Posts Tagged ‘Martinborough’

A week ago, we packed our bags and the car, and headed over the hill – this one – to stay overnight with friends at their charming cottage amidst an olive grove.

They welcomed us with a lovely late lunch of delicious dark, seedy bread and cheese and tomatoes and asparagus and pâté and salami, and of course, being in a wine town we had to indulge in some local rosé, which is always perfect for a summery lunch and for nibbling with fresh berries from the garden.

Then came the business end of the day, as the croquet lawn was calling to us, and the game of the day was Croquet Golf – or was it Golf Croquet? My husband and I have only ever played once, some years ago, but beginner’s luck must have been upon us, as we took the first game 7-4. The second game didn’t go so well, with my husband wondering aloud, after further fortification from the rosé, just why the ball wasn’t going straight anymore! By that time it was close to 5 pm, and we figured that it must be time for some champagne – of course!

After a delicious biryani dinner and more berries from their garden, we took to the lawn for the deciding game, although by this time, our croquet brains had decided that attack was the best form of defence, and we all aimed at each others’ balls as often as we aimed at the hoops to score points. Appropriately, our hosts’ years of practice paid off and they trounced us soundly, so we retired to the campfire, and as the sun set and the almost-super moon rose, we chatted and sipped some more; a perfect end to a perfect day.





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Just four days after my drive through Canterbury, my husband and I climbed in our car for another drive, this time over the hill but not so far away, just a little more than an hour really, though it was probably less as we had stopped in Petone for a Subway sandwich by the beach, foolishly thinking it would be quicker than making a sandwich at home, so it was really only 45 minutes from the foreshore with its view of the blue harbour on a warm spring day until we arrived in Martinborough, over the Rimutaka hills and their winding sometimes scary (but safer these days with the new highway) roads steeply up then down, through drowsy little Featherston, along the green plains and down into Martinborough, a charming wine village that was quite literally blooming with spring, with kowhai and cherry blossoms and rhododendrons in full colour, exuberant and joyful at the prospect of the coming summer; a wine village that is home to my friend Peony and her husband, (and various other members of her family who have followed her pilgrimage there) and to their olive grove and charming cottage and lavender and croquet lawn and quince trees in full flower, and their separate guest accommodation, thankfully not rented out this weekend but reserved for us, so we could go wine-tasting without fear at Palliser and Cabbage Tree and Martinborough Wines – where Craig last year bought a $70 bottle of pinot noir that he probably should have cellared for several years but couldn’t really (because of the flight home to Florida) so we drank it that night with Hells’ pizza – and on to Tirohana wines where we had tired of tasting and wanted simply to drink, so the chef whipped up a platter of cheeses to accompany a bottle of rosé and we sat on the terrace in the late afternoon sun before heading back to the cottage (though first we gate-crashed Peony’s sister to see her soon-to-be world-famous-in-New Zealand eco-house, completely off-the-grid and sustainable but with interesting modern design and a wine cellar to die for and a fabulous, drool-inducing chef’s kitchen, which is appropriate because the man of the house is a talented chef) where it was time to roast the lamb and ice the chocolate cake and drink some champagne and nibble on the sourdough bread dipped in olive oil made from the olives only metres from us, before eating the said meal and consuming more of the said champagne, and some delicious pinot noir we had bought earlier in the afternoon, and a nice nine-year-old syrah from the Gimblett Gravels about four hours up the road, and finally finishing the evening by looking at their inspiring photos (requested by us, not imposed by them I must stress) of their Peru trip earlier in the year (where I now really want to go though I will need to brush up on my Spanish) before collapsing into a warm and comfortable bed, exhausted by the talking but mostly by all that wine, where we quickly fell asleep, only slightly and ever-so-briefly unnerved by the complete and utter silence outside.


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Three years ago a friend and I were walking in the hills behind Portofino. I blogged about it on Mali’s Travelalphablog.

It was a steep climb behind Portofino, and the path, or more accurately the stairway, wound behind many houses. … At the top of the climb the landscape flattened, and we enjoyed magnificent views north along the Italian Riviera, and south to La Spezia. We walked through ancient olive trees, and saw some equally ancient Italian locals gathering the olives that had fallen from the trees, as they and their ancestors had done, no doubt, for hundreds of years.

