Sultry Summer

The weather is extraordinary, and it’s predicted to be a long, hot summer. I love it. It feels like all those endless summer holidays of childhood all rolled into one. The horses under the trees in the shade, all day, immobile save their twitching ears and swishing tails. The cat disappears into the long grass, the dog lies prostrate on the cold stones right in front of the garage door where everyone needs to go in and out. Perhaps she thinks this is the only way she’ll get forced exercise.

And yesterday I brought home six chooks and a rooster! The chooks are Rhode Island Red crossed with Brown Leghorn, and the rooster, whom we’ve named Winston (after Winston Peters), is a strutting proud and beautiful boy – Brown Leghorn. They need to be locked up for three days, in their very posh new henhouse (from East Taratahi Timbers in Carterton) and today guess what? We had two eggs! I felt like a child again, when we collected them. When the hens settle down with me I’ll take some photos.

Meanwhile, the skies in this sultry summer heat are very curious. This was taken early this morning, when we’d been measuring up the space for the pig pen: summer-skies-40degrees

Yesterday I received a present in the mail from an old friend in Christchurch, Dave Henderson. Dave’s a controversial character – a true entrepreneur in that sometimes his ventures crash to earth, but most times they soar. In fact, there was a film made about him and his fight with the Inland Revenue Department, a fight he won. You can’t help liking Dave (and I’ve fallen out with him in the past, so I know how difficult he – and I – can be). But most of all, I admire him so much for his courage. After he won the fight with the Inland Revenue Dept he bought their building in Christchurch and has turned it into the most fabulous hotel, called Hotel So. A friend of ours stayed there and raved about it. You can read about it here. And here.

One of Dave’s recent successful ventures is a Central Otago vineyard which is producing pinot noir and sauvignon blanc. Most media in New Zealand loves to kick Dave. They’ll write a headline if he gets so much as a parking ticket, but ignore his successful hotel, and to date I’ve read nothing about his wine. In fact I’d never heard of it until he sent me three bottles yesterday: anthem-001

Cute as a button, he’s borrowed from his libertarian lodestar, Ayn Rand, and labelled the wine “Anthem”. The labels are beautifully designed: anthem-002

This is what’s printed on the back label. I love it: “Anthem is a celebration. It’s a celebration of people. The people everywhere who make this world great. Who, no matter how humble their pursuits, never prevail on others, beat the elements, persist past all setbacks and achieve great things. They do this for their own ends, but along the way they make the world a better place for you and me. They also teach us what is possible. This one’s to them. Enjoy!”

Dave would have written that himself, not used some trendy hip marketing thinktank to write it by committee, so I know it comes from the heart. And it sums up grapegrowing and winemaking, really. Against the odds, even though it’s horrifically expensive, often gutwrenching, we do it because we love the pleasure it brings us, and in the process, the pleasure it brings others.

Here’s to you, Dave Henderson.


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:


Matariki Syrah

Here’s a wine worth trying – Matariki Syrah 2005, grown in the hot terroir of the Gimblett Gravels by Matariki Wines Limited. I was given this bottle as a gift by the Media 7 team (producer, Top Shelf Productions) for giving up my Saturday morning to fly to Auckland and take part in their election special last Saturday.


As you can see, it’s been recommended by Cuisine magazine, and it had the nice peppery palate that I enjoy from New Zealand reds which have been ripened in very hot climates.

Matariki is actually the name for the Maori New Year, and is celebrated for one month from 5 June to 5 July. Matariki is the group of stars known as the Seven Sisters, or Pleiades Cluster. I’m not sure why the O’Connors decided to name their vineyard after this celebration, as our vineyards go to sleep at this time of the year, but there you go.

The wine’s back label describes this syrah thus: “Estate produced from our stony soils on Gimblett Road, this Rhone style syrah shows deep ruby colour, berry fruits, and black pepper. A finely textured wine displaying good acidity, elegant fruit and a long dry finish after 18 months ageing in predominatly French oak. Enjoy now but cellaring will be rewarded.”

Actually, if I had one criticism, it would be that the oak was too dominant – the tannins were a bit irritating. But hey, this is a nice syrah, and we don’t find too many of those in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, Martinborough is sprucing up for this weekend’s big celebration, Toast Martinborough. 10,000 people hit the village on Sunday for music, wine, food, and hopefully sunshine. I’ve never been, and we’ve been lucky to score tickets (they sell out in 5 minutes) so I’ll take my camera and record some of the sights. Even though it’s billed as “wine tasting”, not a lot of spitting goes on, so there are some pretty sloshed people by the end of the day. Good for the local economy, though, and it’s exciting seeing our little town scrub up and don its best bib and tucker.

