GO NZ: A Foodie Escape to Hawke’s Bay Bottling New Zealand

Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market. Photo / Kirsten Simcox

Kendall Hill argues this could be New Zealand’s true Bay of Plenty

If you could bottle New Zealand would it taste like?

Ignis Fatuus is the latest release from Hastings Distillers in Hawke’s Bay, a gin infused with the “blood” of the country’s forests. Specifically, the fossilized resin of ancient kauris collected from the Northland peatlands.

The founders of Hastings Distillers, Kate Galloway and David Ramonteau-Chiros, winegrowers by trade, aim to trap plants in a bottle. “That’s why we’re so happy with this (Ignis Fatuus),” says Galloway, “because it’s like New Zealand history, in liquid form.”

This story, in short. These are migrant gum seekers from Dalmatia (present-day Croatia) who arrived here at the end of the 19th century to harvest kauri resin, prized for jewelry and tattooing, as a varnish and fire starter. In a poetic touch, the basic spirit of Ignis Fatuus is an organic sauvignon blanc produced by the Babich family of winegrowers, also of Dalmatian origin. “We essentially made a young wine brandy, but in a very particular way”, explains Ramonteau-Chiros. Enticingly scented – the fragrant kauri smells a bit of incense or oud – slightly minty, with smoky black cardamom to mimic the scent of peat, it tastes as extraordinary as it sounds.

Hastings Distillers co-founder Kate Galloway.  Photo / Russell Taylor
Hastings Distillers co-founder Kate Galloway. Photo / Russell Taylor

Ignis Fatuus (“mad flame”) is one of the many gins served in new “tailor-made” tastings at this stylish distillery in the center of Heretaunga St.

The experience begins with a cocktail of their bitter orange liqueur L’Opera (very mature and delicious) and continues with three gins: East Block 200, a classic juniper hit from London Dry; Albertine, a sip gin that slowly and surprisingly reveals its character; and something seasonal, maybe some fall gin. Ignis Fatuus on request. Platters of good local products to accompany. (hastingsdistillers.com)

The Hastings Distillers Gin Journey is one of the many new attractions in Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand’s most delicious destination.

Bathed in sunshine, blessed with fertile soils and – famously – the nation’s food bowl, the region has been anything but inactive since the lockdown. Producers used the downtime to brainstorm, experiment, and add a slew of new offerings to its post-pandemic list. It may not be a coincidence that the shores of the east coast have seen record numbers of tourists. Hawke’s Bay has a moment.

It’s like the story of New Zealand, in liquid form.

Among the new arrivals, Mary’s, an offshoot of the Blue Chip Craggy Bay Winery, closed its two-hatch restaurant when Covid struck (craggyrange.com). As restrictions eased, the restaurant reopened in late May alongside a casual new restaurant called Casey’s Diner, according to chef Casey McDonald. He said to himself that the inhabitants would like to eat “well-being” in a relaxed setting, and he understood well. “We thought we would make 20-30 people, but we made over 100. Every night,” McDonald says with a laugh.

The restaurant closed in September, then reopened in November as Mary’s, in the foodie haven of Havelock North. A refined bistro of leather and granite, it pairs premium wines with decadent morsels such as whipped cod roe with thick chips and donut bread with cheese and garlic. It’s crowded most nights. (marys.co.nz).

Further down, in Te Mata Figs, Murray Douglas and Helen Walker added an orchard restaurant to New Zealand’s largest fig farm. Figgery Cafe celebrates Mediterranean fruit in all its forms, from fig granola and fig bread for breakfast, to lunch platters laden with steaming figwood smoked salmon, caramelized fig balsamic, walnuts to the turkish and log of figs with ginger and orange, drunk figs, Lebanese fig compote, Italian fig mostarda… “We use everything from the fig tree”, admits Douglas. tematafigs.co.nz

A visit with Te Mata figs from Hawke's Bay.  Photo / Suden Lakshmanan
A visit with Te Mata figs from Hawke’s Bay. Photo / Suden Lakshmanan

The visitor center of family-owned Arataki Honey is always popular for its child-friendly exhibits and immersive beekeeping tours. This month, it will kick off a new tasting experience combining five signature honeys with a generous spread of regional produce – from feijoas and roasted garlic to chocolate and cheese from local dairy Origin Earth. The rewarewa (honeysuckle) honey with aged sheep feta is amazing. (aratakihoney.co.nz)

Tasting at Arataki Honey in Hawke's Bay.  Photo / Alexx Hayward
Tasting at Arataki Honey in Hawke’s Bay. Photo / Alexx Hayward

At Bayside Haumoana, Coastal Wine Cycles have spiced up their rides. Wine master Simon Nash now leads bike tours of some of Hawke’s Bay’s top wineries. Pit stops vary but can include the decidedly modern Elephant Hill with its verdigris upholstery and Philippe Starck furniture, which reopens in September after the winter closure (elephanthill.co.nz). And the pioneer Clearview Estate, where bubbling host Tim Turvey serves his fine wines (including New Zealand’s most expensive white, the $ 175 Endeavor Chardonnay) alongside Mediterranean-inspired plates.

