Marlborough (wine) Country

I can’t stop thinking about Marlborough.  It wasn’t the wineries.  They were nice and all, as is the point of a cellar door.  It wasn’t even the wine.  I’m just not that big a fan of Sauvignon blanc, the regions claim to fame.  It was the clouds.  Viscerally speaking Marlborough was one of the prettiest wine regions I’ve visited.  It seemed like the clouds would decorate the sky a bit different everyday.  Combined with the fall color on the vineyards and the dry hills surrounding the valley, this wine growing region provided all the contrasts for stunning scenery.

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Scones. If apple pie is American then scones are all New Zealand. On a picky side note they are pronounced ‘scahns’ here. Do those of Brit decent not know what a long O sounds like?

I’ve payed close attention to these goodies since arriving last November. By close attention I mean eating as many of them as possible. They are very different to the same named product back home. I made a decent cinnamon scone in Lexington. Ate a few really dry ones at different cafes until I learned better than to order them. Here though the scone is like a buttermilk biscuit plus something. That something could be dates, raisins or perhaps cheese with a bit of spice.

So of course now I must learn to make these treats as I can’t go back to America with out keeping perfect New Zealand Scahns in my life. Luckily we are house sitting for some Kiwis who know food. We spent a couple weeks with them before they left us here with their house and perfect scahne making kitchen. Advice was given.

“My mother used only butter knives to mix the dough.” “You MUST sift the flour and baking powder!” “Keep the dough cold.” “Mum grated in the butter.”

Various recipes were consulted. Different baking temps tried. And finally magic: yummy, buttery date scones. Here is the basic scone recipe from Edmonds, the historic, iconic New Zealand cookbook. •

Best Ever Scones
   Preparation Time: 10 minutes  
Cooking Time: 15 minutes

3 cups Edmonds standard plain flour                                                                                                                                                                                                                         
6 teaspoons Edmonds baking powder                                                                                                                                                                                                                      
¼ teaspoon salt
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           75g butter
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          1 – 1 1½ cups milk, approximately
 extra milk for glazing

Preheat oven to 220C.  Sift flour, baking powder and salt into a bowl.  Cut butter in until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. 
 Add 1 cup milk and mix quickly with a knife to a soft dough, adding more milk if needed. Knead a few times. 
Lightly dust an oven tray with flour.  Press scone mix out on floured bench or tray, cut into 12 even-sized pieces.  Place on oven tray, brush tops with milk and place in top half of oven to bake. Bake scones for about 10 minutes or until golden brown.  Once golden brown with crisp crusts, remove from the oven and allow to cool. Cooling on a rack will give you crisp crusts, while covering them with a clean tea towel will give a soft scone. 
 For Date Scones add 3/4 cup chopped dates, 1TBS sugar and 1/2 tsp cinnamon to flour before adding milk. Before baking sprinkle scones with mixture of cinnamon and sugar.

Croissants Here!

Finally we are back on track to updating the blog. We have lots to share from our South Island travels of the past couple months plus updates about our current happenings as winter caretakers at an estate on Banks Peninsula. So hang with us as we bounce back and forth between stories from today and two months ago. Here is the tale of our first experience on South Island.

We arrived on South Island with plans to WOOF at Windsong Orchard. Our motivation to WOOF in Marlborough was to have a few afternoons free to sample wine from this NZ’s most prestigious wine region. Little did we know that wine tasting would be overshadowed by an interesting hosts and new experiences.

First the hosts Jennie, a native Kiwi is married to Bob a one time California boy who has called NZ home for thirty years. They have a couple grown kids, great sailing stories, and energy to protest all that is wrong with the world.

We arrived at their place in prime feijoa season. This funky fruit falls off the tree when ripe and then is picked up off the ground. Also there were rows of blueberry bushes in need of layers of fresh compost, hard work but at least it burned up the wine calories.

Then it was the day for the weekly Marlborough Farmers Market.  We were to sell feijoas for the Windsong booth.  Oh no the breakfast booth was shorthanded! Jennie who also helps manage the market quickly loaned us out to help out with that far busier booth. Ran by New Zealand chef, Chris Fortune this booth had a kitchen set up in a tent with several people urgently preparing very popular venison wraps. We didn’t help with the wraps although we did eat them. Instead we helped with their other ever so popular item, croissants. Now I adore croissants. In my world a good croissant has super powers. Serving croissants to other adoring pastry fans was a great treat. The day ended with Steve and I walking the grounds of the market selling the last few croissants two for one.  I like this life.

That’s Amore

Is it possible to have a one night stand with a restaurant? Oh yes, it is.

Looking for adventure and whatever comes our way, we left Gisborne and drove three hours south to Napier. Napier is not much larger than Gizzy but it feels very different. Thanks to a 1930’s earthquake much of the city was reconstructed in the Art Deco style. Interesting I guess but it doesn’t really turn me on.

Being located squarely in the prosperous wine region known as Hawke’s Bay gives Napier a little of that Napa style charm with numerous little gallerys selling expensive artisan jewelry. That’s nice and all.