More Martinborough Wines

November already! Where did the year go? One of the best things about living in the country, though, is noticing more acutely the change of seasons. You’d have to be permanently dormant not to notice the wind out here, but it’s more than that. You can actually smell summer around the corner, as the spring lambs grow fat, the magpies fly from their nests in the pines, and days like yesterday are so hot the UV rays penetrate your sunscreen and you end the day with tan marks on your shoulders.

And so it was an evening to try some more Martinborough wines, sourced, of course, from the great team at the Martinborough Wine Centre:

First, the whites:

Burings 2006 unoaked Chardonnay, made by Chris, a thoroughly nice chap, and this is what he says about this very pleasant chardonnay: “Mendoza clone grapes from three small Martinborough vineyards were hand picked at perfect ripeness. After primary fermentation a superbly balanced wine emerged which required no further intervention – a winemaker’s dream. The pale golden wine opens in the glass with aromas of tropical fruits and ripe peaches to delight the nose. The wine fills the palate with great fruit flavours typical of Mendoza, and finishes with a refreshing hint of citrus. Enjoy now or cellar for up to three years.”

Craggy Range Single Vineyard Riesling – from Te Muna Road, just along from us at Redbank. A very good riesling this was too, leaving aside the fact that we are biased in favour of Te Muna Road. “These grapes were hand picked and whole-bunched pressed, the juice then fermented cool and left on lees for some four months after vintage. The result is a deeply expressive wine with a combination of poise, elegance and hidden power all wrapped up in the juicy texture that is distinctly Martinborough.” That’s somewhat more wordy than how we would describe it, but I guess it shows our applause for this riesling was not astray.

Margrain Riesling 2007 Proprietor’s Selection. We really liked this riesling (Gee, we wish we’d planted riesling now, but I guess you can’t do everything). The label’s very stylie too, despite having a pukeko on it . I loathe pukeko – I know they’re natives, and protected, etc, etc, but they are stupid useless birds. They also spread disease from horses because they get into the horses’ feedboxes, scratch around and drop their calling cards, then carry on to the neighbouring property where they do the same. You’re not allowed to kill them, but I know Taja hates them too because when she was younger and fitter, she’d push the young pukeko under the water in the stream at my brother, Tim’s, farm and drown them. Anyway, back to the wine. Margrain is on Ponatahi Road (one of the most lovely stretches of highway in New Zealand), and the vineyard is described thus: “This genuine boutique estate is situated on the river terraces of Martinborough, recognised as one of the world’s great wine regions. The free draining, low fertility soils produce small crops of intensely flavoured grapes. Our wines are hand crafted exclusively from vines which we tend ourselves.”

And about the pukeko, Margrain are more kind: “The Pukeko depicted on the label is a curious native bird that comes up from nearby lowlands and struts arrogantly amongst the vines.” Arrogant because it knows you can’t shoot it!

And the only red we bought:

Murdoch James Saleyards Syrah 2006. I chose this syrah because a long time ago I rescued a pony from the Martinborough saleyards. She was a little grey mare, called Janeen, and my eldest daughter Briar rode her for years, before passing her on to Rupert and Valentine, who both learned to ride on her. She passed away in Russell, and is buried on the property of Martin and Hiwi Karmalade. The Martinborough saleyards, meanwhile, were turned into vineyards in 1986 by Murdoch James Fraser, so sentimental reasons entered into this wine purchase. But beware the fine print, and the lesson is, take your reading glasses with you when buying wine. In very small lettering on the back label, I learn that this syrah is only “named after the historic saleyards” and, in fact, is made from “grapes from a variety of selected vineyards”. Were they all in Martinborough? I do not know, but I have fallen into this trap before, not with this wine, but in Chicago when a friend thought she was buying Martinborough sauvignon blanc for us. In fact, the grapes were sourced from elsewhere in New Zealand, then made and marketed under a Martinborough label. Somehow I don’t like this, not sure why. Nonetheless, this syrah was okay. Just okay.

Three Luscious Martinborough Wines

We needed some more white wine, so last week when I delivered some more James 05 Pinot Noir to Amanda at the Martinborough Wine Centre, I got her to talk me through a mixed purchase. I was only going to buy six bottles, but ended up with seven.

So far we’ve had three, and they’ve been adorable. First, I got Colin to “blind taste” the bottle of 2008 Dry River Gewurztraminer. He couldn’t pick what it was, mainly because he knew it was a New Zealand white, and we think too many New Zealand whites of the Riesling, Gewurtz, or Pinot Gris varieties are too dry – you can’t taste the fruit in them. Wine is, after all, just grape juice that’s been around for a while – who wants to drink something that no longer bears any resemblance to the noble fruit which was carefully nurtured to perfection in the vineyard? Well, I suppose a lot of people do, because uber-dry whites are very popular – just look at so much New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc which sails out doors and down throats. Each to his own, and who am I to adversely judge what other people drink – at least they enjoy it.

