I started drinking wine as a teenager when I lived in the Loire Valley with a wonderful French family. My hosts had stopped producing their own wine only a couple of years before my arrival but there was still plenty in supply during my stay. I can picture the grape stomping tray in the garden shed and I recall wondering at the time about family members' foot hygiene. Our village was surrounded by rolling countryside with vineyard after vineyard - if only I'd had the inclination to learn about wine appreciation and wine-making back then.
There were some efforts to teach me wine appreciation during my stay in France. I recall being encouraged to swirl wine around in the glass to look for its 'skirt' - which seemed to me ridiculous, and an unnecessary delay in the drinking process!
Similar to French coffee, the home-made wine we drank was thick and strong. Ever since, pretty much any wine has seemed fancy by comparison. I have been far from discerning in my wine preferences.
Having reinvented myself as a tour operator, I am in the enviable position of taking people to the Wairarapa on wine-tasting tours. Some of these people are wine aficionados, but most are simply looking for an enjoyable day out.
Hearing passionate wine-makers speak about the complexities of their craft and the level of hard graft they put in has given me a new appreciation for wine, along with a sense of duty to do it service. In fact it's more than that - I'm curious to find out whether my senses have a hope of ever identifying "smoked game on the nose" or whether my taste buds can find "passionfruit and fresh lime aromas" in a wine.
Making up for lost years, I was recently coached on how to 'taste' wine. By un-glamourously swilling the liquid around like mouthwash, I was taught to release the wine's flavours. The next step involved opening my mouth and breathing air in over the top of the wine (DO try this at home! It'll save you embarrassment in public).
Above: The Cottage Cellar Door, Te Kairanga Wines, Martinborough
I was quite chuffed to learn that a French woman named Marie Zelie first planted vines and produced wine in the Wairarapa in the late 1800s, near my birthplace of Masterton. Marie's pinot noir was even tasted in Paris! I imagine that locally she would have trouble convincing anyone at the time to stop quaffing whisky or beer long enough to sample her wine. And to add insult to injury her vines were apparently ripped from the ground during the ensuing prohibition period.
It wasn't until almost a century later that wine-making came back to life in the Wairarapa, The first four main wineries to establish themselves did so around Martinborough in the 1980's. Dave Cull has produced an interesting book about the development of the wine industry in the area - suffice to say that there are now over 20 small wineries in and around Martinborough producing high-quality wines.
Below: Dining above the vines at the Vineyard Cafe, Margrain Vineyard, Martinborough
If you fancy getting a small group together for a fun day of wine-tasting - talk to Sue for an experience that is tailored for your group. Our fabulous new 12-seater minibus loves the run over the hill.
It's a tricky business isn't it? ... deciding what to hold on to from the past. Somehow I'm now of the generation that is entrusted with the guardianship of family history. It feels like a big responsibility.
I admit that I didn't used to have much interest in the past. Historic photos sometimes grabbed my attention, particularly those that showed the early twentieth century era that my grandparents grew up in - through the photos I could imagine the crazy rate of technological change experienced during their lifetimes.
Now though, I've come to appreciate that going back only two or three generations earlier, my family were among the earliest European settlers in New Zealand.
Wow!! Like really, WOW!! How amazing would it be to step back into their shoes? How extraordinarily different this new land and the new life of those very early settlers must have been from what they knew in their homelands.
Take Alice's parents for example. Alice Russ is pictured here with her husband Thomas. Her parents James and Sarah Horn sailed into Nelson aboard the Prince of Wales on 31 December 1842. In James Poppleton Horn's later life he recorded some fascinating memoirs that give me an inkling into their lives as Nelson established itself. I doubt that James could have imagined what a gift he was giving future generations when he put pen to paper.
I'm pleased that my mother has written and shared 'snippets' of her childhood for our family to enjoy. In fact, I've taken to recording some memories of my childhood in a notebook myself. In the words of Louisa May Alcott:
I appreciate now that learning about James, Alice and others who have passed before me helps me to understand who I am, and the time and place I live in. But I am shaped by so many strands of cultures and circumstances. The broader the interest I take, the better.
Aside from James Poppleton Horn and my mother who have done their bit to preserve memories, I am really grateful to the heritage devotees who put in hours, dollars, and hard yards to protect and preserve treasures from the past. We'll be visiting some of these enthusiasts on the Wairarapa Heritage Tour in September. The motorcycle and side car pictured here are part of Gaye and Francis Pointon's magnificent vintage automobile and motorcycle collection, and the splendid vintage sport leotard is from Henry Christensen's private treasure trove of rural relics at Mt Bruce.
Excitement about the Wairarapa Heritage Tour is building, so be in quick if you'd like to join this adventure. Staying at Llandaff will be the perfect setting for our Heritage excursions.
I look forward to hearing from you - 04 478 6033.
Gardens are being announced and the planning and preparations are underway for the annual Pukaha Mount Bruce Wairarapa Garden Tour. Each year Welcome Tours puts on a small-group tour in conjunction with the event, departing from the Kapiti Coast.
I sat down for a chat with Alison, a guest on the Welcome Tours Spring Garden Tour in 2017 to ask what she thought of the weekend...
What was your impression of the gardens you visited?
The gardens we went to were all so different. Some small, some large, some colourful, some green. Apart from one I wasn’t keen on, the rest were brilliant. I couldn’t pick a favourite.
I was impressed by the hundreds and hundreds of roses. The clipped hedges. The loaded wisteria which was like a waterfall. Beautiful…
It was lovely to sit and enjoy a picnic lunch in one garden. The owner even brought us a cup of tea and made us most welcome. I think the hosts enjoyed having admirers of their gardens.
Did you connect with any of the properties in particular?
Brancepeth was very special. As a homestead on a large rural property, it took my heart and soul. It reminded me of the holidays I used to have as a city kid, staying with relatives on a large farm in North Canterbury.
The place was so well maintained and the history of it was very interesting. It has magnificent trees and I read that one of them was planted by one of the boys who brought it out from England as an acorn in his pocket.
Were they any surprises in the gardens?
There were lots of sculptures, fountains, and bird baths in the gardens… so much beauty and architecture. A blue Himalayan poppy was a favourite for me and a colourful cottage garden was a lovely balance to some of the larger lawns we saw.
Is there anything you are particularly looking forward to at the Gardens Weekend this year?
I’m looking forward to seeing a whole lot of new gardens in 2018.
Do you have any tips for first-timers on the garden tour?
It’s worth taking time to plan your route so that you see different types of gardens and you’re not too rushed. Sue took care of that for us and it worked well.
Keep an eye out for the owners - we loved the way they talked to us. That was a highlight. They shared their knowledge and experience and some of them had a question or two for us as well.
The images below are from Old Tablelands, the first garden to be announced for the 2018 Wairarapa Gardens Weekend...
If you would like to join Welcome Tours as we visit the gardens this year, please see here for more information, or call 04 478 6033.
Sue is the Director and Chief Explorer at Welcome Tours. Sue blogs about new discoveries and the things that matter to Welcome Tours.