What? You never heard of Waipara? Yeah, neither had we. This smaller-than-little town (population <300) is about an hour north of Christchurch and is home to NZ’s fastest-growing wine region, a region that is sunny, dry, protected from the sea breezes, and in its infancy. We’re talking pre-tourist infancy; there is almost no nearby lodging. What is available is often makeshift to meet demand, such as a converted railway carriage. We do find a place, the (somewhat) converted barn of the historic Glenmark Vicarage (1907, at one point abandoned, the house being restored). The barn is very funky (picture); the kitchen is spare, the beds are upstairs in what was the hayloft, the bathroom is located downstairs, but quirky is OK. Open the hayloft 2nd floor doors to the outside world (the old pulley still present) and there is a nice breeze.
Some NZ wineries are rather big and make a lot of good, relatively inexpensive wine using machine harvesting and non-picky crushing. More often the wineries are small family affairs out to make the best possible wine they can using labor-intensive practices like hand harvesting, grape selection, stem removal, and gentle juice expression. These wines are usually very good (but considerably more expensive). Both approaches yield quite good wines, mind you, but the boutique guys are definitely a cut above. One of the big wineries here is Waipara Hills, making some nice wines. That’s Ginger entering the building, where we will sample about 10 wines at no cost (and her lips will go numb for several hours). One can not do too many of these wineries in one day, let me tell you. It is
hard work! We diligently find several favorites: Greystone, (their vineyard and one of their old vines shown below) who make a number of good wines, among them a fabulous
“pinotage” under their Muddy Water label; Waipara Springs, where Ginger got her doggy fix (left picture), and the amazing Pegasus Bay (pictures below). At Pegasus Bay we tasted many yummy wines (and bought a couple of bottles), and sobered up by treating ourselves to lunch at their restaurant (and had a couple of glasses of wine). Pegasus Bay has one of the finest winery restaurants in New Zealand (the reputation is quite an accomplishment – remember we’re in the boonies, and there is a lot of competition since wineries often work hard at being a gourmet destination). Perhaps you can see in the pictures below that lunch looks pretty good. The setting is French -chateau-like gorgeous as well. The grounds are as impressive as their wines, and the pictures below only hint at how pretty the gardens are. All in all, a pleasant if not utterly decadent way to spend a beautiful day.
Next stop – Christchurch.