It’s a small world. You know, that whole six degrees of separation thing? Well the world of wine is even smaller. It’s more like 2.5 degrees of separation (the .5 being that guy you might have seen at an intern party in the late harvest sleep- deprived delirium who you might have spent a long time talking to about Argentina…or maybe South Africa).
We met Beth in Oregon working harvest the previous fall, having been introduced by mutual friends of the grape stained variety. It was the sort of acquaintance that might inspire you to become facebook friends, maybe even make vague plans to get together at some ambiguous time in the future. From our understanding of it, Beth had been living and working in Central Otago in New Zealand and decided to move home to Marlborough and find some work there. Still needing a few more days of R & R, we decided to look Beth up to see if there was some floor space we could occupy while we explored the local wine country. She still was living with her folks, but insisted that they wouldn’t mind if we stayed with them. We expected to roll out our sleeping bags on the floor or couch of a quiet house in the country with maybe a winery or two within reasonable biking distance. What we got was “Chateau Forrest”.
Not only did Beth’s family own a winery (Forrest Estate Wines…check them out at www.forrest.co.nz), but they also lived on the vineyard itself just outside of Renwick. Floor space? Try our own private guest bedroom with en suite bathroom and separate entrance to the house. Not to mention two kitchens (one indoors and one outdoors in an awesome enclosed area complete with fireplace and couches) and a hot tub the size of a freshman dorm room. You could swim in it. No seriously, it had a harness and everything. Oh, and Beth had a 3 month old puppy named Frankie. Needless to say, it was a slight departure from our usual backpacker accommodations.
And then there was John and Bridget, Beth’s parents, who were quite possibly the most generous people in New Zealand (which says something). Within a day of being there, plans were being laid down for us to stay through Christmas. We made our attempt at polite refusal, saying we didn’t want to be a burden and should be moving on soon, but it was clear that our opinion was of little importance. Explaining to them why we needed to go was like trying to explain to someone from the Bronx why they should move to Dallas. Life was good in the world of Forrest Estate and they knew it. But unlike many people who have more than enough, the Forrest family was happier sharing as much as they could, even if they hardly knew them. In short, they are wonderful people to be around.
We spent the rest of that week getting to know Marlborough’s bountiful wine country. Not only is Marlborough home to New Zealand’s most famous grape export, Sauvignon Blanc, it is also the largest producing region in the country. And getting larger every year. In fact, there is more wine being produced in Marlborough than anyone really knows what to do with. The blame is all over the place. There’s the global economic catastrophe/meltdown of course, and Mother Nature has delivered two bumper crops in 08 and 09. Throw in hundreds of acres of new plantings coming online every year for the last 5 years, and suddenly there is too much wine in a world market that can’t consume it fast enough. So the wine gets sold off as bulk and the market is flooded (pun intended) with cheap product, driving the price to the cellar (that one too) and causing wineries profits to disappear down the drain (may be getting out of hand now). So now the farmers are getting less money per ton because the wineries are losing money and then…you get the idea. Fortunately we were there to do our part in diminishing the surplus.
I had been to Marlborough about 6 months prior, but having only 2 days to spend here I had hardly scratched the surface. Borrowing bikes from our little slice of paradise, we scoured the countryside for hidden gems in Sav Blanc and Rose and Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Meat Pies and Beer. The result? For Riesling Forrest and Te Whare Ra top the list, Rose is Forrest for sure, Sav Blanc stop at Wither Hills and Huia, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer head to Seresin, Pinot Noir go to Fromm and Seresin, Chardonnay at Huia and for Meat Pies and Beer go to the Renwick Bakery and Moa respectively. And at the end of the day, if you still have any energy left top everything off with some chips and a pint at the Cork and Keg, the fantastic little English pub in downtown Renwick. Or if you want some culture stumble in to the Country Club next door…which in New Zealand is some sort of exclusive dive bar (complete with meat raffles...) Repeat the next day. And maybe the day after.
Our day or two quickly became a week, and was on its way to becoming another week before we decided we really must be going. But before we left, we decided to bring a little taste of home to the Forrest’s. Fiesta style. Beth managed to locate a piñata and a sombrero while we whipped up guacamole, pico de gayo and grilled veggie quesadillas with rice and beans and spicy chili. It wasn’t quite Cinco de Mayo, but we did have some damn fine margaritas and a few Manu Chao albums to listen to. In the end however, it took an American to finally bust open the piñata.
We packed up the car, topped off the now leaky radiator (Otis shedding tears of mourning for Milo?), and set our sights on the Abel Tasmin National Park.
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