We just happened to be in Hawkes Bay exactly when they were having their winter Food and Wine Classic. It is a four-weekend affair where wineries and restaurants host wine and food events. I had discovered this when we were still in the States and thought “that would be fun” and signed up for the newsletter. This also allowed us to sign up for events a day earlier than everyone else. At the time, I had no idea how popular the events might be. So, on the day they opened up registration, I signed us up for two events: “Blanc is the New Noir” at the Te Awanga Estates on June 11th and “A Hawkes Bay Winter” at the Craggy Range winery on the 19th.
The great thing about the “Blanc is the new Noir” event is that we could walk to it. Yeah! Thankfully the day was quite lovely as well with lots of sunshine and temperatures approaching 20 degrees. The event was from noon to 4 pm and featured a tasting of six different sauvignon blancs from New Zealand and France. We were both excited about it and it would be fun to meet some new people.
We headed out from the house at around 11:30 to make sure we made it there in time. As we were heading up the gravel road to the winery, a woman walking her dog caught up with us, and of course both Susanne and I had to pet her dog. As is usual here in New Zealand, this started a conversation. Bix lived in Te Awanga and liked to walk her dog up the road, around to the coffee shop and then back home. Her house was for sale (we had seen it on TradeMe) because of a relationship ending 🙁 but she said if we were interested we should come by and check it out. We might just have to take her up on it. She was lovely, we got our dog fix, and it was a wonderful way to start the festivities. I am not one who normally just strikes up conversations with strangers, but it is almost infectious here. People are just so easygoing it is hard not to start chatting with them. Granted, we have kind of a big opening card in that we are American and that always helps generate some questions, but it does just seem like a way of life here.
Predictably, we got to the event early. Doh. Better early than late. We just took a seat at some of the outside tables and enjoyed the view of the vineyards.
Jo, the woman who had emailed me about the logistics of the event, came out and introduced herself with “you must be Roger and Susanne!” Yes, it is a small town here. She was very nice and I guess is an avid ultra-marathoner.
Jo wants to go do the Leadville 100 someday and really loved Colorado. She looked pretty fit, even in comparison to all the crazy fit people here. She served us some bubbly and chatted with us while they prepped. Another couple showed up. They knew Jo and Jo knew them. Jo introduced us and they sat with us, chatting and learning about what we were up to, and wondering how we had ended up here. Wayne gave us some places to go visit in Martinborough when we go there.
Another couple joined us at the table and we started chatting. Turns out that Elizabeth was from Peru! She and her partner, who is Kiwi, had just managed to make it back to New Zealand. She loved Napier. Susanne told her that she grew up in Venezuela and Elizabeth lit up like and light bulb and they had a very animated chat in Spanish. I think this made Elizabeth very happy to be able to have someone to speak to in fluent Spanish. It is truly a very small world.
After a while, everyone had arrived and we moved inside to the tables where we were going to do the food and wine tasting. Susanne and I were at one end of a table and the wine maker, Hayden Penny sat next to us. He was quite a large athletic fellow and I guess he had played professional rugby in Scotland. He had come to do wine making at Te Awanga Estates because he loved their focus on organic farming.
Across from me was Sharon, who was a writer for Kia Ora magazine which is the magazine that you read when you are on an Air New Zealand flight. She was at the festival with her partner writing a story.
She unquestionably has the coolest job on the planet. They were a hoot and super fun to talk to and lived in Wellington. Sharon said the weather was terrible there and we should definitely scratch it off our list. On Susanne’s left was Katie who lived in Hamilton. She had grown up in Wellington and loved her husband but wasn’t overly fond of Hamilton. But love is a powerful thing.
The only bummer was that the crowd was having so much fun and was so boisterous, it was too loud to actually have a conversation with even the person next to you. But hey, everyone was having a good time yelling at the person next to them.
We started the wine tasting with three different Sauv Blancs from New Zealand. One from Otago (way south), one from Martinborough (south part of the North Island) and one from Marlborough Valley (most famous area that most Americans know). Most of the Kiwis that aren’t from Marlborough total look down on the wines from there. They are super acidic with tons of grapefruit flavor. Ready to drink now. As far as I can tell, there are only two camps: (a) you love them or (b) you hate them. There is absolutely not one person on this planet that says “yea, they’re pretty nice, but not my favorite.” That person doesn’t exist.
All of them were good and I actually liked the Martinborough Sauv the best. Each was wonderful in its own way. The Otago wine was better with food for sure. They served us a plate of small bites to have with the wine. One was supposed to be the “disrupter”; in other words, a food that didn’t pair well with these wines.
They tested us after we had finished that course by asking us which one we thought didn’t pair with the wine. I made it blatantly clear that I was an American without a clue when I asked what a “Sando” was (Sandwich). Doh. That was good for a few chuckles and laughs and a bit of blush from me. I did get the disrupter right, though: the tomato.
The next set of wines were a Te Awanga Estates wine, and two French wines. The Clos du Tue-Boeuf was one of the most interesting Sauv Blancs I have ever had. It was super minerally and a bit cloudy. It wasn’t necessarily my favorite, but it was really unique. I gave it high marks. I asked Hayden what his favorite was and it was not surprisingly the Te Awanga Estates. I guess that was an unfair question.
I told him about our experience with Akarangi. I said the wines were pleasant. He said they were average. I said pleasant was my polite way of saying they were average. He laughed.
I told him about our experience with Hobbit man. He laughed and agreed he was quite the character. We left it at that. No need to dig further into that story!
We had some chicken and veggies and finished off the evening with a late harvest Sauv Blac that was lovely. The meal was great, the wines we wonderful and it was just so uplifting hanging out with some really nice people just having a great time enjoying life.
I got to talk to Hayden a lot about wine and winemaking during the dinner, which was super fun. You don’t often get a front row seat with a winemaker and learn about their craft. The staff was amazing too!
We hung around with everyone well after the food and tasting were over. They were wonderful. Katie kept telling Susanne and I that we had to consider Coromandel as a place to live and that they had a bach there and we should come up and spend a weekend with them. Sheesh. There is just something so wonderful about that. It wasn’t fake, either. I know if we called her up and said we wanted to come up, she would be thrilled to have us. We walked home, watching the fading light of the day, feeling relaxed and happy. Maybe a bit tipsy too, but mostly just relaxed and grateful to be here; just living this moment and no others.