Peter and Elizabeth - RTW 2009-11 travel blog

The view from the tiny plane which flew us from Wellington to...

The view from the tiny plane which flew us from Wellington to...

The view from the tiny plane which flew us from Wellington to...

Boutique chocolate factory.

The art gallery/storage room at Cloudy Bay.

The view across the valley from the Seresin winery

I made Elizabeth do this. I think she thought it was stupid.

Driving along Queen Charlotte Drive

Lovely views

More of us, I'm afraid. Scenery ruined!


March 15, 2010

We got up fairly early and made the most of the free Monday morning bagel breakfast at the hostel before catching a taxi to the airport. We arrived in plenty of time but there was no sign of our airline at the main check-in desks. I checked our confirmation and it said that Sounds Air flew out of Gate 4 and to go directly there. We walked straight through and “checked in” for our flight. Checking in involved telling a man we were there and him taking our luggage – no ID checks, no security, no x-ray, no boarding pass, no luggage tags. Granted, the plane was a tiny thing with 12 seats crammed in the back and just one in the front next to the pilot, but I still expected to have to show some ID.

Nonetheless, after sitting around and waiting an hour or so, we took off and the short flight (just 20 minutes) gave us some amazing views, firstly as we left Wellington and headed out over the Cook Strait and finally as we came towards Picton and crossed the Marlborough Sounds. It was a great flight and much quicker than the ferry, although we could see the ferry from the plane and it looked to have had some spectacular scenery, too!

Once at the Picton we got the shuttle bus to the ferry terminal to get our hire car, another old heap, this time a Nissan Sunny. We parked up just outside the ferry terminal and headed to the information site in Picton where we got a couple of maps and some brochures for different wineries. After that we walked around the little town and enjoyed going in some of the little shops and checking out the souvenirs. We managed to avoid spending any more money though, which was good. We had lunch at a little Dutch bakery called Picton Village Bakkerij. The homemade sandwiches here were lovely and the carrot cake (which we consumed later) was also very tasty.

After that we drove to our hostel in Renwick, which is in the heart of the Marlborough wine region, and checked in to our nice little double room. It is a lovely quiet little town but thankfully just down the road is Blenheim which is a bit larger and had a supermarket where we stocked up on groceries.

It was mid afternoon by the time we got back and settled in so we just lazed around for a bit and decided which wineries to visit tomorrow, settling on five we thought looked really good as well as a couple of extra stops to sample other things. For dinner I made beef stroganoff and there should’ve been enough for two nights according to the recipe but we saw to it that it only lasted for one!

Suitably stuffed we crashed in the room and watched “The Taking of Pelham123” on the laptop. I’d seen it but Elizabeth hadn’t but it was good watching it again. it’s not a spectacularly great film but it is very watchable.

March 16, 2010

After a healthy muesli and yoghurt breakfast, we packed up our picnic lunch and headed out to tour the wineries of the region. We were really looking forward to today as we knew a fair few of the wines from having tried them in Bermuda and were interested to see what their wineries looked like and to try their other wines. Of course, we didn’t just pick ones we knew; we wanted to try plenty of new ones too. We found out as we went around that most ship to the US and UK through large distributors but as neither of us have lived in either of those places for a fair while now, we hadn’t heard of them. Still, it was nice to know that many of the ones we tried would be available when we finally settle somewhere!

We started off at Saint Clair. The lady here was really nice and was talking to us about the region, explaining how the weather conditions and soil were ideal for Sauvignon Blanc grapes. We tried a Pinot Gris, Sauv Blanc, Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir. They were all really tasty but the Sauv Blanc did stick out as being good. Reluctantly, of course, we bought a bottle of that but vowed not to go home with a load of the same type of wine! This winery was one of the few that charged for tasting ($2 each) but we had that refunded when we bought our bottle!

Next, to stop us getting drunk too early, we stopped at Country Preserve. This was a small little place where they made seemingly endless varieties of pickles and dips and conserves. I hope none of you are hungry, thirsty or alcoholics whilst reading about our day today as it might drive you to the closest eatery/bar/supermarket and I’m not taking responsibility! Anyway, that won’t deter me from detailing everything we tried! Here we tucked into helpings of bread with their Springvale pickle, Maharajah chutney, basil pesto/pine nut, chilli/capsicum, lime/tarragon and garlic/shallots dips, cauliflower/pineapple pickle (really good), red pepper pickle (also really good), chilli jam (very yummy but then we’re suckers for spicy), apricot/apple conserve, a blackberry/raspberry topping (tasted with a marshmallow – yum!) and pickled garlic (just to ward off vampires). We eventually bought some of the chilli jam and apricot/apple conserve. The woman here was really helpful and kept asking if we wanted to try more. We’d stopped after the first few and were going to buy some anyway but we tried a few more and changed our minds!

Next, another non-winery and this was the Boutique Chocolate Factory. Here, unfortunately, you couldn’t try everything but they did have a couple of things for you to try. We tried a very tasty but very rich Macadamia toffee crunch and a chocolate covered apricot. The toffee crunch was really good and we would’ve bought some but it was a bit rich for Elizabeth and I know I would’ve ended up eating all of it. Instead, we had a bit of a splurge and bought a box of mixed truffles. They were over $30 for the box so they best be good and I’ll have to try and savour them rather than gobble them down!

