When thinking of vineyards, most people probably imagine rolling hills tightly planted with grapes ripening under the sun. The south of Europe, California, or even Australia spring to mind, but it’s highly unlikely that you will associate wine production with a remote island and a coral atoll in the South Pacific. Yet, this is what we are introducing you to, and it’s what makes Vin de Tahiti so unique.
Rangiroa is the largest atoll in French Polynesia, located 220 miles northeast of Tahiti, a 1-hour flight from Papeete. The atoll is formed by a string of coral islets grouped around a vast lagoon. Apart from the unique vineyard, there are many other fabulous things to do and see on Rangiroa, like scuba diving and snorkeling in one of the most colorful and clean reefs in the world, seeing the famous Blue Lagoon, pearl farms, pink sand motus (small islands on one of which Vin de Tahiti is located), and picturesque villages.
The wines are grown on a small motu (islet) and are reached at the end of a coral road a few minutes by boat from the town of Avatora. Visits are by tour only, so no just dropping in. You can book the tours by contacting Vin de Tahiti.
The Beginnings Of The Vineyard
French oenologist Dominique Auroy had a dream: cultivating and producing excellent wines in the paradisiac surroundings of the islands of the South Pacific, or rather, French Polynesia. His dream was met with much skepticism from colleagues and friends, but his passion for winemaking and for the South Pacific made him persevere. He traveled around the islands to find the ideal location for his future vineyard and settled on Rangiroa. The essential elements were the quality of the soil, the influence of the sun, the climate, and consideration of the effects of the salt content of the ocean.
In Rangiroa he found chalky limestone soil, enriched with fragments of white coral, vegetal compost, and fresh (i.e. rain) water, that must be added during periods of drought. With endless patience and years of trial and error, he settled on Carignan grapes, and the first stock was imported in 1999. The first harvest was produced in 2000, and in 2003, the vineyard in Rangiroa produced 400 bottles twice a year as there are two harvests: May and December. The production of quality wines has since increased several times over.
Running Of The Vineyard Today
Since 2002, Sebastien Thepenier is the leader of the team that runs the vineyard. French and locals undertake their work and tasks with the same enthusiasm and passion as the founder. Since October 2010, the vineyard has taken an organic approach to wine growing which has enhanced the winery’s reputation for producing quality, organic wines.
What Makes The Domaine Unique
The first reason that Vin de Tahiti is unique is no doubt the fact that a vinery exists — and flourishes — on an island in the middle of the ocean. The second is that it is possible to grow grapes literally on a coral reef, and the third is the incongruous sight of orderly planted rows of wines whilst walking on a beach with a view of the Pacific Ocean ahead and wind-beaten palm trees with their rustling leaves just below the wines. Nowhere else in the world will you see something like this.
The Wines That Are Produced At Vin De Tahiti
By now, the vineyard consists of 17 acres and, in two harvests per year, produces a great variety of wines. It has come far beyond the original Carignan grapes. They produce red, white, and rose wines. The soil, climate, and the grapes being partly aged in French oak barrels give the wines an unusual freshness and smoky notes combined with the flavor of slightly candied spicy red fruit.
Best Time To Visit
The best time to visit the vineyard is during harvest time when you can watch in person how this unique vineyard is operated and how the grapes are processed to get the best results out of them. Harvest time is twice a year, in May and December, although it can vary slightly depending on the weather.
In recent years, Thepanier has introduced a novelty, the first rum made from sugar cane in Tahiti.
How To Get There
Reaching Rangiroa requires a rather long journey, and much interest in and enthusiasm for this remarkable wine adventure. First, you have to travel to Tahiti from wherever in the world you are, then you have to take a 1-hour flight from Papeete to Rangiroa. Interisland flights are mostly operated by Air Tahiti.
Then you have to travel to the village of Avatoru, and from there go on a short boat trip to end up on a small coral road at the end of which you come to the motu where the winery is located and the grapes are grown just a few feet above the ocean.
Obviously, this is not a day trip, so you will want to spend at least one night in accommodation. Most hotels and bed and breakfasts are close to the airport, which in turn is close to Avatoru. A great choice is the Resort & Spa Kia Ora with 60 over-water bungalows and splendid beaches.
When booking, make sure to arrange onward transportation to Vin de Tahiti.
Visiting The Vineyard
The pre-booked tour with Tahiti.com lasts for an hour. You are given an introduction to the history of wine growing in the South Pacific and of the various wines, a tour of the vineyard, and a view of the wine cellar. It’s interesting to see the French oak barrels. This is followed by a tasting of five different wines.
You can buy bottles on-site to take home or enjoy in your hotel or online if you want to drink the wine after your return home. Cruise ship passengers cannot book tours of the vineyard.
Pro Tip: When visiting at harvest time be aware that it can be very hot, so make sure to carry sun protection and slip-proof shoes because the floor in the vineyard can be uneven.
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