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By Frances• 20 Nov 2018
Wellington’s got a new wine scene and it’s far from tame – in fact, it’s positively wild. Natural wine is being made, poured and enjoyed right in the heart of the Wellington CBD. Move over, craft beer – there’s a cool new fermented beverage in town.
Natural wine is the hot new trend in the wine world right now. Wine lists at bars and eateries around town are bandying about terms like ‘skin contact’, ‘pet nat’ and ‘carbonic maceration’, which can be a little intimidating to the first-time natural wine drinker. But don’t be put off; natural wine basically means wine that has been made with organic grapes, with minimal intervention by the wine-maker and little or no additives.
As well as popping up on wine lists at Wellington’s eateries and bars, natural wine is being made here in Wellington – even right in the heart of the city. Local craft beer rock stars, Garage Project, are making Crushed ‘wild wines’ from their Wild Workshop on Marion Street in the heart of the CBD, and Choice Bros brewer, Kerry Gray, has also started making natural wine at HUSK, his inner-city brew bar on Ghuznee Street. Over the hill in Martinborough, Don McConachy at Devotus and Lance Redgwell at Cambridge Road are producing some excellent natural wines that are challenging the traditional perception of wine.
Natural wine can be delicious, fun and often more accessible than conventional wine. Forget the idea that you need to take a sip of wine and say something clever or informed. Natural wine, like all alcoholic beverages, are simply made to be enjoyed and shared.
Read on for our list of the best places to drink natural wine around Wellington and Martinborough.
This fast, fun and fresh pastaria on Cuba Street serves hand-made pasta with classic sauces and natural wine by the glass. Each week, a different bottle of red and white/rosé are opened and offered by the glass. It's an easy and affordable way to try something new and if you're keen to know more, Kieran from 1154 is always keen to have a chat about the wine and what it's all about.
WBC have a great natural wine list featuring well-priced bottles or natural wine BTG (by the glass). Settle in for dinner or take a seat at the bar (best to go early) and enjoy a glass of low intervention wine and some snacks; go for that highbrow/lowbrow effect with a bowl of fries and some freshly-shucked oysters.
A French wine bar on Chews Lane serving a regularly changing line-up of French and New Zealand natural wine by the glass, and a blackboard wall full of wine by the bottle. The set-up is smart-casual, with a menu of small, classic bistro-style plates and the Breton-striped t-shirted staff are friendly and knowledgeable.
To complement their set menu that changes daily and even sometimes by the weather, Rita have a regularly changing wine list featuring some New Zealand natural wine beauties. There's a lovely parallel between Rita's approach of letting their food evoke a time, place and season that is reflected in the way that natural wine speaks of where it was made and how the grapes were grown.
Golding’s Free Dive
It’s not just about the craft beer at Golding’s – there’s also an excellent wine list featuring some natural wine. Curated by Hannah Wells, who has turned her attention from craft beer to natural wine. Hannah is a believer that just like craft beer, natural wine isn't something you need to know a lot about in order to enjoy it. "You don’t have to use any fancy words or have fancy knowledge, you can just jump in and try it. And learn as much you want to learn or get as involved as you want to. But also it’s just there to be enjoyed." Pet nat and a bowl of Proper chips? Don’t mind if I do.
Garage Project Taproom (91 Aro)
Pouring their range of Crushed natural wines, the Garage Project Taproom in Aro Valley has gone from a beer-only club to a natural wine and craft beer party. Order some oysters and try something new: Fun Juice is a fresh (and fun) pet nat, or try Pinot Pinot, a very drinkable blend of Martinborough pinot gris and pinot noir grapes. Just as their craft beers are recognisable by their clever and eye-catching label art, Garage Project's wines also feature some artistic creativity on the bottles. Garage Project release their wines throughout the year, so stay tuned for new arrivals.
Having taken out the Cuisine Good Food ‘Best Wine Experience’ award twice now, Noble Rot is a good place to head to try some natural wine. It’s the only place in Wellington where you can try Martinborough’s Devotus pinot noir, which sells out each year before it's even bottled.
An informal eating experience, Shepherd’s flock of staff are skilled at making diners feel comfortable and ensure that they are well-fed and watered. The staff can excellently explain the wine list and help you find something that’s just right for you. The regularly changing wine list features some natural wines by the bottle or order a glass of Seresin's Beautiful Chaos skin-contact pinot gris or Kindeli's El Jabali carbonic syrah. Alex Craighead, the winemaker behind Kindeli, works with Garage Project to produce their Crushed wild wines, which are also on the menu at Shepherd and made 250 metres away in their Wild Workshop on Marion Street.
Scandinavian-style design meets Californian-style menu meets Wellington’s Cuba Street. Loretta’s wine list features a few natural wine gems, which will go perfectly with your freekeh and pea sprout salad or free-range wood-fired chook. Get a glass (or a bottle) of the delicious Hermit Ram sauvignon (skin-fermented, it's the most un-sauvignon sauvignon you'll every try) or give some Aussie natural wine by Unico Zelo a go.
The home of Choice Bros Brewery led by Kerry Gray, Husk is also where Echo Wines are made. Kerry released his first wine earlier this year, which you can buy by the glass at Husk and at Shepherd. It's a low intervention rosé pet nat (unfiltered, unfined sparkling wine) made with organic grapes from Urlarvineyard in Martinborough. Kerry's got more wines planned for the 2019 vintage, so watch this space.
Head over the hill to try some natural wines made using local fruit by local wine-makers such as Cambridge Road, Devotus and Te Herā.
A little wine bar in Martinborough serving tacos and natural wine. Mesita stock mostly local Martinborough wine, with a few international additionals. You'll find local natural wine makers, Cambridge Road and Te Herā Estate's pet nat. It's also one of the few places in the world where you can buy locally-made Devotus pinot noir by the glass.
Heading over to Martinborough for a day of biking around the winery cellar doors? Make your first stop Cambridge Road, just minutes from Martinborough village. With an approach of minimal intervention wine-making, Cambridge Road specialise in making wine that’ll challenge your taste buds and perceptions. A lovely place to spend a sunny afternoon, order up some platters of cheese and charcuterie and sip some natural wine within metres of where it was grown and made.