Thursday, February 15, 2007

Marlborough and Nelson = Wine

Back again after just a short wait (phew). Let's hope I can get it finished this time...

Saturday 10th February 2007

The day of the Wine Marlborough Festival had arrived and in typically perverse manner, I had decided not to go. I didn't much fancy jostling with 10,000 in a field, listening to rubbish music (the line-up sounded awful) and having to pay $3 each time you wanted to taste a wine (on top of the $35 ticket price). What a rip-off.

Instead I decided to visit a couple of wineries which were (just about) accessible on foot from Blenheim. Someone had said they might not be open if they were represented at the festival, but I thought it was worth a shot (and it would be nice to have a bit of a walk anyway).

The first (just before lunch) was a horrible experience. The woman was a right sour-faced cow. Downright hostile in fact. I felt really uncomfortable AND I had to pay $2 for the "privilege" of tasting 3 unexceptional wines. What an awful place (I noticed she was all sweetness and light with punters in the poncy-looking restaurant attached - two-faced so-and-so!).

After going back to the hostel for lunch I had almost talked myself out of going to the 2nd winery of the day. It was further out of town and I was worried that I would get a similar reception there. I'm glad I persevered as it couldn't have been more different from the morning's experience. The lady at the Cellar Door was lovely. Very welcoming and happy for me to taste all of their wines for free. And what tasting measures. It was more like half a glass of each, and I was actually (quite unlike me, I know) forced to tip some of the remainder of each into the spittoon. I had had a huge lunch as was feeling a bit bloated. Still, the wines were rather nice

I decided to walk the long way back into town and visit another winery en route. I wish I hadn't bothered as it was much further than it appeared on the map and turned out to be closed when I got there (boo). It was also getting quite cold in the wind (a Southerly blast after yesterday's Fohn) and I felt really tired. In fact, I was totally overcome when I got back. I had to lie down in my tent and actually felt sick for a while (not the wine, surely? Maybe I had overdone the lunch or got a chill in the wind). Still, I read for a bit and had an early night, in the hope that I would be fit for the wine Odyssey which was to come...

Sunday 11th February 2007

Luckily I felt fine when I woke up. Perhaps I was just overtired... Anyway, I was glad I felt better as I had booked myself a ticket on the "Wine Down" bus tour, a new venture for this year's Wine Festival. Basically, there were a series of shuttle buses offering a hop-on hop-off services around most of the wineries for the day.

I caught the bus at 11am (no-one seemed to know quite what was going on but I found myself on a bus heading out to the vineyards at least). I had a plan of missing the first couple so that I would be ahead of the crowd. This worked a treat as in most places I was by myself and got the full attention of the people at the Cellar Door.

It was a lovely sunny day and some of the wineries had lovely settings. Most people were really friendly (my first [miserable] Marlborough tasking experience must have been a one-off). I was chatting to one of the owners who had been on a cycle tour around Devon last year and was particularly taken with Beer (even if she thought the cycle back out was a bit much!). It's another small world moment...

I visited 9 (nine!) wineries in total and didn't have to pay for a single tasting (bonus). There were some really nice wines. Cloudy Bay was a particular highlight although that might have been because I was already a little bit tipsy by that point! There were also more reds on offer than I thought there would have been. I think some of the wine-makers are getting a bit fed up with Sauvignon Blanc, so are experimenting with other varieties in an attempt to stand out from the crowd. I can't say I was overly impressed with anything other than the standard whites (SB, Reisling and Gewurtz) or the odd Pinot Noir, but it was very interesting nonetheless.

Luckily, I managed to get the last bus back to Blenheim and was back in plenty of time to get the bus over to Nelson. I even slept on the bus (a first for me) and woke up with a bit of a headache. I wonder why! First impressions of the hostel weren't all that promising (there were a lot of long-termers working on the nearby orchards and my dorm was an absolute mess), but I was only there for two nights so was sure I'd be able to put up with it for that long. I had intended to spend a couple of days relaxing on the beach (it was 100m from the hostel) before moving into the city of Nelson itself for a further three days.

I got chatting to two older Australian women (I've now got a place to stay up the coast from Sydney, if I want it) and a nice chap from America (who works for Scripps* in San Diego!), so it was a nice end to what felt like a mammoth day!

*as a captain of an oceanography vessel, so I guess Claire won't know him.

Monday 12th February 2007

It was a miserable looking day (drizzly and grey) so the American chap I had been speaking to the night before asked if I wanted to join him on a drive out to Farewell Spit and Golden Bay (he had a hire car and would be glad of the company, he said). Given that I was planning a day on the beach (the forecast had been good... but as usual they got it wrong) I jumped at the chance.

On the way out we stopped at a couple of viewpoints to look at the clouds (he is a keen Paraglider - probably friends with Craig! - and was even more disappointed about the weather than I was) and then had lunch at Mussel Inn on Golden Bay. The Mussel Chowder was good, washed down with a delicious black beer that is made on site.

As we headed west along Golden Bay it began to brighten up. The beaches on the bay were more grey than golden, but the setting was lovely with the mountains rising up on 3 sides. We then proceeded to Whararaki Beach (a lovely spot), Cape Farewell and Farewell Spit. The latter looks more impressive curling round on the map than in real life, but it is difficult so see the full extent of it from the land. Still, there were some nice spots on the way and it had a real end-of-the-road kind of feel to it.

We got back quite late (it was a long old drive from Nelson) and ate some of the nice nibbles that the kind Australian ladies had left behind (olives, caviar [!], feta, various other cheeses), with a bottle of wine. Got into a bit of a debate about the war in Iraq and war in general, which was a bit much after such a long day. He was rather forceful with his opinions, which became grating after a while. Oh well, it is interesting to hear (and dismiss!) viewpoints other than your own...

More people waiting to use the computer. I'm writing too much! Back later...

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