Mr. Smith moves to Matakana

A flight of Pinot Gris at The Vintry in Matakana. Photo by David Lansing.

Ask anyone from Auckland where you absolutely have to go on the North Island and inevitably they’ll say, “Matakana.” So that’s where I went. And, frankly, I’m not sure what I think about it at the moment. Except that’s it’s quite tiny (you can do the whole downtown scene in about 15 minutes) and seems to have a secret vibe to it.

Yesterday afternoon I had lunch at The Vintry, a sort of wine bar and café that tastes and sells only Matakana wines—all 50 or so of them. The guy behind the bar was named Mike Smith (or so he said). Mike told me that he originally “was in the wine trade” in London, then moved on to sales in “the luxury food division” before deciding to become a chef.

How then, you may wonder, as I did, had Mr. Smith ended up working at a wine bar in a little town in New Zealand 45-miles from Auckland? Mike shrugged. “I wanted to disappear,” he said, pouring me a flight of Pinot Gris that included everything from a rather Italian-version, called Ransom, that was a bit tart and steely-tasting, to Brick Bay, which he called “a big, fat chewy French-style Pinot Gris.”

So, anyway, how did Mr. Smith end up in Matakana?

“I did a Google search for ‘Farmers Markets New Zealand’ and what popped up was Matakana, so two weeks later I got on a plane from London and I’ve been here ever since.”

That was almost four years ago. I asked him if he ever thinks about going home. “Never,” he said, pouring a little taste of the chewy French-style Pinot Gris for himself. “It’s absolutely brilliant here. It’s sun and sea and great wine and fabulous food—but without the attitude.”

All right, so Mr. Smith was living and working in London and did a Google search for farmers markets in New Zealand and two weeks later he just left everything and everyone behind to move to Matakana. Why do I think there must be more to the story than this? And that perhaps a broken heart is involved? I’ll have to stop in again at The Vintry later this week and see if I can’t get more of the story out of him. I have a feeling that, like the town itself, you just need to peel back the layers one by one to get to the heart of the matter.

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