Toast Martinborough

Feeling a tad weary this morning – the after-effects of a day out in the sun with 10,000 others celebrating Toast Martinborough, our annual wine and food festival. I hadn’t been before – Colin’s been many times – and the day’s huge national success (tickets sell out within minutes when they go on sale in October) is a tribute to the hard work, planning, and dedication from local wineries and others, like the Lions.

Our good friend from Wellington, Caroline Kells, drove over on Saturday, stayed the night, and came with us. We started off at Palliser Estate, with a glass of 2005 Methode Traditionnelle, and a breakfast muffin hot toasted and filled with crispy bacon, fried egg, avocado and smoked tomatoes. The food at Palliser was done by Salute, of Greytown, one of New Zealand’s best restaurants and certainly a stand-out in Wairarapa. Despite catering for literally thousands, the muffins were fresh, great, and just the thing to put some protein in our tummies at the start of a long, liquid, day. The Methode was light, refreshing, and very easy to drink.  We ran into people we knew and didn’t expect to find – old mates like Brownie from the North (Wayne and his wife Toni – he’s Mayor of Northland now).

The crowd was still sober – the young girls looking lovely in their summer frocks.toast-mba-001

For those who’ve never been to Toast, the procedure goes like this: You buy your ticket for $60 and on the day you hand that in and receive a wine glass to hang around your neck. That’s your entry into all the wineries, where musicians are playing, plus your drinking vessel for the day. You also get a booklet with wine lists and menus at all the participating wineries. Free shuttle buses motor around the circuit, and you jump on and off when you choose. You also buy “francs” with your cash, to pay for the wine and food. This disappears very quickly.

We jumped on a bus and motored around a few wineries which were already turning into booze barns – Craggy Range (we sampled the 2008 Te Muna Road Riesling and had a chat with Andrew Barnes, our former vineyard manager who’s gone on to better things), Martinborough Vineyard, and Winslow. The young ones loved it, but we decided to press on. We wandered into Margrain and that was lovely – well organised and no queues for wine or francs. We purchased a glass of 2008 Pinot Rose each and found a table. Rodger Fox and his Big Band were playing, joined on the stage at one o’clock by Ray Woolf, so the place started filling up with oldies like us who remember him from the sixties.


He’s lost none of his energy, and the voice is holding up well. We enjoyed that, sipping our  Rose, and Colin had a glass of the 2008 Chenin Blanc, made famous by the vineyard established by one of Martinborough’s early wine pioneers, the late Stan Chifney. I think it’s probably a good thing that this photo turned out a little bit dark:


Feeling like lunch, we walked along the road to Ata Rangi, a superb site for this sort of thing with plenty of space, a large marquee, music from the Nairobi Trio, Elizabeth Braggins, and Graham Wardrop. Ruth Pretty was catering, and we felt like a steak and kidney pie. I was despatched to purchase three lunches, and the pies proved so popular I had to wait 20 minutes but that was cool. The nice lady at the counter said she’d remember me if I came back to collect them later, so I wandered back to Colin & Caroline, and our glasses of 2006 Craighall Chardonnay. I hadn’t visited Ata Rangi since I lived in Martinborough in the late 1970s, early 1980s, when proprietor Clive Paton was a struggling solo Dad to my daughter’s best friend, Vanessa. Clive worked so hard, planting all his vines and doing all his own labour, living in a garage, and growing and selling vegetables to make ends meet. He certainly deserves every bit of his success now.

Still sober enough to keep on walking, we continued to Alana Estate, where things were starting to get a little hectic. Caroline & I eschewed alcohol, content to sit and watch the (very sunburned) kids dancing to the music of The Shenanigans.


Colin had some 2008 Riesling. The food looked good – Alana’s restaurant is on site and very consistent and reliable. A good place during the week to have lunch – maitre d’ Michael looks after the customers superbly.

By now it was nearing the end of the day for us. Caroline had to start work at 4am Monday (in Air New Zealand’s Koru Lounge) so we headed for Te Kairanga (on the bus) and walked down the hill to listen to Uncle Monkey and drink some 2004 Runholder Pinot Noir. Montana’s hero Peter Hubscher is managing Te Kairanga, and the man himself was at the gate, picking up bottles and ensuring the entrance remained looking tidy. His wife was serving wine in the tent. I like bosses who will do the tasks they expect the workers to do. But oh dear, there were some very, very drunken people here:


When Caroline left, we briefly returned to Palliser to hear The Beat Girls, but it was a bunfight so we pushed ourselves on another bus and returned to Te Kairanga, where they were selling off the food – lovely Thai scallop salad with coriander, mint, red chilli and lime, made by Pravda Cafe in Wellington, and some Shed 5 (also of Wellington) handmade chocolate truffles.

We’d been invited to call in at a friend’s place on our way home, so I snapped these last two lovely vignettes of rural Martinborough as we walked back to our car, safely parked in Farmer John’s driveway:



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