Growing up in New Zealand, the countryside was agricultural. Paddocks full of sheep and cattle, the occasional crops. Nothing fancy.
By the late 1970s, in parts of the country, land use began to change. Grapes were being planted in the hotter, dryer, more barren provinces. We wondered if this new-fangled fad would catch on. Kiwis drank beer, not wine - though I remember my dad, always interested in new experiences, experimenting with wine one Christmas in the 1970s.
Now, driving though parts of New Zealand is not unlike driving through Chateauneuf du Pape – everywhere you look you see vines. Only an hour or so from Wellington, in a very traditional farming community, vines are rapidly replacing sheep and cows (though with high global dairy prices the cows are fighting back). A small rural village is now a trendy wine village, surrounded by dozens of country cottages transformed from shearers’ quarters to luxurious weekend retreats, nestled in the vines.
We often drive over the hill for lunch at a vineyard, or for an afternoon of wine tasting in this region renowned for its Pinot Noir. In summer we revel in the heat, eating outside and sheltering from the sun. In winter, we sit close to an open fire, but sampling the wares gives us hope that summer will come again.
I love being able to visit the vineyards, sample the wine, talk to the winemakers, and take home my favourite produce.
After a relaxed lunch at Coney Wines or Alana Estate, we always stop at Palliser on the way home, to pick up their Riesling, sumptuous chardonnay, and when it is in stock, their delicious bubbles. Atarangi is one of the most established vineyards in the region, a pleasant spot to relax, and famous for its Pinot Noir, though at $65 you pay as much for the name as for the wine. But their chardonnays are to die for and their Rose is always perfect for a summer lunch. And for a treat on a winter’s night with a chocolate dessert, we are very partial to Winslow’s Cabernet Liqueur, which fills the nose with the spices of a Christmas pudding.
Now what will we have tonight?