Gibbston Valley Wine & Food Festival

Tasting at Gibbston

On a recent weekend, the dozen-ish vineyards in the Gibbston Valley held their annual wine and food festival. I like wine. I like food. I like festivals and sunshine and fun. Count me in! The event proved to be an awesome experience, but it wasn’t without a few disappointments.

The Gibbston Valley is home to a small sub-class of New Zealand’s Central Otago wine region. Like the rest of the region, it’s known for growing pinot noir, but a range of white wines are also produced. The valley is a short drive from Queenstown and about an hour from Wanaka, where we originated.

After we paid our entry fee ($15) we were given a tasting glass for the event that contained three small cards with winemaker logos. These represented free tastings at the corresponding tents. This was a nice touch; if we were just given three free tastings at the vineyard of our choice we would have probably picked the most well-known or critically acclaimed vineyards; or, actually, the first three we found. Their specific free tastings forced us not only to try new wines, but walk around the grounds searching for specific vineyards and seeing all else that was on offer in the process. Also, because there were four of us attending together, we were able to share tastes and get a bit from nearly every vineyard in the region. Standouts were: Highgate Reserve Pinot Noir 2009, Kalex Dry Riesling 2011, Kalex Medium Riesling 2011 (though I do have a bit of a sweet tooth).

In addition to the tents offering taste and glasses, there were blind tasting events and workshops throughout the day, led by winemakers and vigneron of the region.

The absolute highlight was the blending workshop ($10) lead by Sean Brennan. It was an opportunity to taste the 2012 Brennan pinot noir vintage straight from the barrels and create our own concoction. We sat down in front of four bottles from different clones and barrel types (old and new oak) and then blended them like mad scientists into a “finished” wine. They began as fizzy grape-like juice with biting tannins and emerged as something resembling wine! Sean tasted our concoctions, offered his opinions and we went back to the drawing board. It was amazing to see how a bit more of one kind of clone from old oak adds a completely different character. We really got to play winemaker for an hour.

So while the “wine” part of the festival was completely satisfying, the “food” part wasn’t. It’s not that the food was bad (it was good!) but when I think of a food festival, I imagine the best local chefs coming together to show off their finest creations. This was more a collection of the same half dozen food trucks that I’ve seen at events all over the area. They were good, but didn’t leave me wanting more. The event was definitely wine first, food second.

I’d recommend the festival to others and encourage you to attend the discussions and tasting events, but I suggest the organizers drop the “food” part of the name. It’s just a little misleading. Expect small crowds, lots of great Gibbston Valley wines and really knowledgable people giving you straight answers on both simple and complicated questions.


Real Journeys Does It Right


No, this post isn’t sponsored. We just really had a great time with Real Journeys.

Leaving Milford Sound with Zach’s mom and stepmom after having spent the night on the Milford Mariner overnight cruise, we were buzzing with satisfaction and picking apart the highlights of the last 18 hours, much like you might do after seeing an awesome concert. By awesome concert, I mean someone like Pearl Jam. An older band who have been putting on shows for twenty-odd years. For the Real Journeys tour company, rocking out is what they do every day.

The weather was clear, the jade colored water was sparkling, and the dolphins were a-plenty. We boarded at 4pm and were offered a bowl of mushroom soup. I suppose I was getting a little hungry, thanks Real Journeys for realizing that for me. We headed out past Mitre Peak, the tallest sea cliff in the world, while Kendra, our nature narrator explained how vegetation grows on the rock faces without any dirt. The loudspeaker system was set up so whether on deck, in the bar, or the bathroom, you could hear the announcements and Milford Sound trivia.

Mitre Peak, behind the boat, rises 5,551 feet straight up out of Milford Sound.

During afternoon activity time, Zach and I explored the coastline in kayaks while Pat and Lydia zipped around the bays checking out the Mollymorks, a type of albatross (albatrosian?) bird. We met back at the ship for a bottle of bubbly.

What a treat!

As the sun began to set, Kendra told us, “I see many of you are enjoying your cocktails. You might want to take them up on deck with you to check out the pod of dolphins that has come to play.” So, with a glass of wine in hand and the sun setting, we went onto the deck and watched the dolphins zip and dive and flip and swim around the boat until someone announced that dinner was ready.


