Friday, August 22, 2008

Wine Tours By Bike

So once we arrived in Blenheim, and made sure that our hostel was adequate (clean being the number one priority), we headed off to taste the wines of Marlborough. Of course, the Kiwis do it a little differently... so we called this company, Wine Tours By Bike and this is what we did...

The owner, Nigel, picked us up at our hostel at about 10:30 and drove us to his house and office. We picked out a couple of bikes, adequately equipped with a saddles on the backs made for carrying 4 bottles of wine each. He then gave us a map of the wineries in the region, with his personal recommendations, biking distances, and instructions to be back by 5:00 or we would be calling a cab for ourselves, and that was really it! He sent us off with a, "You picked the perfect day! It's beautiful out! " Not that that really jinxed us, because we did, for the most part, have a beautiful day. About 55 degrees, sunny, but so so so WINDY!! We biked to the first winery, the Wither Hills winery, no problem. We spent about 30 minutes there and then decided to bike to one of the farther vineyards to get the longest stretch finished at the beginning (while we were still completely in control!)

All we had to do was cross 3 roads, and then on the right hand side, after the 3rd road, we would be there. Let me tell you, that sounded easy. But once we started going, it was uphill, and directly into the wind... and it was gusty, so strong, and unrelenting. It took us about 45 minutes to bike what Nigel assured us would take about 15-20 minutes. At one point, we both got off our bikes, took another look at the map to make sure we hadn't gone too far, and thought (at least, I thought), "This is not going to be worth it..." but we finally made it and it ended up being the hardest part of the whole day.

We left the second winery at about 12:30, and headed to the third, Highfield Estates, which Nigel had told us had amazing food and wonderful wines. We were greeted by a beautiful building up on a hill above its vineyards, old wood, and a lovely lunch room with spectacular views of the Southern Alps. We tasted 7 different wines there (yikes!) and shared the lunch platter for two, which was unbelievable. It had bites of mussels, salmon, seafood chowder, homemade bread, New Zealand olive oil, local olives, lamb, grapes, oranges, and everything else Kiwi. It was so awesome and a great way to break up the day.

After Highfield, we biked all the way to the farthest winery, Mahi, which was tiny, but I think our favorite. The lady was so nice (wining and dining her distributors who were there at the time) and the room really made the place. It was nice and toasty, with a fire going, and dark wood everywhere. We ended up buying 3 bottles there, mostly because they don't import to the US like the other wineries we visited.

After Mahi, it was about 3:00, and we booked it to the 5th winery of the day, Isabel Estates, which I think had the most beautiful setting of them all. We took a few "self pictures" there and tasted 5 of their wines.

After Isabel (about 3:45), we headed to a winery that wasn't far from Nigel's house (keeping in mind that we didn't want to pay the cab fair, and were in no condition to drive). I was thrilled to make the connection that being uphill, with the wind to our backs going away from Nigel's, we now had the benefit of downhill, wind to our backs. At the time, it was an exciting discovery.

We arrived at the last winery, to be greeted by a girl who had the most unusual accent. Turns out she was from Oregon and moved to New Zealand to be with her Kiwi boyfriend. Anyway, it was really good, and the best Sauvignon Blanc we tasted all day (the Marlborough "bread and butter" wine). We ended up buying a bottle and booked it out of there to get back to Nigel's by 5:00.

There are two fairly large details that I've left out here...

1) We went to 6 wineries and tasted between 4 and 7 wines at each... do the math. That's about 30-40 wines... you can imagine the trend in our bike riding ability, the quality of our conversation, and the acuteness of our palettes throughout the progression of the day.

2) We were biking through wine country in New Zealand. The vistas and surroundings were absolutely GORGEOUS. We were surrounded by the Southern Alps and vast fields of wineries on every side of us. The pictures don't even begin to do it justice. I've never been in a more beautiful place.

So that was our day yesterday. It was totally amazing and an experience that we'll both never forget. Tonight is the rugby match between Tasman and Hawke's Bay. We were told to wear blue and red (I'm not sure which team that is, but whatever). Good tip. Tomorrow we are driving to Kaikoura, where we'll do what I've been looking forward to this whole trip... WHALE WATCHING!! Write more then!

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