Driving into town we made eye contact.  You were hanging out there on the corner, just beyond the posh boutiques, nearly in the shadow of the Pak’n Save. Red checkered curtains, the outside painted up like the Italian flag, no Cuisine reviews for you. Your sign had me at pizza and pasta. A brief discussion and knowing nods followed about how that would be the place for dinner.

We checked into our room, went to the uber-hip cafe for a late lunch, cruised the galleries, all in an effort to make the hours pass quickly until a reasonably hour was reached for us to settle in at Antonio’s.

Nervously we approached the building. It looked empty. With our luck it had probably been closed for months. No, whew, it was only the curtains blocking the people. We entered. Even with the door proped open on this fall evening the place still felt like a sauna.  Counter, kitchen, take-away area and tables were all there in one open room. A large pizza oven with no apparent venting reigned over the cooking area and created the sauna sensation with a smokey haze from the baking pizza dough lingering just above our heads.

We were seated. We were blessed with an overwhelmed waitress leaving us lots of time to linger with the menu. I hate being rushed through the ordering process. I need to consider all my options. After much deliberation, Steve picked a spinacci pizza. I went with chicken cannolini. Hearty Italian red wine for Steve and the East Cape’s own Tolaga Bay merlot for me.

As we waited for our food, we realized this was our first dinner at a restaurant since mid-January, and here is was mid-April. Take-out or in Kiwi speak, take-away is the thing to do in Gisborne. We did this a fair amount. Take-away fish-n-chips on the beach with a bottle of bubbly- lovely!  And Gisborne does have a couple nice restaurants. I never went to them. I have no love for fine dining. I do love good food but nothing leaves me less satisfied than spending heaps of money on fancy food.

What Gisborne and our lives have lacked for the past few months was a place like this. I must admit Lexington had plenty of good, cheap eats. I do miss that, good food without any mark-up to pay for tasteful decor or an ocean view. Old wine bottles holding candles and vintage Italian posters gave Antonio’s a grungy charm that would make me a regular for years to come- except I don’t live in Napier, New Zealand. So for me amore it was one night only.

The evening ended with strudel and more conversation. A dreamy discussion about our completely wonderful honeymoon in Italy and how a future crazy scheme must include a lengthy stay there. And that strudel, what a lovely apple, almond, creamy concoction that was.

Oh Antonio’s, I will always love you.

Chicken Legs

“What is he drunk?” I thought to myself.

“Oh for Pete’s sake, I could back a trailer better than this guy!” I mumble under my breath.

“Whoa don’t take out the freakin’ gate!  Umm the gate.  GATE!” I silently scream.

“That’s good!”, I yell out raising my hand up into the halt position.

Well, good enough.  The tailgate let out loud thunk as I popped the handle.  Sweet sticky juice sprayed out soaking my sleeve.  Whoosh!  A sudden burst of air, a face full of spray and it was done.  Ten tones of grapes lay in the bin ready to be crushed.  The first of many loads of Reichensteiner scheduled for delivery that night.  Seems the driver was new to the scene.  So was I.  It was going to be a long night.

So began one of the more memorable nights of my first vintage.  A few days into working the night shift at a winery in New Zealand and I discover the worlds worst truck driver.  OK, maybe not the worst but this guy wasn’t going to win any awards for driving in reverse.  I could only hope it would get better as the night went on.  For me it did.  Once I checked the load and collected the dockets I could get the paperwork back to the press area, fill it out and still make it to the top of the ramp to line him up.  Efficiency thanks to inexperience.  Of course once atop of the ramp there was nothing I could do but stand there and watch.  And wait.  Watch him approach and re-approach.  Wait as he stalled out his rig.  Watch as he straightened the wheels to perfection only to cut them back the wrong direction.  Sigh.  Long night.

It got so good I had to tell the others, at one point all the press guys were on the catwalk watching this guy try to back a truck up a 50 meter ramp.  I was around back filling out paperwork.  The hours ticked on and on as his loads of grapes would trickle in nothing like clockwork.  Sometime in the middle of the night, maybe the one AM hour…I don’t remember, someone rang from the vineyard wondering where the driver was.  Not here, he left an hour or so ago.  With nothing left to do around the winery but wait on grapes everyone had gathered in the break room.  Just a couple of more loads.  Next thing we knew there he was standing at the door mumbling something about a broken accelerator cable, asking to use the phone.  Long night indeed.

The situation improved over vintage but not tremendously.  He never came as close to taking out the gate as he did on the first night.  Got better about not stalling the truck mid back up.  But he still did ‘the caterpillar’, as my favorite driver of the bunch described it, when he hustled to get his truck off the ramp as to not get hit by the bad backer.  Yes, this driver’s skills were that dodgy.  Better to give him room than to add another obstacle for him to potentially back into.  There were bright spots.  To his credit he didn’t spill a lot of grapes.  Once when I grew tired of his attempts to line up I haphazardly called him good.  Oppps.  We’d have a little more to clean under Bin 2 that night.  As vintage rolled on it was still so bad that Jill wanted no part of it.  “I’m not backing him up.”, she’d insist.  So there I was at the top of the ramp waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting.  A few times I’d just pull up a slab of concrete and sit there at the top of the ramp and wait.  Not like I could direct him anyway.

