Indulgent Weekend

By Insider – Suzanne Peri-Chapman

No, I didn’t spend the weekend in a luxury spa resort. I went to the inaugural Indulge Marlborough event in Blenheim, followed the next morning by the Kaikoura SeaFest.

Indulge Marlborough is a lovely event where they introduce the new kids on the block…the 2011 Sauvignon Blanc wines produced locally. The wineries of Villa Maria, Dog Point, Astrolabe Wines, Wairau River, Hunters, Tohu, Forrest Wines and Whitehaven all had tastings of a range of their wines, including the latest Sauvignon Blancs. The event is held in Blenheim, in a venue that from the outside looked industrial and uninviting, but was transformed inside with loads of hanging fairy lights and nicely themed decor. A glass of Forrest bubbles on entry got things off to a good start, and then it was on to mingling, sniffing knowledgably, tasting, grabbing a canapé made of local delicacies from a passing tray, more sniffing, more tasting….you get the idea.

There was a nice moment where the wines were formally welcomed to the world. A Maori conch call announced a traditional Maori welcome first, then from the group a young woman emerged wearing a Maori cloak, and playing Vivaldi’s Spring on her violin. She moved through the crowd, followed by waiters bearing one each of the new wines on trays. They got to the stage area, and each wine was introduced to applause from the enthusiastic crowd, who by now had sampled a certain amount. It was a nice segue from Maori culture into viticulture.

There was a noticeable difference, when tasting, between the young  2011 wines and some of their older siblings – one or two of the youngsters should perhaps have stayed in the playpen a little bit longer before being bottled, but overall most enjoyable. This was followed by the fashion parade – not sure of the connection here, as the designers were not local to Marlborough.  Perhaps the focus for next year could be more about wines and food, the local strengths. However, it was a lovely occasion, and is certainly one for the calendar next year.

Fortuitously, it occurs on the same weekend as Kaikoura’s Seafest, which has been going since 1995, on the first Saturday of October. Well worth the drive into the Alpine Pacific Triangle, as they are now calling it, along the coast until the mountain range looms into view – snowy at this time of year. Walking up to the entry to Seafest, it was clear the organisers had done this before – fast entry with pre-purchased tickets, a quick wristbanding, map collection and a choice between either a wine glass or a beer glass on a lanyard, and we were in. The glasses on lanyards are presumably so that one can have a bevvie or two, while keeping the hands free for buying and consuming seafood.

Kai means food, in Maori, and koura means crayfish, so you can expect to find a fair amount of crayfish around. First stop through the gate was Hapuku Kitchen, a new entry to the SeaFest and the area. Hapuku Kitchen’s philosophy is a commitment to reconnecting the kitchen with the land and sea.  The aim is to create a place where people can experience the best New Zealand produce and rediscover the simple pleasures of growing, gathering, catching, cooking and sharing quality food with others. They had a truly tasty paella there at Seafest, made from local produce including saffron from  Canterbury – who knew saffron was grown in Canterbury? Apparently, the ideal climate for it.

On to the next discovery – Kina shots. Kina is the Maori name for a type of sea urchin that lives in New Zealand waters. The Kina was presented in little shot glasses – my friend bravely chugged one, and pronounced it superb. I wonder what a Kina shot would be like with a dash of NZ vodka? Later in the day, of course.  While on the subject of alcohol, there was rather a lot of it at the SeaFest – some nice local wines to be sure, but also those alcopop sort of drinks that appear at every festival.  Might be good if the organisers could be stricter about featuring local produce.

As you would expect loads of sea food options to be had at SeaFest – paua fritters, whitebait patties, scallops, mussels  and of course crayfish. I was in search of the unique seafood experience, so got a bit excited to find a crayfish pie on the menu of Kai Pies. We went halves – delicious. Restaurateurs take note –  I’d like to see crayfish pies on more menus, please.

We sat on a bench in the sun, eating pie, breathing in the sea spray and listening to the country music from a live band – could have stayed for a leisurely few hours quite happily.

So, a good weekend, and a good combination of events – local produce playing the starring roles. Makes you realise how lucky we are to have such wonderful local food and wine.

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