There was a time when all the locally-produced wine New Zealanders could buy was made by a handful of diehard Dalmatian winemakers making do with limited viticultural resources and draconian licensing laws.
Luckily we’ve come a wee way since then. These days, much of the countryside that was once grazed by sheep is now turned over to Chardonnay, Semillon, cabernet, and pinot noir. And our winemaking talent is renowned as some of the best in the world.
To get the kind of broad sample of vinous wares you need to make a really considered judgement, Hawke’s Bay is the spot to visit.
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. Few who endured the early 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.
Now, you can sit outdoors at Havelock North’s Black Barn, the sumptuous Craggy Range, or Clearview Estate in coastal Te Awanga – to name just a few – 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 morning, you can be sure there’ll be an abundance of locally-grown, seasonal produce there, too.
Cheers, New Zealand.