Are you hungry yet? How about thirsty? No? Let’s try some more wines then!

The next stop was Cloudy Bay and this is a large winery which is well known around the world. We had only really tried their Sauvignon Blanc before so it was going to be interesting to try some more varietals. So, here we tried the Sauv Blanc, a slightly oaked Sauv Blanc called Te Koko, Chardonnay for me and a Pinot Gris for Elizabeth followed by a sweeter Gewurztraminer, the Pinot Noir and finally two dessert wines which were much too sweet for either of us - a Gewurztraminer and a Riesling. The favourite here was definitely the Te Koko but at $50 a bottle we weren’t in a rush to buy one. The tasting room here was a really cool building and out the back they had a large warehouse with artworks in it as well as some barrels of wine. It was a really nice setting but, for me, the wines generally didn’t match up to the reputation. The Sauv Blanc was good but it wasn’t as good as the first one we tried today and the other whites, the sweet wines and the Pinot Noir weren’t great and we had much better later in the day. So, we still only had one bottle of wine and my target was a lot more than that for the next three weeks!

It wasn’t late enough yet for lunch so we decided to add another winery to our itinerary. We had planned a pretty circular route around the area so we picked one along the way. This winery was called Hans Herzog and the setting was lovely – the gardens and building were both immaculately kept. Inside, we found out there was a $10 tasting fee for three wines which seemed a little steep but given we had got decent sized samples elsewhere today we decided to give it a try. The lady serving said we could share the tastings so we just went for one. I had picked this winery as it made some different styles compared to others around here so it was a chance to try something a bit different. We tried their Sauv Blanc first and the portion size was pitiful, barely enough for one person to get a proper taste let alone both of us. The wine was good but quite honestly the whole setting had started working against them and by the time the second measly sample was poured, a Voignier, I was just ready to get out of there. The third wine was some Italian red, the name of which I can’t remember and was in no rush to note down, either. All of the wines tasted good and had the tasting not been quite so pathetic, we might have been tempted to buy one. The cheapest wines here were $30 so they were a bit more than we expected but when the woman told us that by buying THREE we’d get our tasting for free, I just paid the $10 and walked out. For $10, you’d expect a decent size tasting but our drips and drops would’ve barely made up a third of a glass of wine in total. I wouldn’t pay $30 for a glass of wine in a bar. We left feeling quite ripped off and it wasn’t the wine that left a nasty taste in our mouths! Given this was an additional stop and I’d chosen it, I felt quite bad as it was completely unnecessary. It was only $10 but given how friendly people had been before (and would be later, too) it just seemed unreasonable.

The next stop hadn’t really been planned either but it was another chance for a look around something different before lunch, our Hans Herzog detour taking barely 10 minutes! We stopped at the Vines Village. Here there were a few little craft shops and we bought a couple of cross-stitch bookmarks in one for Elizabeth to make for both of us.

Another of the shops here was called Prensel which we thought did different oils and sauces, like the place earlier. However, it turns out their specialty is liquers and spirits and we were greeted with a shot of butterscotch schnapps topped off with a creamy liquer! As designated driver, I was already being careful of my alcohol intake so after some blackcurrant schnapps I decided to leave the drinking to Elizabeth. I did try a little of their vodka which the lady claimed was really smooth but having had Russian vodka it certainly wasn’t that much to my liking, especially neat. I was happy to have a small sip and hand it over to Elizabeth! After that Elizabeth also tried lemon and macadamia liquers before we both tried some of their flavoured oils and a lovely avocado dressing and smoked garlic dressing. Everything we had tasted so far, both food and drink, had been great really and it was hard not to buy one of everything. As we finished in here, the lady gave us both a glass of chocolate liquer which we tried a little of before she added some peppermint schnapps to finish it off. We bought some flavoured Tuscan oil here but resisted the sweet liquers!

Unbeknown to us, there was also a tasting room at the little vine village and we stopped in here to try some wines. The winery was called Bouldevines and the gentleman was really friendly, a far cry from the woman at Herzog’s. Here we tried a Sauv Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and then another Pinot Noir. We had tried the more expensive one and I really liked it. The cheaper one was $12 less so I wanted to try that too just in case it was as good. We aren’t snobby about wine – we just like what we like and if the cheap bottle tastes just as good, the cheap bottle it will be. However, the cheap bottle was nowhere near as good and so we just bought the expensive one. Even so, it was still just over $30 and it will be a lovely accompaniment to dinner one night!

