Heat, hats, and happy crowd

Where did all those people come from?

Everyone was crammed in among the vines on Saturday for the annual Marlborough Wine and Food Festival. And they all seemed to have a great time.

Other than a rugby match, I can't remember the last time I saw so many people in one place, especially the huge number of under-30s. Don't usually see them around, but from a show of hands in the crowd at one stage it seemed a fair chunk were visitors. There were enough oldies there that I didn't feel out of place, though.

This was my first time at the festival and I had no idea what to expect. Nothing I've been to before prepared me for the scale of the set-out, with wine and food stalls surrounding the venue, looking down into the central area with the shade tent, the stage, and the huge open area packed with people.

The wineries had gone to huge effort to make their tents something special, with lounging areas, big bars, and matching outfits, such as everyone on the Saint Clair booth wearing mock clerical garb.

The standard of dress among the crowd was also remarkably high, particularly the young women, but apparently that's because anyone who enters the fashion in the field competition gets in for nothing.

Hats were part of the gear for most people and one of the women in the Wellington Ukulele Orchestra congratulated the crowd for wearing hats to keep off the rays.

It was so hot. The temperature must have been in the high 20s and there wasn't much wind. The pond along one side of the ground was being well used by people to cool off. Most paddled in it, but I saw more than one going in for a plunge. Mighty brave of them considering the water was muddy brown with all the people wading through.

It was a happy crowd, obviously relaxed by the heat, the wine, and the atmosphere. That heat could easily have caused dehydration for some people, but there was plenty of water to drink and volunteers in brown shirts were squirting it out of back-pack dispensers for anyone who looked like they might be thirsty.

The Ukulele Orchestra was one of the big attractions of the festival for me. I'm a fan and wasn't disappointed. Everyone down by the stage was enjoying them and the people up on the bank by the tents were also taking in the music from a distance.

I didn't get into the food tents, but apparently the demonstrations were good. A show of hands suggested there were a few Marlborough people, mostly out-of-towners and a good few internationals as well.

The biggest drudge of the whole day was walking back to the carpark, which was quite a hike in the heat. I was surprised how few cars were parked for a crowd that size, but then the bus operation was running so efficiently. I was lucky enough to have a sober driver (thanks, Em).

So my first wine festival is out of the way and I'm already looking forward to the next one. Think I'll get some friends from down south together and bring them up next year to show the region off.

No better time to do it.

The Marlborough Express