Taste Nelson is back, and we have plenty to celebrate, writes Alan Clarke.
For years, Taste Nelson was the Real Deal, offering top entertainment, fine wines and exquisite food.
Founders made a stunning location, the region's vineyards were on the up and up, and Taste Nelson looked like one day it would have the goods to rival Marlborough's nationally recognised food and wine festival.
The then-annual event started in 1990, when an organising team led by Wayne McCrorie recognised that Nelson and Tasman had the seafood, the boutique wines and the people of vision to build something special. Maybe it was an idea before its time, but with changes in the organising team, approach and even the venue, it all went flat and the last Taste Nelson Mk 1, was in 2002.
Then, 18 months ago, Emma McCashin of the similarly recalibrated McCashin Brewery took a why-not approach and drew up a rescue plan for the once popular festival.
Starting small in September 2011 to tie in with the Rugby World Cup, Taste Nelson was back - even then it drew a 4000-strong crowd when 1500 was the target- and this week, the resurrection is complete, with a full-scale event at Founders Park on Saturday.
The theme could not be more apt: "Celebrating what's great about us".
The focus is on putting Nelson-Tasman excellence on centre stage, as well as in every glass and on every plate. Instead of bringing in outside entertainment, the best music from the top of the south will be on offer, alongside award-winning Nelson wines, beers, and the region's fabulous cuisine.
Seifried Wines - the family whose prowess in viticulture and wine-making gave such a kickstart to Nelson becoming a top wine-growing area in its own right - have their own reason to celebrate on Saturday, and will be marking their 40 years of wine-growing in the Nelson region.
Ms McCashin says, "To attract visitors to the region, we must show them what we have to offer that is unique to us, and celebrate that we are proud of our people and products.
"We are determined to grow this event to be the one that people from outside of Nelson come to discover what we have.
"But it's also a great opportunity for locals to try local products that they may not even realise are made in Nelson."
As part of the thrust to show off the region to the rest of the country, Taste Nelson has arranged Grab-a-Seat specials into the city with Air New Zealand.
In keeping with the "Nelson first" emphasis, Tasman singer Aly Cook heads a strong entertainment lineup.
Awarded the New Zealand Female Country Artist of the Year 2012, Cook has already been to Australia twice this year to perform.
She has had two top 20 country singles on radio there in the last six months.
She will present the same programme she presents regularly across the Tasman - songs from her album live with a top-quality band.
Singer-songwriter Sarah Brown, who is based in the top of the south region, has her music videos on Juice television and also is an award-winning musician, is also on the lineup, as are popular Johnny Cash tribute band The Johnnys.
Also playing are regional favourites The Saints and House of Kramit.
Taste Nelson also features a range of demonstrations on Saturday, headed by sessions with Masterchef 2012 winner Chelsea Winter.
The self-described gangly, blonde, kitchen ninja will show off her culinary talents and give the public some pointers along the way, with demonstrations held throughout the day using Nelson's beautiful local ingredients.
Taste Nelson, Saturday March 2. Pre-booked tickets from Ticket Direct are just $10 each and family tickets $25. More info at tastenelson.co.nz.
Noon: Geoffrey Welham, Oceano & Miyazu Restaurants.
12.30: Emma Markland-Webster, NZ School of Coffee . . . it's just coffee, or is it?
1pm: Rachel Rowley, The Soy Works. Tempting ideas for tofu.
1.30: Fritz Kuckuck and Maria Grau, beer columnists – a taste tour of Nelson, craft-brewing capital.
2pm: Grant Dicker, Mint Dining . . . best NZ beef with Nelson's best ingredients.
2.30: Yvonne Lorkin, wine wisdom – sounding flash in front of your mates.
3pm: Chelsea Winter – neat meat ideas from the winner of NZ Masterchef's third season.
4pm: Dale Holland and Geoff Griggs, Dales Brewing – from home-brewer to pro-brewer in a year.
4.30: Bill James, NMIT – tasty, healthy, seasonal, local.
5pm: Caroline Peckham – Peckhams Cider.
5.30: Paula Saengthian, Nelson Masterchef contestant 2013 – sharing inside secrets on the show plus creating an Asian treat.
6pm: Agnes Seifried – memories of 40 years of grape growing and winemaking in Nelson.
- © Fairfax NZ News