New Zealand Week 1

Sorry for the lack of updates…busy, busy, busy. After arriving in Auckland after a 26-hour flight, it was straight onto the ferry to idyllic Waiheke Island and Stonyridge Vineyards for a tasting with winemaker/yogi Steve Wight, followed by a blind tasting of the island’s wines. It is like a paradise here. However, speak to the locals and look more carefully and there are signs of the recession: mothballed vineyard projects after investors got cold feet. Then I see Danny Schuster’s wife pop in at Stonyridge, her husband’s revered Waipara vineyard upended last year when his financial backers pushed him out of the estate that bears his name.

What is so galling and so tragic is that these were apparently his friends..unbelievable how treacherous human nature can be. Still, Mr Schuster was summoned up to Waiheke and is consulting at Stonyridge, but I expect his lawyers will be busy in the coming months.

After Waiheke, to Hawke’s Bay for the first of the symposia: Merlot/Cabernet. A clutch of fascinating tastings ensue, mostly blind and a majority with an international or technical theme. Prof. van Leeuwen’s lecture of viticultural practices at Chateau Cheval Blanc is absorbing, though when I voice my concern that his 2006 is not as great as the barrel sample promised (no peacock’s tail on the finish), I fear I have ruined his round-the-world flight. The fact that I tasted the wine blind just seven days earlier and arrived at exactly the same conclusion, rams the point home in front of a murmuring crowd.

Over tea and biscuits, I make amends by telling him that I think his 2008 is much better. Unfortunately, our audience is a lemon sponge cake and not an auditorium of 100 winemakers.

The following day we move on to the second symposium: Syrah. It gets off to a poor start, held up by an Australian scribe (who shall remain nameless), who is dreaming of sheep under the duvet when he should be boarding our bus. Sir James Halliday, due to make his speech at 8.20, is not amused, his cheeks amidst some kind of rapid veraison and magnificent eyebrows bristling with ire. He eventually stands at the lecturn 30 minutes late, an irate headmaster about to place the entire audience in detention, his gravely voice resonating through the PA system about to punish his unruly flock with “Thou shalt not be late for a Shiraz symposium” 500 times.

To be honest, the Shiraz show better than the Bordeaux blends, suggesting Hawke’s Bay should look more towards Cote-Rotie than Pauillac for inspiration? There is one fascinating lecture on the pepperiness of the grape varietal, apparently caused by “rotundone”, of which 1 gm could make every bottle of Australian wine taste peppery.

Not the kind of substance you want to get in your eye.

Jason Yapp tutors a great vertical of traditional Rhone wines, including a sensational Croze-Hermitage 2007 from Alain Graillot and Tim Atkin introduces a blind tasting of Shiraz/Syrah from around the world.

Towards the end of the week, we are driven by coach down to Martinborough. The school party includes Oz Clarke, Tim Atkin, Mattew Jukes, Sir James Halliday (now much calmer), Tyson Steltzer (a great writer for the future), Jamie (wineanorak) Goode and a scribe from “Wine Enthusiast” whose Eastern European surname I would probably mispell and cause offence. We stop halfway down for ablutions in a (ghost)town with a conspicuous ecclesiastical lean: a purple hued Sally Army hall piously standing opposite accompanied by a congregation of evangelical churches on each and every street corner. 

The tannoy in the hi-tech public toilet informs me that I have 10 minutes to pee. What would happen if I took longer?

Divine retribution?

A shower of frogs?

Rivers of blood?

I would rather not find out and make sure I keep within the allotted time.

In the evening…where are we?…Sunday now?…a fascinating horizontal of Martinborough Pinots with in-depth debate upon styles vis-a-vis viticulture and terroir with Dry River winemaker/philosopher, Neil McCallum.

In the late evening, I stay up to watch Andy Murray succumb to the invincible Federer. I was hoping that the Swiss maestro would be implicated in Tiger-esque shenanigans before the match, possibly with Thai lady-boys or such like. Even that is unlikely to have put him off his game.

Awesome. Feel sorry for Murray though…his time will come.

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