Dolphins in Milford Sound at sunset

The staff anticipated every need and provided excellent service. Kendra’s nature talks never competed with the stunning sights of the sound and there were many moments of big, wondrous silence. The boat was immaculate, the food was good, the wine list reasonably priced, and even the 6:45am wake up call was as gentle as possible. We ate breakfast while the sound was still dark and watched the day lighten as we headed out to the feisty Tasman Sea. Adrenaline is never a bad start to the day!

Zach and I haven’t done something like this since being here in New Zealand. I often opt for a romp in the backwoods and write off cruises and tours as touristy. As if touristy is synonymous with tacky. But it’s not. Not when the service is subtle and the staff cares about everyone having a great time. At about $250 a head, the ticket was a special treat, but worth every penny. If you are ever in the Milford Sound area, treat yourself to a Real Journeys cruise. It was delightful.

The deets:
Milford Wanderer Overnight Cruise through Real Journeys departs from either Te Anu or the Milford Sound visitor’s center. From $189, though works out to be more like $250 in peak season.

It’s that Time of the Season

It is a strange thing being in another hemisphere from most of our friends and family. As we are enjoying the last of the long evenings and noticing that mornings are nippier than usual, our friends in the states are thinking about the farmer’s market and pastel colored jeans.

Wanaka has already started emptying out and is making it’s way back toward the quiet town we landed in in November. Since Christmas, it has been buzzing with bus loads of 19 year old German sightseers, timesharing Aussies, and Kiwis in town for weddings. Last weekend was the Wanaka A&P Show, which was a bit like the local version of Labor Day Weekend. One last big party.

Horses frolic in Lake Wanaka after the A&P Show

This weekend marks the first of our friends to leave town. On to Bali, Norway, Figi, England, Vietnam, and Prague, virtually everyone we have become friends with is moving on in the next month. Some will come back in June to work and take advantage of the skiing at Cardrona and Treble Cone, and some won’t. I have to admit, all this talk of Lonely Planet guides, cheap Air Asia flights, and hole in the wall restaurants has a part of me itching to hit the road again.

And we will continue on, just not right now. Because right now we are up to something. Our decision to stay in Wanaka through the winter wasn’t difficult. I have just moved from dishwasher to line cook at the restaurant and am excited about work, excited to learn and to get better at working on the line. I learn a new skill or recipe new every day, be it how to make home made marscapone, flavored olive oils, or chocolate truffles. While I work in the kitchen, Zach will start a new job working at the pizza truck, and we try to find a balance between climbing, skiing (!!) and saving a bit of money for flights to India in September.

The people we met here were a major reason that we decided to stay in Wanaka back in November, but as the summer comes to an end and those people continue their travels, we are here, ready to make new friends and continue to learn about food and potential business options from our posts in the kitchen and on the food truck.


Cheers to a great summer and a new chapter in Wanaka!



Joel Salatin in Wanaka


Last week I went to a talk by Joel Salatin, the influential, self-described “lunatic farmer” profiled in The Omnivore’s Dilemma and many other publications. Salatin has been an important part of my conversion to food activism, so I was excited to hear what he had to say. I bought my ticket in advance – actually, so far in advance that I had ticket #1. I convinced a few friends on the fence to come, insisting that Salatin was a dynamic and engaging guy, and that he would put on a good show. I was half right.

Salatin is far less well-known here in NZ than he is in the US, so I wasn’t sure what to expect as far as turn out. I arrived a few minutes early to get a decent seat, and was pleasantly surprised by the number of people in the crowd. I snuck up front and sat next to an older couple that were getting involved in the local and sustainable agriculture movement after careers as high country sheep farmers. The rest of the room appeared to be folks from similar backgrounds: small farmers, younger activists, a dread-locked woman with a “McShit” t-shirt; an easy audience for a seasoned speaker like Salatin.

After a short introduction he came out to a warm welcome and quickly launched into his brand of farmer schtick. He talked about the evils of concentrated animal feedlot operations and the health benefits of food produced naturally. “Great,” I thought, “here comes the big finish.” But there was no big finish. He didn’t delve into any information that isn’t already better explained in his books. In fact, many talking points were repeated word-for-word. This left little time for discussion, and after a few massive softballs a good question came from the audience: “What do you do to replace the biomass that leaves your farm?” This was acknowledged as an excellent question and then forgotten as he spun into a discussion of integrating systems at the farm. I’m still curious about the answer.

