Well, that was an extraordinary amazing three weeks, but I am now back in Blighty and – more importantly (to me at least) – back in my heels! It was hard though, while sitting at my desk in my chilly office, watching the hail settling on the patio outside, not to wish myself straight back in the arms of the Marlborough summer.
My last few days in New Zealand were as good as the first. Spent time with Marisco and Wither Hills on the Friday, before flying out from Blenheim to Auckland. Despite everyone thinking I would be bored with vineyards and wineries by the end of three weeks, I was definitely still learning at this stage (perhaps I’m a slow learner?).
Marisco’s giant new winery is a masterpiece of high-tech design, with all the pumps, pipes, cooling and tank controls, hidden away under the floor. No spaghetti of tangled hoses for those guys! Not yet entirely finish, it is a gigantic temple of wine production and beautiful in its shiny, stainless steel and glassiness. Have a feeling it would fit well in an episode of grand designs!
After a tour of the Wither Hills vineyards and winery and a tasting of a range of their wines, my guides, Ben and Sally, decided that the best thing for me before departure was to get at least mildly tipsy on their wines over a very long lunch. I think they may have been right! Mellow and happy was a very good way to bid goodbye to a fantastic region.
I was doing quite well at fending off the dreaded jet-lag while at work today, but am pretty tired nonetheless, so just quickly below I thought I’d put just a few of the things I’ve learned over the last few weeks… I learned a lot more geeky, wine-related things, but I thought I’d save those for an essay sometime!
The (non-definitive) list of things learned…
1) Oranges are not the only fruit – there are strange things that I’d never heard of, like Fejoia (good) and Tamarillo (undecided).
2) I talk too much – there is no point my trying to convince anyone any more that I’m as shy as I think I am. Once I feel comfortable with people it’s hard to stop me from wittering on (apparently) and I found myself feeling pretty comfortable with the friendly kiwis! My apologies to all those donkeys that have been hind-leg-less since my visit.
3) Marlborough Chardonnay is often rather delicious. To my mind, the best kept secret (that should probably no longer be kept) of the region. I realise this is not revolutionary!
4) Most foods can apparently be smoked – I don’t think I have ever eaten so many smoked things. Hot smoked salmon, smoked tomatoes, smoked pork, smoked chicken, smoked cheese…
5) The Awatere is a Whole Other Valley – I know it’s silly, but I’d always thought of the Awatere as being like Ben Morven, Brancott and Waihopai valleys, tributaries of the larger Wairau. I should look at maps more often. Apparently if you split Marlborough (which is NZ’s biggest wine growing region) into two – Wairau and Awatere. They would remain NZ’s two largest growing regions!
6) It takes me a while to readjust to South meaning cold and North meaning warm… The number of times I made confused and sympathetic noises about someone’s north-facing slopes I cannot tell you, but I am not proud.
7) I want a “ute”. Got very used to hulking great trucks that can drive through rivers and over (not quite literally) vineyards. I know I don’t need one, but still… Can they be driven in heels? Or is that just wrong?
8) Marlborough is incredibly windy! Definitely not an area for the wearing of floaty skirts!
9) Grass grubs are incredibly hungry little critters
10) Kiwis are a nation of coffee obsessives. Every single winery I visited had a fancy espresso machine. Heaven forbid that anyone make wine without immediate access to a flat white! Not that I’m complaining – it was great to have good coffee!
11) People really do say “easy as” and “good as gold” quite a bit!
12) Wellington is a city that appears to be in perpetual cloud. On a day when Marlborough and Martinborough were both clear-skied and blazing hot, Wellington languished under a dark and dismal misty cloud.
13) After three weeks of resistance, I did on my last day accidentally refer to Sauvignon Blanc as Savvy. Broken.
14) Blenheim airport is great and small planes are fab. I love the take your coffee, load your own luggage casualness of it all. Yes, it occasionally feels like you’re going to die and yes it’s a little disconcerting that they sometimes land on the grass rather than the tarmac because it’s cheaper, but it makes you feel alive!
15) The essay I wrote to qualify for the interview stage of the scholarship was probably wrong and naive in its simplicity. I will post it here at some point, before commenting on how my views have changed. Marlborough is a region without black or white; things are rarely as simple as one might suppose!
16) Whitebait is very different in NZ from in the UK
17) The All Blacks CAN lose…
18) Marlborough “methode” can be incredibly good. I love bubbles at the best of times, so it was nice to be in a region that had so many good examples. Great value too.
19) Syrah could be the Next Big Thing (you heard it here first… well, you heard it here at least).
20) Everyone is very different. Whether it be the wines the make, the way they make them, where they make them, their views on why they make them, there is no one-size-fits-all-of-Marlborough. It’s a diverse and interesting region, full of great people and great wines.
Today’s stuck-in-head-song – The only exception, Paramore
Today’s dinner – cottage pie
Today’s drinks – Chateau d’Hostin 2010
Today’s footwear – brown wedge heeled knee high boots