Yvonne Lorkin traversed the country to host a television series about Kiwi wine producers, and now takes a behind-the-scenes look at characters she met and places she visited along the way.
The series Thirsty Work is the result of an idea that picked away at my brain for more than a decade, like a gull attacking some leftover chips.
Before the first series went to air in 2012, I had been starving for wine stories on television. Ever since I began working in wine back in 1998, I would meet inspiring, hard-working, hard-case characters. While I could write about them in my wine columns, there was so much more to their stories. I soon realised television was the only way to tell them.
Fast forward to July 2014 and we have finally finished our third series. Far out. That's three whole years of my small but perfectly formed crew spending December to Easter crisscrossing the country capturing the fabulous world of all things fermented.
One of the things I am most proud of is being able to uncover more of our craft brewers. While we profiled several in the first series (Renaissance, Emerson's and Hawke's Bay Independent Breweries), by the end of this new series we will have covered 15 of our nation's finest craft brewers and cider makers. There has been an exponential shift in our taste for well-crafted beer and cider in recent years and from the sidelines, I have watched the industry explode.
We have some supremely talented people in the brewing business, and in this series we meet the teams from Tuatara, Epic, Three Boys, Pomeroy's and Harrington's, plus the families behind St Andrews and Peckham's cider.
We are also introducing a new segment called "Meet the Masters". This stems from my day job as a drinks writer, where I regularly get to work with a rare and special group of people who are Masters of Wine, Master Sommeliers and Master Brewers. There is a little bit of a secret society, funny handshake element to them. Most people do not have any concept of what is involved in gaining those qualifications, and yet they are the most challenging and highly sought after in the drinks world. So in every episode we have one master opening up on camera, sharing what they went through and what their lives and careers are like now because of their tenacity and talent.
Personal highlights for me in the new series involve catching the biggest fish of my life out in the Marlborough Sounds with the Rose family of Wairau River Wines, and charging around the Awatere Valley, bunny-hunting with Marcus and the lads from Lawson's Dry Hills. Winemaker Takaki Okada, who owns Folium Vineyard in the Brancott Valley, found time to teach me how to play Japanese chess. He has 8 hectares in grapes and, apart from a bit of help with the weeding, he runs it all himself. The vineyard, his house, his whole ethos is about form, function and organic simplicity. I also end up screaming around on more scooters, boats and bikes than you can count while getting to meet the most amazing, inspiring and downright funny people. Plus I spend time with some of New Zealand's wine pioneers, without whom we might all still be bingeing on Blue Nun.
Meeting the people behind well-known brands like Matua, Babich, Wither Hills, Marisco and Tiki brings home to me the effort involved in crafting what is now a $2 billion export industry. In the series, we meet their communities, families, friends and pets, learn about their journeys, warts and all, and talk about their plans.
I was treated to the most incredible food experiences. Prepare to dribble when you witness the spread of fresh paua fritters, whitebait patties, clams, scallops, smoked salmon and crayfish prepared by the McDonald family at Te Pa Wines. But it isn't all gourmet gorgeousness. I was dared to eat stout-boiled oysters by Ralph Bungard at Three Boys Brewery (not great), and the hangi challenge set down by MasterChef's Simon Gault at the Matua 40th birthday celebrations yielded some interesting results.
Zooming around Hawke's Bay on a bespoke wine tour in a classic Daimler with Angela Barons, owner of Napier's County Hotel, injected glam, and meeting the new generation of winemakers and viticulturalists in training at the Eastern Institute of Technology made me want to go back to wine school. Helping the lads from Invivo film the grape-gathering segment for their epic trip to London, so Graham Norton could stomp grapes on set for a one-off sauvignon blanc, was a buzz. So was clamping eyes on the insanely beautiful vineyard location at The Landing, the most exciting thing to happen to Northland's wine scene since grapes were planted by Reverend Samuel Marsden in the Bay of Islands in 1819.
Thirsty Work is, I guess, like a liquid Country Calendar hosted by someone in a frock. Every story focuses on education, moderation and enjoying those beverages with good food and good company. It is also about revealing the truth about living a life in wine. Many assume that if you are in the wine business, it is glamour, money, European cars, holidays, kids in private school. It is not.
Winemakers are basically farmers, but they have only one shot each year to get it right. If the weather turns nasty during flowering, fruit set, ripening or harvest, they are shafted. It is back to the bank in the hope it goes better next time. It is not like making cheese, where, if you muck it up, you just milk the cows again tomorrow and have another crack.
One motivation behind Thirsty Work is to have our wine and craft brewing stories screened around the world. I want people to see the spectacular scenery in our wine regions and say to themselves: "I want to go to New Zealand."
I want people to understand that New Zealand is not just bungy jumping, hobbits, rugby and yachts - that we are about spectacular wine, quality craft beer, food, fishing, hunting, fashion and art as well.
Thirsty Work screens on Food TV, Wednesdays from July 16, 9.30pm.
- Sunday Star Times