Dry River has been around since 1979 when Dr Neil and Dawn McCallum started planting. Goodness they’ve worked hard over the years, and they deserve all the success they now enjoy. The vineyard’s now owned by Julian Robertson, but Neil still oversees all the viticulture and winemaking. This Gewurtz is just gorgeous – fruity, luscious, viscous – this is what Dry River says about it on their lovely website:

 “This is a bright light gold wine with an easily recognised Gewurztraminer nose. As the vines on this block have grown older, the spice fragrance from successive vintages has become more dominant – in the ’08 wine there are fruit cake spices, especially cloves coupled with the aromas of yellow peach and old fashioned roses on the nose. It has a residual sugar of around 20g/L but a voluptuousness and palate volume belying this. The flavours certainly make one sit up and take notice – powerful juicy yellow peach with ripe oranges (rather than the mandarin zest of the variety sourced from the home block) combine with Turkish delight and talc for a refreshing minerality and completed with oodles of spice – especially cloves. A very expressive wine: try with spicy roast pork belly or suckling pig with leeks.”

This is a special Gewurz – well worth the $55 we paid for it – and not to be guzzled down in one evening. Get ye to the Martinborough Wine Centre (online if you have to) and savour some.

The next night we opened Palliser Estate 2007 Chardonnay, which Amanda persuaded me to try. We’d gone off Chardonnay because I think in NZ it’s become too over-oaked, and has lost its lovely charm and complexity. (Except for Kumeu River Coddington Chardonnay, but more on that at a later post). This Palliser Esstate 2007 Chardonnay was the star at this year’s Bragato Awards, taking the gold medal for Chardonnay, the Tropgy for Reserve Wine of the Show, and the Champion Chardonnay. And it is well deserved. This is what Palliser Estate says of the wine on its website:

“Palliser Estate Chardonnay is a celebration of strong, citrusy fruit flavours, it is gently seasoned with oak, producing a delicious wine with subtle winemaking input and concentrated varietal flavours. Gracefulness, delicacy, finesse – these are its key attributes. The wine can cellar well for at least five years, but within three or four years its charms are fully revealed.” 

 We liked this wine so much I’ve phoned Amanda and ordered a dozen.

And finally, the Schubert Tribianca. Something new to try. Kai Schubert makes lovely wines, and has enjoyed international success. This is a cuvee of Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Muller-Thurgau and it’s very, very good. Again, a luscious tasting wine, obviously made by someone with passion and attention to the finest details. Here’s what Schubert Wines say about it:

“Harvest and vinification – hand-picked, whole bunch pressed and partially fermented in new and used French Oak barriques and puncheons. Some maturaion “sure lie” with occasional “battonage”. Racking by gravity to keep maximum freshness of fermentation-CO2.” 

Now, much of this language is too technical for me, but I am not a winemaker, just the gofer girl in this vineyard, but I do know this is a wine well worth trying. Get ye, again I say, to Martinborough Wine Centre, or visit these vineyards and see for yourself. The weather’s just gorgeous over this way right now, and I can think of no nicer place to be. 







Cool Climate Syrah

Spring is definitely more than in the air, it’s arrived. We know this not only because of the fat lambs dashing around the paddocks, nearly butting their mothers into orbit as they tuck in for milk. Not just because of the blossoms, the daffodils, and Smitty’s winter coat falling out in chunks, providing nesting birds with lovely soft palomino horse fur with which to line their nests. We know this because the syrah, sleeping in six barrels in our winery, is not shrinking as much as it did in the heart of winter.

Larry McKenna of Escarpment fame has been helping us with the syrah. We picked just under two tonnes on May 2nd, destemmed and sorted it at Escarpment (over the Te Muna Road from us) and sloshed it into an open vat. On 23 May Larry pressed approximately 1300 litres and towed the tank over to us at Redbank, where we put it in our own barrels. Larry described it as a good cool climate syrah, with high acidity, and “peppery”.

The wine in the barrels is absorbed into the oak, and shrinks somewhat, so at first we topped it up (you don’t want air at the top of the wine) with the left-over syrah. When that ran out, we used 2006 James Pinot Noir (it’s okay, we’re allowed to do that without mongrelising the syrah).

On Saturday we had a guest staying, who is a senior waiter/wine waiter at Peter Gordon’s Dine Restaurant in Auckland’s Federal St Grand Hotel (got a good review in the Cuisine 100 Best New Zealand Restaurants), and we decided to not only top up the syrah, but taste it as well.

