The biggest social event on the calendar - the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival

A Huge crowd enjoyed the performance of The Black seeds at the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival in 2015.

A Huge crowd enjoyed the performance of The Black seeds at the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival in 2015.

The Marlborough Wine and Food Festival has become a staple on many calendars across Marlborough. Kat Duggan sat down with Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens for an insight into what makes it tick.

When grapes were first planted on a commercial scale in Marlborough nearly 40 years ago, so too was the seed for what would become Marlborough's biggest social event of the year.

The 2017 Marlborough Wine and Food Festival will mark 33 years since its beginnings at Brancott Vineyard, one of the region's oldest. Not much has changed since the festival's beginnings, and Wine Marlborough general manager Marcus Pickens says that's a big part of its success.

Winners of the wine and food match in 2012. Errol Wilkinson, Kylie Cornelius and Mark Heard. The food was Ora Extra ...

Winners of the wine and food match in 2012. Errol Wilkinson, Kylie Cornelius and Mark Heard. The food was Ora Extra Virgin Pizzas matched with a Vavasour Pinot Noir.

Having been involved with the organising of the festival for just under a decade, Marcus describes it as having grown up with the wine industry, developing over time.

While Marlborough wines took the world market by storm, the festival acted as the perfect platform to showcase those wines in one place, pairing them with world-class Marlborough produce.

"[The festival] called consumers in and gave them a reason to try a wide range of Marlborough wines … it probably helped put Marlborough on the map," Marcus says.

The huge crowd in 2010.

The huge crowd in 2010.

These days, the festival continues to draw 8000-strong crowds year after year, attracting people from all corners of the globe for a taste of world-class wine and food.

"It's quite amazing to be a part of it. It probably is a bit more world famous than just [famous] in New Zealand … it has actually got a lot more reach than that," Marcus says.


#marlwinefest #fashioninthevines

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Surveys conducted in previous years have revealed that festival-goers are generally made up of about one third Marlburians, while the rest are visitors to the region, with about 20 per cent coming from overseas. Such visitors often plan their whole New Zealand trip around the event.

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"People say to us, 'we've planned our whole trip so we can be in Marlborough on the second weekend of February, and we hear that very year," Marcus says.

"It's quite amazing; you don't think about it very often but when you do, you just go 'far out'; it does make you want to deliver an amazing experience."

Delivering that experience lies very much in striking a balance between new and old, he says.

As the festival has evolved it's seen the introduction of Fashion in the Vines, Cooking Demonstrations by world-class chefs, and an evolution of gourmet food and wine.

There is also the addition of high-profile artists performing at the show, but Marcus insists it's important to keep the event about the wine and food, rather than turning it into a music festival.

"Of the three elements it goes wine, food, music … it's about wine and food," he says.

Utilising the world-class produce at Marlborough's back door has allowed the food scene of the festival to evolve with the rise of cooking shows and self-proclaimed "foodies".


"The food element is really important, and keeping the food standard really high; it would be easy to get other food sites if it was just chip caravans and things like that but we have really remained really steadfast in what we allow," Marcus says.

As the years moved on the culinary tent and demonstrations grew, becoming a bigger feature, and attracting more people, with food riding "on a wave of fashion", Marcus says.

"It's great to have the partners we have had for a long time like Regal [Marlborough] King Salmon, and Cloudy Bay Clams, there has been some real supporters of the event. It's a real partnership."

Among the visitors to the event have been festival organisers from as far away as Noosa on the Sunshine Coast of Australia and Canada, who have come along to find out what makes the festival such a success.

Despite others trying to recreate the event, the Marlborough Wine and Food Festival, New Zealand's longest running, has remained one for the bucket list, in the top tier of festivals of its kind.

Marcus acknowledges the work of Marlborough Wine and Food Festival Incorporated, who ran the festival until it was passed over to Wine Marlborough around 2004.

"All those people who used to come and probably had a lot of fun … if they came back they'd probably be quite amazed and quite proud of what the festival has become," he says.

"Someone [at Brancott Estate] had the foresight not to plant that little area as well; they could easily have just planted that out, but all those years ago someone had the vision that there could be something special on that site."

Brancott Estate deserved a "mountain of credit" for the festival's success, being actively involved in the planning of the event each year, he adds.

And the winning recipe?

"Great weather, a great atmosphere, it's just got a special vibe, it's like going to an amazing wedding, people are really happy, they're well dressed, they are pretty damn well behaved," Marcus says.

"Will it be going in another 33 years? I wouldn't be surprised. I wouldn't be surprised if it was here for a heck of a long time."

The lineup


10.30am: The 808 Quintet - An award-winning jazz combo from right here in Blenheim.

11.45am: The Steeps - Long-established Kiwi musician on the New Zealand acoustic scene, Midge McCleary, has teamed up with Australian drummer Dean Vitale, creating an upbeat funk roots duo.

1.20pm: Newtown Rocksteady - Made up of 12 artists, including past and present members of some prominent Kiwi bands, Newtown Rocksteady is a dance band producing Jamaican rocksteady, soul, funk and dub music.

3.05pm: Hollie Smith - One of New Zealand's most prominent musicians, who shot to fame with her single Bathe in the River, which topped New Zealand charts and became an iconic Kiwi single.

4.30pm: Supergroove - A prominent Kiwi band, Supergroove brings a concoction of soul, rap and funk combined with a highly extroverted stage performance to the festival. Supergroove was inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame after winning a Legacy Award.

IN THE KITCHEN - Culinary Tent

11.30am: Annabelle White - A Kiwi food writer and author of 11 cookbooks, Annabelle has a love of "great honest cooking", was a long time food columnist for the Sunday Star-Times, and is a former food editor for NZ House & Garden and the New Zealand Women's Weekly.

12.30pm: Bradley Hornby - A Marlborough chef with a focus on using locally sourced and seasonal produce. Bradley is an established and well-known chef having gained two hats, Gourmet Traveller Stars and numerous hospitality awards.

1.30pm: Monty Koludrovic - All the way from Sydney's Bondi Beach, Monty is the head chef the iconic Icebergs Dining Room and Bar. He and his team have recently been awarded two Chefs Hats in the Sydney Morning Herald Good Food Guide 2017.

2.30pm: Karena and Kasey Bird - These Kiwi sisters took out MasterChef New Zealand in 2014, and since then have gone from strength to strength, producing award-winning cookbooks, their own TV show, and editing Mana Magazine.

3.30pm: Mark Southon - Mark was trained in many Michelin Star restaurants in Europe, before moving down under and working in both Australia and New Zealand.

He has spent the past five years as the head chef at Auckland's Foodstore restaurant, producing dishes with only the finest quality New Zealand ingredients.

MASTERCLASSES (tickets required):

11.30am: Drink Pink: Think Cheese - A rosé and cheese masterclass brought to you by Kaikoura Cheese and local winemakers Brian Bicknell of Mahi Wines and Sanna Stander from Two Rivers.

2pm: Queen of the Grapes: King of the Seas - a sauvignon blanc and salmon masterclass presented by chef Annabelle White from Regal Marlborough King Salmon, Greg Harris from Pernod Ricard and Jordan Hogg from Seresin Estate.

The Marlborough Wine and Food Festival is on Saturday, February 11.  Gates open 10.30am.

 - The Marlborough Express

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