaining all that and showing people the impact on the tastebuds and in their nose, the whole experience.”

Whilst also having collected an array of awards, Taylor said the winery’s greatest achievement was winning the trophy for the International Wine Challenge in London, in 2013. 

He put this win down to the one thing he believes makes good wine – love. 

“From the pruning stage right through to the time it is opened, wine must be cared for like a growing child. The more you invest, the better it will turn out.” 

For young viticulturists, his advice is to feed off the passion and always ask because the more you learn the more you will want to learn.

Speaking of learning, Taylor would like the public to understand how much work goes into boutique wines and would like to encourage people to visit wineries, meet the owners, the growers, and the winemakers.  

In the meantime, he is content to continue looking for ways to make the perfect wine, because, “There can always be improvements.”