Vern: When we left South America, we spent a week in Mendoza tasting Malbecs (albeit not using the spittoon once, so 'tasting' may be a bit misleading) and to bid farewell to the South Island we decided a day of wine was in order. (I sense the beginnings of a tradition: before leaving somewhere South - hit the wine. Not sure how we'll fare when we leave South East Asia, but definitely next time we're to depart South Africa it's on).
We woke up in the remote little campsite in Robin Hood bay to glorious weather and took a short walk on the pebbles along the jagged shore. New Zealanders probably go numb to their spectacular coastline, and we too have sort of gotten used to having the beach around and need to remind ourselves how seldom we see it back home. We hopped into the car and eased over the mountains on a dirt road back toward Blenheim town, stopping for a short bush walk in the forest around Whites Bay. A sign had promised glow-worms but we couldn't find them, and we pushed on.
It didn't take long to find our first tasting room, Bouldevines, which, unlike the others coming up that day, isn't on the wine-farm. Instead it is sandwiched between a foodie place offering tastings of rice-oils, condiment sauces and liqueurs; and a flavoured fudge factory. We hit them all and enjoyed a miniature three course meal of slurps of woody Chardonnays and fruity Cab Sauvs, tiny bread squares dipped in garlic and chilli sauces, followed by shots of a choc-mint digestive and scrapes of creme-brûlée and honey-comb fudge. We left all but the fudge place without taking out the wallet. There, however, we forked out for a small parcel of deliciousness from which we crumbled off only little tonguefuls at a time over the next few days.
Onto the elaborate 'cellar door' at big exporter Cloudy Bay where the bar is set in front of a huge window looking back onto hundreds of oak barrels lined up in formation like tubby soldiers. After a tasting journey starting with bubbles and ending with dessert wine it was time to move on.
Opposite the road we wandered into a vineyard called Alan Scott. "Would you like a tasting?" asked the lady at the counter. Predictably we answered, "Yes."
She took two spotless wine glasses off the shelf and laid them down on the table then slid Andrea the card with the tasting notes.
I felt a sharp elbow into my ribs and looked down to see Andrea's index finger tapping the $2 fee printed on the menu. While two bucks doesn't sound like much, tastings are supposed to be free. It's the principle. And well.. it's the two bucks. I looked at Andrea's eyes which were asking, "But we already said yes, how do we get out now?"
In walked a foursome of Welshmen and the wine steward turned her attention to them, "Four more tastings, gentleman?"
"Yes please, love" answered one. This was our chance and we took a few paces back and pretended to be interested in the decor in the restaurant in the opposite room. She lined up four more glasses, "Let's start." Then she noticed us easing backwards, "Will you be joining us?"
"No... uh... We're just going to look around for a while" I lied.
We oohed and aahhed at the mediocre fittings and fixtures in the restaurant, pushed past the expectant waiter and then followed the wall out of the view of the tasting room and toward an alternate exit. The door opened easily to the gravel lot, our campervan sitting loud and proud on the far side. Inconveniently, the tasting room looked out onto the parking through a large bay window so we shuffled across as quickly as possible trying to avoid the bemused glares of the wine steward and the Welshmen, and then sped off in a spray of stones.
Just down the road we found Huia, a tiny boutique vineyard fussed with organic and geo-something-or-other-to-do-with-the-moon's-cycle production. Tasting was free but not without an awkward moment. The poshest wine we sampled was a Pinot Noir aged in French oak for 18 months. Seeing a chance to express our vast wine knowledge (or at least a rule of thumb we'd learnt in Mendoza) Andrea offered, "So if it's in the barrel for 18 months, does that mean it's best kept in the bottle for 10 years before it's opened?"
"Um.. I don't know," responded the woman at the counter, "let me get the winemaker." In walked a Briton in a striped button up and a cliché scarf round his neck who rubbished our rule. He'd heard of nothing like this, the wine is good when it is released and changes over it's time in the bottle, there is certainly no clever maths rule and only a loose correlation to its time in the barrel blah diddy blah blah silly philistines. "Right, well, thanks then" we cut him off after a bit and we left wandering back into this wiley world of wine that we will never understand.
A responsibly large lunch followed our last tasting of the day at the Wairau River vineyard. The food was good (lucky because it was one of only two restaurant dinners we treated ourselves to in New Zealand) but unfortunately the menu contained neither lamb nor scallops so it wasn't really the New Zealand fare we'd hoped for.
We rounded off the day in a more sober manner, posting blogs and backing up photos using the free internet at the Blenheim library then headed back to a campsite at Whites Bay and settled in there for the night.