There was a time when New Zealanders could get all the locally-produced wine they wanted, so long as they got it from a handful of diehard Dalmatian winemakers making do with limited viticultural resources and licensing laws that viewed sales of wine to the general public as sly-grogging.
Ah, yes. Those were the days. When local wine was purchased from furtive gentlemen manning roadside stalls and served in restaurants in teapots. Those where the days when ‘wining’ was what we did about the weather and dining was only ever done at home. We’ve come a wee way since then.
These days, much of the countryside that was grazed by sheep is now turned over to Chardonnay, Semillon, cabernet, and pinot noir. And our winemaking talent is footing it with the best in the world.
Need proof? There are a few regions you could head to, but in terms of getting the kind of broad sample of winemakers you need to make a really considered judgement, Hawke’s Bay is the spot for you.
There are 75 vineyards in the area, and about half of them are happy to let the public in the cellar door. You can taste the fruits of their vines and their vintners’ zeal and, in many cases, have a bite to eat at the same time. Everyone but the hardest core of hardcore sheep farmers will admit that vineyards are better to look at than sheep runs, and much nicer places to eat your lunch.
And that brings us to the other revolution that New Zealand has quietly undergone. Back in the 1980s, public opinion was divided on the merits or otherwise of Rogernomics. But few who endured the wilderness years of the New Zealand hospitality industry – the shall-we-go-Italian-or-Chinese years – will have had a word to say against what’s happened to food in this country.
We discovered there was life beyond carbonara and chop suey about the same time our Stalinist licensing laws were relaxed, so we learned ‘haute cuisine’ was not fancy French porridge about the same time we learned ‘alfresco dining’ was not a picture of the bloke who painted the Sistine Chapel tucking into his smoko.
So now you can sit outdoors at Havelock North’s Black Barn, say, and choose (with difficulty) from several dozen New Zealand vintages to complement your fresh, locally-grown, expertly-prepared fare. And if you visit the Hawke’s Bay farmers’ market at the Hastings Showgrounds of a Sunday, you can be sure there’ll be more on offer than stringy hogget and prize swedes. Cheers, New Zealand.