Over the past two to three years, I have broadened my horizons when it comes to wine. Before then, I avoided the wine list mainly because there was a beer on the drink menu I wanted to try or because I knew nothing about wine. My wife Kari would give me a couple sips of whatever she was drinking while we were out and about, so I came to know what I liked. If I want a white, it’s Pinot Grigio, but if it’s a red, give me a Malbec. When I learned New Zealand was known for Sauvignon Blanc and that there were a few wineries just a 45-minute drive from Christchurch, I decided to check out the local scene.
My Internet searching brought me to Waipara Hills and its iconic stone building set among the picturesque Waipara Valley vineyards. I knew they offered samplings, so I approached the bar, eager to dive in with Dennis, the lucky (or unlucky) employee to take me in. When he asked me what I was interested in trying, I replied, “What do you recommend?” He came back with, “What do you usually drink?” I answered, “If I want a white, it’s Pinot Grigio, but if it’s a red, give me a Malbec.” Period, end of statement, no more to be said, but Dennis was looking at me, waiting to list off more wines. Reading the expression on his face, I let him know I usually stay in my lane with wine, so I will literally try just about anything.
As such, Dennis started me off with a Sauvignon Blanc that had a very intense fruit/sugar taste, which was way more than I had bargained for. I asked Dennis to turn it down in that respect for the next round, which he did with Gewurztraminer. Now, I couldn’t pronounce the name if my life depended on it, but I came to learn rose petals, lychee, cinnamon, and ginger are characters commonly found in the New Zealand version. This particular batch was stored in an oak barrel, and it was a wine I very much enjoyed. From there Dennis poured a Pinot Gris and Gruner Veltliner, which were good in their own right. At that point, I decided to end my wine tasting journey and asked Dennis for a glass of the Gewurztraminer and a cheese plate. I took a seat on the patio, took in the view, and did pretty much nothing for the next hour.
When Kari was in town the following week, we went to Terrace Edge Vineyard, which was just on the other side of the road from Waipara Hills. Terrace Edge is a much smaller operation but was equally enjoyable and has an awesome slogan: “A dramatic landscape captured in liquid form”. Who wouldn’t want to try a wine from a place like that! Jill the owner told us about all the different wines as we sampled them and how her family bought the vineyard on a whim in 1999. Her son even studied viticulture in college and now runs the day-to-day operations in the vineyard! In going to both wineries, the excitement Dennis and Jill had for their craft was obvious, and that’s one thing I noticed about New Zealanders during my time here: They are very proud and passionate about being from New Zealand and sharing whatever it is they love (wine, glacier hiking, etc…) with visitors.