Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc.

Travel, Etc. --> Jim's New Zealand Part II

Jim Bandy's New Zealand Trip Part II
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Wine Guy Jim Bandy was able to take "Trip of a Lifetime" last year... a ten day trip to wine country in New Zealand! He's written a great article about the experience and included some amazing photos. Here is part two of three!

Leaving the beauty of Pegasus Bay we continued our drive northward passing through kilometer after kilometer of spring green fields. NZ1 curved back east and it wasn’t too long before we found ourselves along a stretch of dramatic coastline. We were nearing Kaikoura where unique currents and deep waters made it a favorite with sperm whales. Whale-watching and eco tours are popular with tourists here, but the captivating view alone would make it worthwhile: snowcapped mountains rushing right down to the sea.

We soon found our way inland from the coast and were surrounded by the vineyards of the mighty Marlborough region. We chose Blenheim as our base for the next couple of days; think a New Zealand Napa, but for Sauvignon Blanc. Blenheim isn’t a large town but hosts several hotels geared toward wine tourism. We were staying just 10-minutes outside of town at St. Leonards’ Cottages. St. Len’s, in the vernacular, is an extremely charming group of buildings turned lodging that surround a main house. Paul and Daphne, the owners, greeted us warmly and showed us to the Shearer’s Quarters, where indeed sheep were shorn in times past. Now, though, it was a quaint studio stocked with everything for hearty breakfast before wine tasting including eggs from their free-range chickens, and Daphne’s homemade marmalade. Set amidst neighboring vineyards, St Len’s was a perfect place from which to launch our search for outstanding Marlborough wines!

Nearly every one of the big name Sauvignon Blanc wineries we carry at Grapevine Cottage were within minutes of our door. Daphne helped us plan our tastings to include some big names as well as some boutiques. We began with Allan Scott, a well-known producer who we have referred to at times as ‘breakfast wine’ for its pure grapefruit qualities. Edwina was tending the Cellar Door and walked us through several wines spanning a couple different years. The 2009 was bracing with gooseberry, juniper, and that unique Marlborough terroir which lovers of NZ Sauvignon Blanc look for. She let us in on an interesting tidbit - Kiwi’s often age their Sauvignon Blanc’s 1-2 years before drinking. Could this be the key to my enjoying more Sauvignon Blanc in the future? Recently. Wine Spectator talked about pairing an aged Sauvignon Blanc with lamb. Allan Scott also boasts an award-winning bistro with beautiful atmosphere. It was early for us, though, so we pushed onward to the next stop.

A few minutes drive west is Gibson Bridge, a boutique winery specializing in Pinot Grigio. Daphne recommended them and we’re so glad we took her advice. One of the owners was at Cellar Door and delighted us in conversation while the rain gently fell outside and the wine poured freely inside. When asked ‘Why Pinot Grigio?’ she shared that their decision was partly made on their feeling that Sauvignon Blanc may be overplanted in New Zealand and they wanted to do something different. That and the fact that her husband really liked Pinot Grigio. Sporting several medals, it was evident they were succeeding in making their mark. In contrast to Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, here was Pinot Grigio in an almost Alsatian style: ripe, fruity, and quaffable. We purchased a bottle to enjoy later on.

Another couple of boutique tastings and we needed food. So we opted for that best of all foods – chocolate! There’s a boutique chocolatier in Marlborough named Makana. They kindly offered samples of anything you wanted to taste. Not wanting to be rude we eagerly accepted! These weren’t strange exotic concoctions but rather straightforward truffles and nuts that were done to a very high level. Boxes of these were going home in our suitcase. Do stop there if you go. You won’t be disappointed. Just make sure to bring me back a box of the rum-raisin chocolates. Mmm.

Several customers from the UK have asked me for Cloudy Bay at the store, and there it was! Although close in proximity to Allan Scott, literally across the street, it could not have been more different in style. They export primarily to the European market and that influence was very clear. More elegant than other Sauvignon Blanc’s, it was food friendly, more easily approachable, yet retained a bolder New World palate. We left with a bottle of their sparkling Pelorus Bay that was delicious!

Several customers from the UK have asked me for Cloudy Bay at the store, and there it was! Although close in proximity to Allan Scott, literally across the street, it could not have been more different in style. They export primarily to the European market and that influence was very clear. More elegant than other Sauvignon Blanc’s, it was food friendly, more easily approachable, yet retained a bolder New World palate. We left with a bottle of their sparkling Pelorus Bay that was delicious!

Doug and Linda are not big Sauvignon Blanc, fans but we’ve heard Doug say that Saint Clair was not only a bottle that he and Linda finished but that they had wanted more. So we made that our final stop in Marlborough. Nickie was just wonderful: down-to-earth, knowledgeable, and funny! We commented on some animal statuary in their courtyard, and she said ‘They’re children magnets. I told my own children they were magic stones and touching them would turn you to a statue and you’d be stuck there in the garden forever.’ Ah! Isn’t it good to know parenting skills aren’t that different from one country to another?! Their current vintages were exactly as Doug described – fresh and delicious with a little less pungency than others we’d tasted.

You can, of course, avail yourself of winery dinners at some very fine locations. But we were a bit weary and opted for casual dining. One restaurant we found worth noting was Bacchus, located in downtown Blenheim. Not fancy, but you just had a feeling this was a place the surrounding wine community patronized. My cold salad of venison with raspberries on spring greens was exactly what I needed, along with several glasses of water.

Just north of Blenheim is Picton where we boarded the Inter-Islander ferry and left the South Island behind. It was a beautiful journey across the Cook Straight. We had in mind several days of general touristing, our only plan was to return to Auckland in time for our flight home. Several folks in Blenheim encouraged us to make a stop at Hawkes Bay region where New Zealand made some very fine red wines. We thought – why not?