Boutique bliss by the busload
Meandering among the vines of Martinborough, Bess Manson finds guilt-free bliss in a glass of riesling before midday.
I'm allergic to coach travel. I hate it. But before long I happily ensconce myself in the air-conditioned boozer cruiser to be transported to our next grape-filled chapter.
It's Saturday of Wellington Anniversary Weekend, and Tim Coney, of Coney Wines, is doing his best to serenade 45 semi-sozzled people on the third stop of a meandering lunch in the vineyards of Martinborough.
Singing to the tune of Here Comes the Sun, Coney has just raced us through a tasting of seven wines in a small clearing of a thicket of trees beside his beloved vines. I get lost somewhere between the Ragtime Riesling and the Pizzicato Pinot Noir, but by this time, I'm already in a hazy sort of bliss.
There are 180 of us on this Meandering Vineyard Lunch, the eighth in as many years.
The tour takes us to four family-owned boutique vineyards - Croft, Coney, Te Hera and Julicher - where we are given several tastings before sitting down among the vines or barrels to an entree and a glass of plonk.
The idea for the event was to showcase the smaller vineyards that aren't big enough to be part of Toast Martinborough, the granddad of wine events.
"We were too small for that," Te Hera Vineyard co-owner Katherine Gouldstone says.
"The idea was to have people visit vineyards and have great food and wine with the wine-makers. We want to share Martinborough wines with people in a more intimate setting."
We're knocking back our first tipple of the day before 11am. Among the vines on a warm January day, it feels quite normal and perfectly guiltless.
My partner-in-vine and I are first-timers. Most people in our group - we are split into packs of 45 - do this every year.
We're ferried by coach, which I'm initially sceptical about. I'm allergic to coach travel. I hate it. But before long I happily ensconce myself in the air conditioned boozer cruiser to be transported to our next grape-filled chapter.
We begin at Croft Wines, run by May and Peter Croft. As well as helping in the vineyards, May is the Anglican archdeacon of Wairarapa and the Anglican parish priest of South Wairarapa. Blessed are her vines.
Listening to tunes sung by two guys, Kit and Kaboodle, we mooch around sipping sauvignon blancs, chardonnays and pinot noirs, then sit down among the vines at trestle tables, laden with wild flowers, and eat fare by Croft's personal caterers, Susan and David Nichol.
We savour manuka-smoked blue moki, caught by David's brother the day before, a herb risotto cake with tartare sauce and a pickled fennel and cucumber salad. Back on the coach, our driver, Bal, takes us on a scenic route of row after row of vines. Is it just me after a few glasses of wine or do summer vines resemble knock-kneed ladies standing on one leg?
At Julicher Estate, vineyard owner Wim Julicher and his partner, Sue Darling, along with their award-winning winemaker, Outi Jakovirta, greet us with a row of wines, before we sit down among the barrels to eat our next meal, this time from Ryan Tattersall and his team from Days Bay's Cobar Restaurant.
Surrounded by wine-bottle chandeliers in the low-lit wine shed, we look out to Julicher's sun-drenched vines as we chow on smoked chicken and pork hock terrine served with roasted sweetcorn puree, waldorf salad, candied hazelnuts, apple jelly and vanilla dressing.
Back on the coach where the camaraderie of the group and the volume of our patter has picked up a few notches, we head to Coney Wines. Here we chose a riesling, made by Tim and Margaret Coney's daughter, Lisa, to imbibe as we tuck into our third meal of the day - Middle Eastern-style house-cured salmon with walnut and coriander tarator served on spicy rice and lentil mejadra made by Margaret and her team.
Our last call is to Katherine Gouldstone and John Douglas's vineyard, Te Hera. Tottering off the coach, we head into the wine shed, where I go straight for a glass of pinot noir. By now, I have submitted to the fact that I'm somewhere between tipsy and drunk. But I do recall a very good plate of what I later read was "deconstructed ravioli of a rich venison and chocolate ragu, layered with sheets of homemade pasta, topped with a fresh herb and shaved grana padano salad and finished with Dry Rock extra virgin olive oil" put together by the Village Cafe.
I repair to the grassy paddock beside the vines while my partner-in-vine is still imbibing. I lie under a late-afternoon sun that is still packing a punch. I've got Here Comes The Sun in my head and I'm very glad I'm here, drinking wine, not beer.
Coney Wines is open for lunch and tastings on Friday, Saturday and Sunday in summer and at weekends in winter.Phone: 06 306 8345.
For tasting times at Julicher Estate, phone 0800 671 770.
For a tasting at Te Hera Vineyard, phone 06 306 9018.
Croft Wines is open for tastings at weekends and public holidays. Phone: 021 657 568.
Another glass? The 2013 Harvest Festival, showcasing wine and food from throughout the Wairarapa region, will be held on Saturday, March 9, 2013, at The Cliffs on the banks of the Ruamahunga River at the end of Dakins Rd.
Bess Manson was hosted by the Meandering Vineyard Lunch.
The Dominion Post