As the weeks went by and vintage was in full swing I was working overnight 12 hour shifts.  Whenever I saw that cab over and trailer pull up in front of the winery I knew not to get in a hurry.  After all, we had all night.  Sometimes I thought he was going to need it.  Standing at the top of the ramp I’d start waving him back as soon as he got his rig straightened.  Then he’d veer off course, roll back down the ramp and start all over.  It was my very own March madness, not the same one I had grown accustom to living in Kentucky.  It would always take him multiple goes.  I think he knew we were all laughing at him.  He didn’t care.  He did his job and I would do mine.  As soon as he got that rig backed up the ramp.

According to a fellow co-worker this guy had classic Kiwi legs. The affectionate nickname was born.

Flying High

With a slightly shorter than usual harvest our winery jobs have come to an end. While thankful for the experience it left me feeling a little incomplete, but maybe it is supposed to, after all someone will have to look after the grapes next year.

Big cheers to our great group of co-workers representing Chile, France, Spain, Australia, Canada, the States, of course, and hometown Gisborne.  Early on one of our co-workers renamed Steve. Just call him Jack.


Our jobs ended on a high note. Instead of the typical boozy end of season staff party our employers provided helicopter rides. Everyone seemed to get a kick out of cruising over Gisborne’s always picturesque hills and beaches.

On Bourbon

I knew I was in trouble the moment I stepped off the plane in Auckland.  At six something in the morning, in the wrong hemisphere, I found myself at the duty free shop face to face with overpriced bottles of Kentucky’s less than finest bourbon.  Why, oh why did I bother to look?  Maybe it was my jet lagged mind trying to connect with something familiar.  Maybe it was the women handing out the free chocolate at the door. Most likely it was because I had to walk right through the duty free to get to customs.  Funny how they arrange that.  Whatever the reason, there I was staring at a sobering reminder of what I already knew.  The ready supply of top shelf bourbon at low prices doesn’t exist in New Zealand.  I thought to myself, “This is going to be a long year.”

My friend Eric had warned me about the bourbon conundrum.  If I wanted to drink some good stuff, I better bring my own.  So I did, one bottle of Rowan’s Creek single barrel.  Really?  One bottle? Was one bottle enough for twelve months?  Seeing the selection and price at the duty free shop in the airport of the country’s biggest city the answer was simply ‘No’.  But would it be that bad?  Bourbon whiskey has become a world wide phenomenon, surely I could refill with some Maker’s Mark or, in a pinch, Wild Turkey somewhere in kiwi land.  Besides with summer coming on, I won’t be drinking that much bourbon.

My spirits didn’t improve much after a week in the country.  As we popped in and out of bottle shops, I again found myself wandering by the liquors.  The selection and the price where less than spectacular.  I just didn’t know if I could bring myself to pay upwards of $50 NZD for a bottle, only 700mL,  of Jim Beam or Southern Comfort.  I had graduated from Beam before I graduated college, no way could I revert.  Forget Maker’s, that was the stuff duty free dreams were made of.  In the retail stores I was faced with some well brands and some new labels including something called Woodstock.

Bad idea, awesome bumper sticker.

A troubling trend in New Zealand is the sale of what I’ll call pre-mixed cocktails.  Maybe its because 18 year olds can legally drink, but whatever the reason this stuff seems pretty popular.  You can buy your gin and juice, vodka and lemonade and worst of all bourbon and cola.  There are several bourbon varieties like Diesel, Kentucky State and Woodstock.  Seems you can get your favorite bourbon all done up with cola.  One stop shopping saving you the trouble of playing DIY bartender.  I’d liken it to walking into Big Daddy’s there on the corner of Woodland and Euclid and being able to buy Beam and Coke married into one on your way to Commonwealth Stadium.  Now that is a scary thought.

In the name of scientific research there was a taste test conducted with the Woodstock Boubron & Cola.

With less sugar, and less alcohol by volume, the Hard Cola tasted every bit as bad as regular.  Theory confirmed, rubbish indeed.

Speaking of mixing, any good Lexantonian knows that certain carbonated drinks go well with bourbon.  OK, only one.  Ale-8 One.  Commonly called a Jitter Speedball or a Kentucky Cocktail, Ale 8 and bourbon are delicious and decisivley Kentucky.  When I discovered L&P I knew I had to try it with bourbon.  The result was…interesting.  And while I won’t be pouring many Kiwi Speedballs during my stay here, I can say I tried to bring two cultures together.
Not quite like home.

So here I am three and a half months and 8,541 miles from the Commonwealth into this adventure nursing a self imported bottle of bourbon.  Luckily I’ve discovered Liquorland.  Their bourbon selection is nothing to sneeze at.  Jim Beam, Old Crow, Wild Turkey, Bulleit, and Bookers.  Of course at 73 bucks for Bookers my wallet would probably give way to Old Crow, a frugal option at $39.  After all this is New Zealand, not Liquor Barn.  Its going to be a long year indeed.