Cycle Cape Coast to Hawke's Bay with Coastal Wine Cycles.  Photo / Kirsten Simcox
Cycle Cape Coast to Hawke’s Bay with Coastal Wine Cycles. Photo / Kirsten Simcox

It’s a treat to sit next to the vines that have grown the same Riesling or Gewürztraminer that is currently bubbling around your mouth, made all the more memorable by Nash and Turvey’s engaging comments on the latest Clearview vintages.

Turvey attributes the success of his wines to sea breezes which chill the fruit and allow it to ripen longer, enriching the flavors. “You still have air flowing through the grape, which means we can hold and hold the fruit longer without any disease,” he explains. “It’s the secret, it’s freshness and longevity.”

Turvey bought land here 35 years ago and, along with his business partner Helma van den Berg, was one of the first modern winemakers to exploit these ancient ocean floors. He came here for the surf and still finds time to tackle the break with his right hand at the mouth of the Haumoana River. clearviewestate.co.nz

The cellar door at Hawke's Bay Clearview Estate is suitable for cyclists.  Photo / Supplied
Hawke’s Bay Clearview Estate cellar door is suitable for cyclists. Photo / Supplied

Nash, of British origin, is a great asset to have for the ride. As a Master of Wine, he knows his grapes and offers wise advice, which comes in handy if you’re planning to drop $ 175 on a bottle. winecycles.co.nz

Hawke’s Bay is the second largest wine region after the sauvignon blanc capital of Marlborough, but less famous and more diverse. Its strong points are syrah and chardonnay, and The Urban Winery – housed within the Art Deco-fabulous National Tobacco Company in the redeveloped docks of Ahuriri – offers a masterclass in the latter.

It’s the cellar door and the showroom bar of Tony Bish, the country’s chardonnay czar (that’s all he does). Book a premium tasting and start with her superb Fat & Sassy, ​​which General Manager Tighearnan “Tigs” Conran calls the “gateway medicine” for Bish wines. From there, crank up the Chardonnay register from skin fermentation to concrete fermentation and, finally, the Zen at $ 140 a bottle, matured in an eye-catching French oak egg that would have cost six figures. theurbanwinery.co.nz

Winemaker Tony Bish, left, and his team in the cellar at Urban Winery in Hawke's Bay.  Photo / Supplied
Winemaker Tony Bish, left, and his team in the cellar at Urban Winery in Hawke’s Bay. Photo / Supplied

Urban Winery’s bottle store features other producers in the bay, including smaller wineries without cellar doors. Don’t worry about unfamiliar labels, just rejoice in knowing that, as Tigs puts it, 2020 was “the best vintage ever.”

“And 2021 should be another bang,” he smiles. Hawke’s Bay has never looked so good.

FOUR ESSENTIAL BITES OF BERRIES

Sacred Monte truffles
Learn the secrets of breeding this elusive mushroom on guided truffle dog tours (by appointment) of the secret Sacré Monte grove. sacremonte.co.nz

Hawke’s Bay Farmers Markets
On Sunday mornings, dozens of the bay’s top growers lay their shingles in Hastings Waikoko Gardens. The diversity offered in this pioneering New Zealand product market is a sight to behold; there’s everything from black pudding and real French bread, to great coffee and comfort food. hawkesbayfarmersmarket.co.nz

Hawke's Bay Farmers Market.  Photo / Kirsten Simcox
Hawke’s Bay Farmers Market. Photo / Kirsten Simcox

Craggy Range Sheep Dairy
They are not open to the public, but you will find those of Kate and James Clairmont
excellent cheeses, including a Danish hazelnut danbo and a Roquefort-style blue at top local restaurants, such as Central Fire Station and Craggy Range Winery, and at their summer market stall at Black Barn Vineyard. centralfirestation.co.nz and Sheepdairy.nz.

Napier
It might be a cliché to mention Napier’s rich Art Deco heritage, but this coastal town really looks like a movie set frozen in time. Walk the Marine Parade on the Pacific Rim, feed rescued penguins at the National Aquarium, and reserve a table at the Pacifica Blue Lighthouse, one of New Zealand’s most exciting restaurants. pacificarestaurant.co.nz

WHERE TO STAY

Black Barn Vineyard in Havelock North is renowned for its amphitheater concerts and lively vine-covered bistro. Not to mention the wines. The 10ha property is also home to the Black Barn Retreat, a two-bedroom beauty crafted from recycled railroad lumber, dock beams and iron. With a full kitchen, barbecue patio, croquet lawn and tennis court, this is the ultimate (intimate) party spot. For larger groups, Black Barn manages 14 other properties of up to seven bedrooms – most next to Waimarama Beach and the Tukituki River, and most with pools, blackbarn.com/retreats.

Black Barn Vineyards, Hawke's Bay.  Photo / Richard Brimer
Black Barn Vineyards, Hawke’s Bay. Photo / Richard Brimer

Foodies may prefer The Manse, a two-suite lodge in the foothills above Napier with superb meals cooked by chef-boss Gary Grootelaar and the warm hospitality of his Dutch partner Dietske van Kessel, themanse.co .nz.
In the center of Napier, an Art Deco landmark, the Masonic Hotel has 43 rooms, six suites and panoramic views of the Pacific, masonic.co.nz.
hawkesbaynz.com

CHECKLIST: HAWKE’S BAY

DETAILSFor more things to see and do in the area, visit hawkesbaynz.com

For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, visit newzealand.com

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