I didn’t have work last weekend, so I had this great idea. Why not combine two of my favorite things, flyfishing and wine tasting, in one road trip? It sounded like a plan that couldn’t fail. Hit a couple of wineries, many of which lie perilously close to fishable bodies of water, fish for awhile, then hit a few more wineries. What could go wrong?
Here’s the things about the male sex….those four words are often the last words we speak. Fortunately, I’m here to tell the tale and the only thing that was suffered was an empty creel.
But I’m ahead of myself. I woke up Saturday morning and spoke (Skype) to my oldest son Erik while enjoying some Peet’s coffee (Brazilian Peaberry) sent to me by my loving wife. I used to be a several (large) cups of coffee per day guy, but since I’ve been here I just have the one cup in the morning before work. On Saturday, though, I brewed a French Press carafe of the Peet’s and wasn’t keeping track of how much I was drinking (hmm… that may have been a theme for the weekend). I was enjoying the sun streaming in from my North facing dining room windows (‘North facing’ is a selling point of all Dunedin homes). Erik and I said our goodbyes and I got to planning my weekend road trip. Now that I think about it, planning a road trip hyped up on Peet’s coffee may explain a lot the mania of that day. “Let’s see, I’ll hit the first four wineries, fish from noon to three, hit two more wineries, then fish until it’s dark, then find a place to stay, but only after I drive all the way to Queenstown and somehow find dinner on the way.” That didn’t seem manic at the time, which I now see was a problem.
I made it about 40 minutes out of Dunedin and I needed to pee. Ah, caffeine, the magic medicine. Back in the car, and the same thing happened another 30 minutes later. That would have clued in a more observant person, but I was on a mission….. or pregnant.
My first stop was The Wooing Tree.
It was a beautiful day, as I drove along Lake Dunstan into the town of Cromwell. I had been here 4 weeks earlier, but now Spring was officially here. There were poppies and thyme blooming, and the Pisa Range, seen in the distance behind the winery, was still snow capped. The Wooing Tree is a family owned winery, like so many of the wineries in Central Otago. The owners purchased the land just a little over a decade ago but were they were not residents of the area (they were in the IT business) when the building and planting began, and as they were directing the clearing of the land (including cutting down some trees) the local townsfolk became quite concerned that one particular tree might be felled. The large tree, which still sits in the middle of the vinyard, was of such repute that not only is it said many a courtship began under the tree, but some of the local residents are said to have been conceived under the tree. Well. The tree stood, and still stands.
I meant to get a picture of the Wooing Tree, but even after the drive my attention span was that of a golden retriever in a crowd of well wishers all of whom were offering snacks of beef steak. So, no photo of the Wooing Tree. The tasting room was a fun little affair, offering not only wine but snacks and had an espresso machine. Not what I needed….was it?
The wines were excellent, as I expected. The pinots of Central Otago are very distinctive. The fruit, in the warm late summer heat, blossoms big, and a Central Otago Pinot is a very characteristic wine, full of cherries, plums, smoke and complexity. I was pleasantly surprised by their Chardonnay, as well. Clean, full bodied and just the right hint of oak.
Just a few km up the road, along the shore of Lake Dunstan and in the Lowburn/ Pisa Flats area was my next stop: Aurum Wines. These vines are basically planted on the 45 parallel, which is pretty cool (get it?). Another family affair, Joan and Tony Lawrence planted their first vines in 1997. Joan was doing the pouring when I visited the tasting room, this very cute yellow house in the middle of a lushly planted flower garden. She was so nice and told me the story of their little slice of heaven.
Joan’s husband, Tony, is an othrodontist. Their son Brook and his wife Lucie have extensive wine experience from Austrailia and Djion France, respectively. They have two children Mathilde and Madeleine, from whom two of the Aurum wines are named. The Lawrences have crafted their wines to be in many ways more subtle and soft than many of the typical Central Otago Pinots, but the fruit is still unmistakable. But I loved the style of the wines, particularly the Madeleine.
Another amazing find was that Joan had planted olive trees on their property. I noticed these when I drove into the winery.
I enquired about the trees, and indeed Joan said she harvests olives from them and makes olive oil (I tried it, it was really good and I bought a 250ml bottle) and these are reported to be the southernmost olive groves in the world. I’d believe it.
I then headed out to Lake Dunstan to stalk some brown trout. I walked a couple of km, saw no trout at all, and said to myself, ‘screw it, I’ll go taste some more wines’. And I did.
I drove back through Cromwell and headed East towards Queenstown. I made it only about 5km and then saw signs for Bannockburn ( a famous sub-region in Central Otago). Quick detour, then, and I veered left. Here I was treated to some amazing views before I came to the wineries. There were whole fields of poppies and thyme. I have seen field of poppies before when I harvesting seeds in Asia (just kidding, it’s the California State Flower), but I had never stood in a field of thyme (there is a pun in there somewhere). The scent was unreal. And, it made me hungry.
I had brought some nuts and fruit and quickly consumed these on my was to my stop winery stop. Which is my next blog post….