When I went to New Zealand in 1977 I was most fond of this giant lollypop I got somewhere in Palmerston North or Wellington. It was as big as my head. I had a five-year old head at the time. It was my own head, I wasn’t doing the Zaphod Bebblebrox thing and grafting an extra one onto my shoulders as a fashion statement. I probably would have had one of those giant lollypops grafted on though, just so I could turn around and lick it every so often. I may have even put up with having my head stuck to it when I rolled over in bed at night.
The 70s were like that, just one big pyscodelic swirling sugar rush on a stick.
I’ve been thinking about that lollypop for the last 30 odd years. I had thought the kiwis couldn’t possibly produce anything nicer. Until, I visited the Marlborough wine region on their south island.
The Marlborough wine regions screams out, “darlings, just forget the daggy oversized sheep’s wool jumper image you may have of NZ. Forget shooting deer in the head in the rugged high country of the Southen Alps after a few Lion Nathan brewery Steinlagers. And forget the fact white wine is really a girl’s drink. And after you’ve forgotten all that bring your whole family down to one of the most beautiful regions in the world and have yourself some wine and cheese“.
After a few glasses you’re able to also forget which way is up. When this happens you need to lay down on the lawn and roll over a few times. When the world stops spinning you’ll realise that it’s more fun when up and down are just blurred together, like the swirls of a giant lollypop.
Now there are many fine wineries to choose from in the Marlborough wine region. They are all over the place, and if you were really keen you could get on a bicycle and get drunk at as many as ten in one day. Just bear in mind that riding while drunk is, unlike shooting a baby deer in the head in the Southern Alps, possibly ‘illegal’ and you run the risk of getting run over by a passing tractor.
On this day, we only had time to get moderately tipsy at one winery, so we chose Cloudy Bay. For alternative locations you may try going and finding your own bloody vineyard. There’s maps and shit at places along the way – including the fabulous Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre we visited along the way, which like most of New Zealand nowadays, has a Lord of the Rings kind of connection given it’s partially Peter Jackson’s collection of planes. Frankly, although I am a LOTR’s fan, I prefer his earlier work, especially Bad Taste, which is a documentary about a typical New Zealand town in the late 1980s, which is visited by foreigners from out of space, with cameo appearances by a truck load of sheep’s offal, which will most likely put you off of your lunch.
Picture of Omaka below. It’s actually really good.
Cloudy Bay is run by the French. But unlike their colonial enterprises in Indochina, they have actually been successful in establishing themselves here without having to heard the locals in prison islands and despite a predominately beer-drinking culture. I wouldn’t call myself a wine drinker per se, but, it does contain alcohol, and around this region they are producing some of the most wonderful sauvignon-blancs that our children thoroughly enjoyed. Of course only in moderation – as we are not French ourselves! But seriously, we have found it does help take edge off long drives for the little ones. Just as my Irish grandmother found half a thimble of whiskey helped babies with their teething troubles.
As the wine passed my lips it was really like drinking from the nectar of the gods. It was really full of all the shit they write on the labels, like passionfruit favours and hints of tropical fruits and nothing at all like ethanol. Accompanied by a simple three cheese platter, and petite pieces of sliced baguette, I wouldn’t have minded if I’d been a fawn just been downed by a hunter and sent to deer heaven, as I lay slightly giddy looking up into the swirling sky.
The grass seemed so green, the distant mountains so peaky and the air so fresh. The Australian eucalyptus trees added that little touch of class that went well with the French accents of the owners and ever so friendly service of the kiwi waiters. It was the epitome of all that is good and bourgeois.
There’s really not much more to say about wineries. Like shampooing, you just have to rinse and repeat to keep enjoying the same refreshing blast to your head. And after two hours of my mind drifting through the clouds, a little bocce, some tubs of salted caramel New Zealand ice cream and swinging around in chairs under the Australian gums trees, we got another bottle for the road, ensured we all had an acceptable blood-alcohol content, and jumped in the SUV and headed back through the vineyard lanes, stopping for cherries along the way, adding another fine culinary memory to add to the lollypop.