To Hunter's. A very special place for me. And the reason we are here, really. It was Ernie Hunter who really convinced me - and the rest of the world - that NZ had amazing wines to offer the world. I'd been round NZ and thought the wines were nice in 1984? I think.
So … 25 years ago we did a sell-out offer of Hunters and the boy came over and wowed the crowds at the Sunday Times Vintage Festival. Hit headlines. Suddenly the world got interested in Marlborough. An Aussie then set up Cloudy Bay and did the best wine marketing anyone's ever seen.
My boy Henry has come, with Kaye and baby Eleanor to see his mate and what he can learn here about Sparkling winemaking especially. We get a glass of that with our bacon and eggs on Ernie's big outdoor griddle that I remember so well from 25 years ago. My granddaughter, from the far end of the table, sees me, recognises me, smiles and waves. For the very first time. I am smitten like a teenager! She has me under her thumb already.
After a bit of buying work for Dan and Jim taking some pics of me (we try recreate an old pic they have here of me, Ernie and their then winemaker John Belsham (who later became possibly our most successful Flying Winemaker ever). Ye Gods I've not aged well! Then Dan, Jim and me head off for Nelson.
You leave the vines of Marlborough valley and head into hills of pasture and pine. The road winds around and is not fast. No roads are, here. Beautiful though. They are shooting 'The Hobbit' by one rocky creek. (Advertised for 'Extras', but you either had to be very small or very huge and weird-looking).
Nelson – after an hour and half – is a sunny seaside place of bungalows scattered up hills. Views over a blue Tasman Bay. Lots of light.
First visit is Seifried’s. Mum and Dad are in Europe so Chris and his sisters take us up to their house above a little bay in which sits a rock that has become quite iconic in New Zealand. Their dad had the foresight to put it on his wine labels.
'Split Rock' is a big seller for us. The thing didn't look that big from their terrace as we ate our fish and chips and drank their lovely Sauvignon. But when we got on the boat and sailed over … it’s big. Everyone thought it would be a hoot to get old man Laithwaite on to it. So where are Health n' Safety when you need them? Waters deep and cold and choppy. One slip and …! Close run thing. The things I do to amuse my customers!
Didn't bottle out though.
We also did some work.
Then went to see Valley and Gary Neale at Brightwater. Really small producers; 18 hectares, but a VERY impressive wall of medals. This lovely couple keep it very simple. They don't want to get bigger. Just better. And they are doing it.
You visit, it’s just them or their vineyard manager in the shop above the cellars. Basic, but everything so very neat and sensible. They get quite a few of our customers visit. And send us any Brits who aren't Laithwaites – wish more producers were that organised. They are off tomorrow to Auckland to collect the National Trophy for their Chardonnay. We try that wine – named after Lord Rutherford who was from this tiny village. Deserved to win.
I ask Valley where she got her name. Coaxed out the answer. Her Dad played for Chelsea before emigrating! So Chelsea fans will understand. (And that's the second daughter of a Chelsea player I've known. The other was called 'Chelsea'!)
And then back to Marlborough.