I left disappointed and a little upset that I recommended the event to friends. I expected an enlightening discussion of new ideas and a real dialogue with invested parties and their unique problems so that we could all learn from the specific set of challenges that farmers in New Zealand face, which are undoubtedly different that the problems Salatin faces in Virginia. Perhaps he’d even learn something from us. But instead I got preached to as a member of the slow-food choir and a thinly-veiled public stroking.

Furthermore, Salatin’s delivery comes off less as the nice neighborly guy and more as a condescending know-it-all. His jokes were cheesy and he mixed in advanced vocabulary that felt as if it were pulled from a thesaurus to make him sound more polished and professional. Unless you’re speaking to a room full of mathematicians, calling something a “sigmoid curve,” when “s-curve” will do undermines the message. He talked AT us instead of speaking TO us.

Of course this doesn’t change the fact that I still agree with a lot of what Salatin says (though definitely not all), and I think he’s done the world a lot of good by preaching his message. I suppose I’ll just need to find another farmer rock star’s poster to hang on my bedroom wall.


Preserving the Summer


For all you northern hemisphere folks, spring is on its way. But  here in New Zealand, winter is coming. We are taking advantage of the summer’s bounty so we can continue to eat well while our favorite flavors become so last season.


You say PAP-ri-kuh, I say pap-REE-kuh


What’s paprika? No, I know its a spice. I know its red and comes in a few varieties. Its taste is kind of hard to describe. But where does it come from? Is it a seed like cumin or pepper? Is it a leaf like basil or sage? Is a fruit? Does it grow on a tree? As it turns out, it’s a vegetable.

Paprika is literally dried, ground, and mixed bell and chili peppers, or “capsicum” if you consider tea a substance worth warring over. In fact, the word “paprika” means “pepper” in Hungarian, which is where the spice is commonly produced.

To add to the confusion, there are a number of varieties of paprika beyond just the “hot” or “sweet” versions that we’re used to in America. From Wikipedia:

• Special quality (Különleges) the mildest, very sweet with a deep bright red color.
• Delicate (csípősmentes csemege) – color from light to dark red, a mild paprika with a rich flavor.
• Exquisite Delicate (Csemegepaprika) – similar to Delicate, but more pungent.
• Pungent Exquisite Delicate (Csípős Csemege, Pikáns) – an even more pungent version of Delicate.
• Rose (Rózsa) – pale red in color with strong aroma and mild pungency.
• Noble Sweet (Édesnemes) – the most commonly exported paprika; bright red and slightly pungent.
• Half-Sweet (Félédes) – A blend of mild and pungent paprikas; medium pungency.
• Strong (Erős) – light brown in color, the hottest paprika

I’ll try pretty much anything described as “Pungent Exquisite Delicate.”


Building a Keyhole Garden

Need a project for your WWOOFers? Check this out:


Step by Step, it Comes Together


It’s almost noon and I’ve been laying in bed, drinking coffee, reading Lucky Peach and making diagrams of salads…ehm… doing research all morning. Last night was a big night: I worked the larder station for the first time on my own, which was exciting and scary and fun all at the same time. I went to bed quite pleased with myself for not screwing anything up, dreamed about the meat slicer (affectionately), and woke up totally inspired. Not inspired to get out of bed or even to make breakfast, but rather to read food porn, brainstorm delicious meals and take notes on things that I want to eat around the world. (Melbourne and San Sebastian, we’re coming for you!)


I’d been brainstorming what to make for dinner when Zach’s mom, Pat, and step-mom, Lydia, come in ten days. The cooks at work say you don’t make friends with salads, but I beg to differ. Especially when there is cheese involved. As I fantasized about paper thin slices of beetroot, I remembered that the tools that we have in our kitchen are all from the Op Shop and the knives smush tomatoes instead of cutting them. This beetroot carpaccio would be impossible given our pathetic assortment of tools.

I ordered two knives a few weeks ago and have been anxiously awaiting their arrival so that I can practice chiffonading basil and dicing mire poix at home. Feeling slightly dejected that they had yet to arrive, I got up to pee, when what did I see, but a package for me!

A package containing the sexiest knives I’ve ever laid eyes on!

No one was home to share in my excitement, so I skipped around the house in my underpants, clutching my package, giddily looking for something sharp enough to get through the packing tape. I laughed out loud (innocently at first, then maniacally) when my new knife slipped through a potato like it was room temperature butter.

The big boy. Little brother not pictured.

Today is going to be a Very Good Day.

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