Vine timing for a country occasion

22:56, Jan 19 2010
Upper Moutere
TIME FOR A TIPPLE: The low-key hospitality is a good reason to visit the Nelson enclave of Upper Moutere.

Just a hop across Cook Strait - Nelson's rolling hills are like another country.

It rained on the Saturday and on the Monday it poured, but on the Sunday of the biennial Neudorf Country Occasion, the sun shone out of a clear, blue sky.

My Marahau sister went last time, loved it and made me promise to go, so I grabbed a seat on a Nelson flight well in advance and flew to the top of the south in late November for what has become a low-key but lovely day out for locals in the lush setting of Neudorf Winery.

Actually, you can take a packed lunch any day and picnic under the shade of Neudorf's enormous Acer negundo - you probably don't even have to buy a bottle of award-winning wine, but why not? - though on one particular Sunday every two years, there's the chance to enjoy Judy and Tim Finn's lovely garden, as well as the winery's leafy setting.

Stalls are lined up on the family's asphalt tennis court - where it gets pretty hot, pretty early - and down the side of a lawn dotted with young apples and pears, looking out over rolling hectares of vines.

Under the shade of a central circle of leafy deciduous trees, townies spread their edible purchases on magnificent slab furniture, made by local woodsman Mark Perry from macrocarpa shelter belts on his family farm.

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We go early to miss the queues of traffic that build up as the day goes on. We're through the gates and parked in a grassy paddock under the trees before the event has officially begun at 10am. Up easy steps and on to the winery's lawn, it's still shady enough to pore over pre-loved treasures from my favourite Nelson store, Vintage Antiques and Collectables.

Child Cancer and the local community centre benefit from the gate takings and all the stallholders are from the region, some just metres up Neudorf road, including Neudorf Dairy, whose new, ex-Wellington, owners have added cow's milk cheeses to their award- winning sheep varieties.

The original flock is still managed and milked by the cheeserie's founding Beuke family, whose ancestors were North German missionaries who formed the settlement known as Sarau until 1917, when it became known as Upper Moutere.

We can't resist felted boot slippers with ladybirds on the toes - for the grandkids - and heritage tomato plants from the Mapua Country Trading folk.

We admire dotty waxed cotton parasols made in Thailand, which are just right for a day out in the sun.

Serenaded by musicians on the homestead's front steps, we taste our way around the lawn, sipping chamomile tea from medicinal plant farm Phytofarm and Lulu's elderflower cordial, noting the difference between Moutere Honey's offerings - berry is definitely the best, from the district's boysenberry, raspberry and blackcurrant flowers. There is award-winning organic Moutere Grove olive oil, Thornalleys' classic fruitcakes and, of course, local blackcurrant jam.

Whitebait is still in season - a fritter keeps hunger pangs at bay, while waiting in the queue for flat whites, before we head for the shade of the homestead's cottage garden, where the local school is selling devonshire teas and sandwiches from the veranda.

Everyone is very amiable, and happy to share tables under towering trees.

After lunch, it's time to head for home, feeling, as we drive out past long lines of cars waiting to get in, rather like the three little pigs, who got up early enough on market day to gain the advantage on the big bad wolf.

On January 31, there is another Upper Moutere event with a slightly different flavour. The third annual Sarau Festival, at Moutere Hills Community Centre and Grounds from 4pm, includes a farmers' market, blackcurrant festival and mountainbike race. For further information, see saraufestival.co.nz

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