Normally I couldn't give a rat's whatchamacall-it about seminars, initiatives, whatever you want to call them.
But in June a series of such events held in Marlborough, Auckland, Hawke's Bay, Wairarapa and Central Otago did catch my attention.
They were aimed at teaching wineries how to “future-proof” their cellar doors. Or, as one of the organisers, winery consultant Belinda Jackson, was kind enough to explain: “Encouraging people to look at their cellar-door business as a visitor experience that is about much more than a wine- tasting.
“The goal is to turn each visitor into a life-long customer and brand ambassador,” she said.
And that is fair enough.
But ideally the aim should also be to create an experience that satisfies the needs of people keen to learn more about wines in general than just the ones they are tasting, and not necessarily from people whose job it is to push the particular product they are peddling.
Wishful thinking, I know, given the size and the resources of many of the smaller and often the most interesting wineries, and the importance of cellar-door sales (actual or via the internet) to any winery.
Maybe the answer is collective “cellar doors”, like those in a number of regions that showcase regional and other home-grown wines and offer a wider wine experience or, in the case of the New Zealand Wine Centre in Napier, in Hawke's Bay, what it calls the “ultimate New Zealand wine experience”.
Since I have not visited them all I will reserve judgment, but I would strongly recommend a visit by anyone, even with a remote interest in wine, if they are ever in Hawke's Bay.
The centre was established four years ago in an imposing old insurance building on “Wine St” just a stone's throw from the famed Marine Parade in New Zealand's art deco capital.
It is the brainchild of Christopher and Angela Barons, who own the County, a classy boutique hotel across the street, where degustation dinners, including those that are part of the full wine tasting adventure, are hosted by winemakers.
The $245, half-day adventure also includes films, lectures, a winery visit and the chance to appreciate and understand the aromas (including the offensive ones, if any) associated with various wine styles, in two specially equipped aroma rooms.
This in itself is worth the cost of the shorter and much cheaper ($29) tasting experience, which includes an actual and a virtual tasting experience; the latter conducted by the people who make the featured wines.
The centre has two theatres, a small but fascinating wine museum and a wine library, as well as a shop and cellar door selling a range of Hawke's Bay wines, including such beauties as Clearview's Endeavour chardonnay, which at $250 a magnum, is New Zealand's most expensive white wine.
A wonderful trophy for one of the hundreds of wealthy tourists aboard the cruise ships that call each year at Napier, but beyond the means of others looking simply for the experience that is also available here.
And maybe wines like some of these:
Aspire 2010 Hawke's Bay Pinot Noir ($21)
A simple, medium-bodied, crowd-pleasing pinot noir that oozes juicy, sweet red fruit - mostly strawberries - and has the zing to suggest it would work well with calamari, even in batter.
Frizzell Hawke's Bay Chardonnay 2011, $21
Named for well-known Hawke's Bay painter Dick Frizell whose work adorns the bottle. A savoury, citrus-driven chardonnay with a hint of butter and meal and an acidic spine, making it a very refreshing drink.
Unison 2009 Classic Blend, $35
Another mouthfilling but finely-tuned blend of merlot, cabernet sauvignon and syrah red from this top-performing winery on the Gimblett Gravels in Hawke's Bay. A black-fruited beauty deftly seasoned with spice.
Sacred Hill 2010 'Brokenstone' Hawke's Bay Merlot, $49
A blend, in fact, of merlot (62 per cent), cabernet sauvignon, syrah and cabernet franc, that is, as usual, a stunner. A big, rich and serious mouthful of spiced black plums and berryfruit with a shake of pepper and a twist of licorice.
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