1200 miles (1900km) in a week amongst some of the most beautiful scenery. Yes, a long way and with winding roads not a quick route but, my oh my, it was good.
We criss-crossed from Queenstown via Franz Josef to Christchurch, Hanmer Springs and then Nelson on the north coast of South Island. The Franz Josef and Fox glaciers were one of the main attractions and we did see them but we had the only day of heavy rain in a month and so could not get to them. Nonetheless the journey, through mountain ranges, rainforest and limestone valleys was spectacular.
Christchurch is a city recovering from earthquakes in 2010 and 2011 which caused 185 deaths and much damage. CCTV footage in the Quake City exhibition showed just how frightening things were. The Cathedral was the most prominent building to be damaged and it still stands looking forlorn, work will start in the next few months to take it down and then rebuild. Meanwhile an amazing ‘cardboard’ Cathedral is serving parishioners made from shipping containers, large cardboard rolls and plastic sheeting.
Hanmer Springs was a very relaxing spa village in the hills to the NW of Christchurch, we passed through part of the Waipara Valley wine region to get there. And, so, on to Nelson. A compact city with a central area containing restaurants and bars etc, I can recommend Urban for its modern, sharing tapas style but most of all The Cod & Lobster with an excellent value fish and seafood sharing plate.
Pinot Noir grapes still on vine
Nelson is a wine region but wine is not the only focus. This is a region of rich agriculture, fruit in particular, sheep and cattle too. Interestingly it is home to a rich tradition of growing hops for brewing beer and they have an excellent worldwide reputation. Wine is a relative newcomer to this farming and growing history but is making an impact already.
I have bought cases of Neudorf wine in the UK and have always rated them highly. It was therefore, a good opportunity to visit the winery in the hills to the West of Nelson. We tasted a few of the wines, it was very busy being Easter Saturday and their restaurant was doing a roaring trade in the sunshine. I must blame Jeff Coutelou for changing my taste in wines. I found the wines very precise and well made but I wasn’t excited by them even the Rieslings which I have always particularly enjoyed. The older Moutere Pinot Noir 2010 was richer and more fruity than many of the Otago Pinots of the last week. These are good wines, undoubtedly, probably not my personal style these days.
I also went to visit an organic producer, Mahana Estate, also in the Moutere hills. We tasted a good range of white and red wines as well as a Clairet style light red. The wines are unfined and unfiltered, made using biodynamic methods and only lightly sulphured at bottling. The wines had a freshness and energy which I have found lacking in many NZ wines. The estate is experimenting with techniques such as open fermentation to produce wines such as the ‘Feral’ white. The wines are made in a modern winery, complete with grassed roof and using gravity fed cuves. We ate a delicious lunch in the restaurant looking over the hills and the vines covered, as ever, by nets.
I tasted other Nelson organic wines from producers such as Greenhough and Richmond Plains which were quite pleasing but Mahana certainly hit the right notes more than the others, to my palate. Time to move on again, to the largest of New Zealand’s wine regions, Marlborough.