Next, we were back on our original plan and on arriving at the Bladen winery we decided it was a good time and place to have lunch. We had bought some bread, different cheeses and some chorizo at the supermarket yesterday so it was a nice picnic sat in the sun, surrounded by the vines and rolling hills of the area. It’s a shame the towns around here are so sleepy as it would be great having somewhere like this on your doorstep. Anyway, with some stomach lining added, we ventured into the tasting room. This winery was a tiny family owned business and the tasting room was just like a little wooden hut. It was nice and cozy and despite the presence of some stuffy Germans there the woman was really chatty and friendly. Here we tried the Pinot Gris, dry Riesling, Sauv Blanc, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir and Merlot Malbec. The Malbec is made by the family mostly because it is the lady’s husbands favourite and after he’s taken his share they just sell the rest. However, that wasn’t my favourite here despite being really good. Surprisingly, the one Elizabeth and I both liked was the Riesling which had such a different taste to it without the usual sickly-sweetness you get with these wines. We even went so far as to buy a bottle of it, too!

The next stop was at the Seresin winery. In Bermuda, the wine we drank most often and would almost always get if we could was the Sauvignon Blanc made by these guys. The vineyards here seem to stretch for miles and the offices and tasting area are situated just up on a little hill providing great views of the valley. Inside the small tasting room, the girl was helping two German guys taste the wine and they were being really critical, comparing it to the wine they apparently made back home. Trying our best to block out their comments, we tried the Sauv Blanc (we had to!), Riesling, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Leah Pinot Noir and Home Pinot Noir, named due to the closeness of the grapes to the actual winery. I have to say that, apart from the amazing Sauv Blanc, none of the other wines were as good, particularly the reds which even the girl serving admitted they probably were too young and needed aging. We decided we couldn’t come this far though and not buy a bottle from Seresin so we bought a Sauv Blanc, which even the German guys said was by far the best one they’d tried in this region. Quite honestly, I could’ve bought a case of this one but that would defeat the object of going to all these lovely wineries and trying all the different types.

Grove Mill was the next stop and was intended to be our last stop, too. Here we tried their Home Block Sauv Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir. The woman here was really friendly and chatty and we spoke for quite a while about matching wines with foods which best compliments them. We both thought the Pinot Gris was a little sweeter than most we’d tried today but she recommended it with a sweet, spicy food, like Thai curries. Given this is something we love and have made a few times while travelling, we decided to test out the theory and she’d made her sale – one more bottle, this time a Pinot Gris, to add to the collection! One of the cool things about this winery was that out the back of the tasting room they had eleven different vines where you could pick the grapes and try them for yourself. It is amazing how different the grapes taste compared to the types of wines and most of the white wine grapes were truly horrible! The eleven were Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Gris, Merlot, Malbec, Pinot Noir, Pinotage, Syrah/Shiraz and Cabernet Sauvignon.

We didn’t feel quite ready for home yet so we stopped at the Isabel winery which was on our way back towards the hostel. The girl here served us a dry Riesling, Pinot Gris, a 2009 Sauv Blanc, a special 2006 Sauv Blanc (the hottest year they’ve had in Marlborough recently, which apparently makes the wine better) and a Chardonnay and a Pinot Noir from the same hot year. The current year Sauv Blanc had a much better flavor than the older one in my opinion and was much fruitier and flavourful. The Chardonnay here was also really good and I was torn between getting that and the Sauv Blanc. We had a couple of Sauv Blanc already but ultimately cost won the day and we got the cheaper one, there being little else to choose between them

So heading home we had 6 bottles of wine, a jar of apricot and apple jam, a jar of chilli jam, a bottle of flavoured oil, some chocolate truffles and two bookmarks! It was quite a day and it was only mid-afternoon. Had I not been driving, I probably would’ve tried to squeeze another couple of wineries in as the girl at Isabel’s had recommended some others to us. We are planning a coastal drive tomorrow but if we get back in time we might see what we can fit in!

Sorry for the hugely detailed and probably boring write up on the wineries but I was actually trying to for once remember what we tried and who made it so I can buy some in the future!

After a much needed nap, we headed to the nearby pub for dinner, appropriately named the Cork & Keg. Not so much needed was more alcohol but I felt obliged to try one of the south island ciders to accompany my lovely beef hotpot. Elizabeth took the correct course and had a diet coke with hers. Sitting here now typing all of this makes me wish I’d gone for something a little lighter, too! Some people never learn!

March 17, 2010

Today we went on a bit of a drive around but unfortunately it didn’t last too long. We headed north to the coast and through Havelock and along to Queen Charlotte Drive, an amazing picturesque road which hugs the Marlborough Sounds coastline. About an hour or so into the drive Elizabeth started feeling sick. The road was narrow and windy and the curves were making her want to throw up. Rather than persevere and head on I thought it best to head back rather than make the return journey longer than necessary.

Back at the hostel we just lazed around and had some lunch before we headed into Blenheim to do some shopping. We both wanted to get some kind of walking trousers for a tour we had planned at the glaciers later in the week so after visiting a couple of outdoor equipment shops and some sports shops we had both bought a nice warm, comfortable pair of trousers. I also bought some gloves and a new pair of sunglasses to replace the ones I lost in Samoa.

We also stopped at the supermarket to get some dinner, switching back to pasta which we hadn’t had for a while. This time we got some fresh tortellini and mixed it with pesto, adding the leftover pepperoni and sun-dried tomatoes we’d not used for lunch. We were getting a little bored with our lunch options so we were trying to use the ingredients in other ways. We still had plenty of cheese to use up though!



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