That’s when we noticed we didn’t have too much topping up to do. The wine is warming up, and will stabilise or expand even more. We drew off about quarter of a carafe, and brought it over to the house to rest awhile, and tasted it before dinner.

Yewwesh! Crawwerr! It oakey! It raw! Pepper pepper pepper. That’s got a long way to go, I thought.

Mr Carruthers reacted as if someone had just told him his newborn son was ugly. It will improve, he said, in somewhat injured tones.

Well, if a week is a long time in politics, two days is a long time in syrah. I used some of the syrah that night (Saturday) to make Stephanie Alexander’s Fast Red Wine Sauce*, then put the carafe up on the shelf for future cooking. Last night I used a bit more to make a mustard, crabapple jelly, and red wine sauce to go with our pork rack (superb, by the way, from Scotties, the local butcher). I left the carafe on the bench.

*Stephanie Alexander’s Fast Red Wine Sauce (for fillet)

1 cup red wine, 1/2 bay leaf, 1 shallot sliced, 1 tblsp olive oil, 1 cup finely chopped lean meat trimmings, 1 cup finely chopped aromatic veges (celery, onion, carrot), 2 cups beef, chicken or vege stock, 20g softened unsalted butter, freshly ground black pepper.

Heat red wine with bay leaf and shallot and reduce to make 3/4 cup, then set aside. Film heavy-based frying pan with oil and sear meat to brown it extremely well. Scatter over veges. The pan should be hot enough so that the pieces brown rather than stew, and not so hot that they burn. Pour over a third of the stock and stir to release any piece of meat or vegetable that has stuck. The liquid should bubble up furiously and almost evaporate in a minute. While there is still a little liquid, add half remaining stock. This time it should settle to a simmer and there will be the beginnings of a sauce in the pan. Stir again so nothing sticks. After 1-2 minutes add remaining stock and reduced red wine. The liquid should be a reddish brown and start to smell very pleasant. Adjust heat and simmer 5-10 minutes until reduced a little. Strain into saucepan, pressing on contents. Taste. The sauce will taste of wine but should be more complex. Return to rinsed-out pan and boil hard to increase intensity and mature flavours, then drop in butter while still boiling. This will give your sauce ‘eyes’ or shine. Taste for pepper. No need for salt.

About an hour later, half-way through dinner, I noticed the carafe was on the table and empty! Did you drink that? I asked Colin. Yes, he said, surprised I’d asked. That was the syrah, what was it like?

Well, after I’d sloshed it into the cooking, he only had a little left to taste, but he declared it was lovely. He realised it wasn’t pinot noir; thought, this is different, but gee it’s good, and quaffed it.

I wish I’d paid more attention to what was being consumed. I’ll have to wait until our next tasting to give my own verdict, but we think our vineyard might be making a very good, elegant, sophisticated, berryish, peppery, not-too-hot cool climate syrah. Meanwhile, this is what we tasted Saturday night:


The Tin Hut – RedbankJames’s WineBlog

The Tin Hut pub and restaurant at Tauherenikau (pronounced Terryneekow by locals) has had a chequered history, into which I shall not go. Just north of Featherston, adjacent to the racecourse, it has managed to survive and for that we can be grateful.

Because it has become something of our local – each Friday we go over for lunch. It’s now owned and run by Marcus, ex Brasserie Flipp, and the food, service and ambience is very good. It’s not fine dining, but who wants that in the country? Home-made pies such as steak and kidney, curried mince, served with mash or fries – that’s good comfort food. You can also have thai curry chicken, fish and chips, salads, hearty soups – and the wine list is sophisticated without being prohibitively expensive. We had a perfectly charming Australian Shiraz last Friday – Climbing label.


According to the promotion, The Tin Hut dates back to 1857. It bills itself as “ideal for parties, family get-togethers, weddings, birthdays, corporate retreats or just a pie & a beer or coffee”. I couldn’t agree more.

It’s about time New Zealand started boasting some decent smart country pub food – and don’t copy the Brits and call them gastro pubs, please. Can we be more original than that?

Out the back of the dining room you can be entertained for hours by a kunekune pig, guinea fowl, chooks, one lone peahen, a donkey, a large dog, ducks, and other assorted members of the Tin Hut’s menagerie.

Marcus is pretty entertaining too.

We’re off to New York first thing in the morning. I know it’s naff to be excited at my age, but I’m sooo excited I just can’t wait. Haven’t been to La Grosse Pomme for 26 years and we will certainly enjoy the hot weather. We’ll blog from Manhattan.