Tuesday, March 01, 2005

In Praise of Small Wine Festivals

I've been to one of the biggest New Zealand has to offer - Ellerslie - and another failry big one, Wellington. Yes, they have a lot of different wines to try, far more than anyone could sensibly try and still hope to leave under his own volition. And yes, they have lots of interesting and exotic foods, things you don't ordinarily see other than at places for serious food geeks. But there is a price. For a start, you have to queue for a mile to get the wine you want because, it seems, you only want the wine that everyone else does. And then, when you do get your wine - where do you go? There isn't anywhere to avoid the jostling crowds, no quiet space in which you can sit and sip quietly, maybe reading your book or listening to your music if you happen to be by yourself. Don't get me started on the toilets. And so your wine festival turns into a tension-creating monster, so that sooner rather than later all you want to do is flee.

But there is an alternative. The best wine festival I went to wasn't even a wine festival - it was a story-telling and poetry festival that just happened to be associated with a winery, and they'd invited a few of their wine making friends to bring along some of their product as well. And so we could be captivated by Kapka Kassabova, or Kate Camp, or Brian Turner as we sampled the vintner's skill. Heaven. Then there was the Masterton wine festival, a festival that isn't on the circuit in the same way, say, Martinborough or Marlborough is but actually has a big enough selection of wine to get you into a state that you can no longer move. And, lets face it, the reality is that for most people a wine festival is simply an opportunity to get out into the sun and spend a relaxing afternoon sipping wine, it doesn't really matter what wine except to those with specialised tastes.

Which brings me to Sunday. I doubt that many people out of the Otago region would be aware that there is a North Otago Wine and Food Festival, yet it is in its seventh year. In fact I was not aware of it until about a month ago. Central Otago, well yes, everyone knows there's an emerging wine scene there but NORTH Otago? That's Oamaru for the unitiated - they have a lovely public garden, albeit a bit too narrow at the highway end, so that you're never quite out of sight of a street, but go up the back and things widen out. And it was there that the North Otago Wine and Food Festival happens. The food part was not great - some Whitestone cheeses, some local breads, a bunch of local cafes whose most exotic food was rogan jhosh, a fellow from the polytech showing you how to cook a butterflied leg of lamb on the barbecue, a supplier of venison sandwiches and another of chicken and coriander sausages. There were maybe 8 different wineries, the local brewers supply store and Robson's brewery from Timaru, so not exactly an overwhelming choice when it came to wines.

But it was enough, more than enough for someone who had to drive. I could sit quite peacefully, enjoying Edding's Belgarian, getting up occasionally to replenish my supply of wine, or try out the venison sandwich. Or I could listen to the music, which was utterly classic for that sort of event - Run Around Sue, Mustang Sally and the like - done by a couple of guys (the VagueAs Brothers, who, according to their website, are "
Australasia’s Cabaret superstars") who were all about entertainment. Kids under 8 and adults over 63 danced to them, the rest sang along. Nice. What more do you need?


Blogger harvestbird said...

Oamaru is one of my favourite places!--it was where my grandparents retired to before relocating to Chch in the 80s, and I spent all my pre-teen school holidays there, including in the gardens.

And I think the VagueAs brothers are from up here as well--they supported Lenny Henry's show some years ago and did the music at the Concrete University Challenge the year I was on the winning team :-)

4:42 PM  
Blogger Barry said...

I don't know how I spent half the 80's in Dunedin without knowing anything about Oamaru. Its worse - I'd trot up to Kakanui to have meals with the family of a friend, but not go the extra mile and check out Oamaru - the old quadrant is cool, and Emma's cafe is pretty much worth the trip in its own right.

And you're right about the Vague As bros.

10:13 PM  
Blogger harvestbird said...

Kakanui's pretty great--and a long enough journey from Dunners. Plus Oamaru didn't (I suspect) get much of the atmosphere it now has until relatively recently--I think in the 80s the old quarter would still have been quite run down and either sem-industrial or deserted.

I sometimes think the Otago landscape doesn't lend itself so much to cruising from town to town as Canterbury does, what with the the hills and valleys and all. It becomes more difficult to pass through destinations (although that could be Chch talking again).

3:59 PM  

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