For generations, families and communities have come together in the harvest. Working communally shares the load, completes a long task more quickly, and makes a laborious task more enjoyable. Living in a city, we don’t see this in the same way these days now, but as a child I remember neighbours and relatives joining together to help with the wheat harvest, or in working with the sheep. I remember the feeling of being part of something bigger, the laughter as we ate together, the relief when the job was done.

Last weekend, we responded to the call of Peony and Mr Peony, and along with members of her family, workmates, friends, and soccer team-mates, we converged on their property in Martinborough. Not too many years ago this area was full of sheep and dairy farms. Now the fields are filled with grapevines, producing extraordinary pinot noir, and sauvignon. And smaller plots are covered with olives. Which is why we made the trip over the hill – to help with their olive harvest. It was a social event, meeting new people as four or five of us at a time worked on a single tree. We stripped the tree of its olives, poured them into the bins, and moved on to a different tree, with different people.

The weather was perfect for the job at hand. Clouds hung low, but the rain stayed away, there was no wind, and the temperature was neither too hot nor too cold. At about 2 pm the gong sounded and lunch was served. We sat outside around a long table, resting gratefully in camping chairs and on the deck steps. After a busy morning filled with activity, lunch was welcome. We enjoyed lunch without guilt – untraditionally eating chili and rice and sangria (our hosts/slave-drivers had recently returned from Mexico) – and ate heartily. And I thought of those wizened old villagers and their forebears enjoying their lunches in the hills of Liguria after the olive harvest, now, three years ago, thirty years ago, three hundred years ago. Times change, but then again, not so much.

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Over the hill

I went over the hill today. (I’m not over the hill now though. Fortunately, it isn’t yet a permanent condition). It wasn’t a beautiful summers day. No, they were having a beautiful summers day down in Christchurch, amidst the liquefaction and crumbled buildings and crumbled dreams. I heard it was 30 degrees and sunny and warm there. Often, when it is a hot nor’wester in Canterbury, we also get a nor’wester here in Wellington and over the hill in the Wairarapa. But here we don’t get the lovely Cantabrian nor’wester I grew up with, the one that tortured us through university exams with thoughts of lazy days on the beach instead of studying, the one that hopefully warmed the hearts and souls of the Cantabrians in shaky, devastated Christchurch today. No, in Wellington we get an angry, blustery, gale force nor’wester, a wind that cries out for attention, brings gloomy clouds and average temperatures, and sometimes a bit of rain just to make a point.

The issue with the nor’wester is not that we had it here, or that they also had it in charming Martinborough, forcing us to eat lunch and enjoy our glass of local wine inside instead of sitting outside on the deck or in the garden next to the vines. No, the issue with the nor’wester is that it is vicious, malicious, nasty at heart, always trying to blow motorists off the Rimutaka Hill Road, the road that connects Martinborough and the rest of the rural Wairarapa with Wellington city. The road itself is scary enough. It climbs steeply, winding around and around the bush-covered hills. It is rugged country, and I cannot for the life of me fathom how the early explorers discovered this route between Wellington’s harbour and the farming province of Wairarapa. The road is narrow, with many tight bends. The slope falls away sharply from the road, straight down to the little stream at the bottom of the hills far far below. There are roadside barriers, aimed at preventing cars from making this fatal fall. But the barriers don’t run the entire length of the road, and occasionally we learn of vehicles that don’t navigate the road safely, but plummet, terrifyingly no doubt, down the steep, wild, hill. Near the summit, there are two or three dog-leg corners with nothing edging the road except a few wooden batons held together by a wire fence. I drive cautiously around these bends. On a day like today, I drive extremely cautiously, as each time I round the corner, the car shudders as the wind slams into it; that damned nor’wester doing its best to toss me into oblivion.

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The Good Life

Self-employment has its disadvantages.

  1. Tax returns are much more complicated.
  2. What I get in my bank account is NOT what I get to keep
  3. My income is never guaranteed
  4. It’s hard explaining to people what I do
  5. It can be lonely working from home
  6. I don’t need to buy “work” standard clothes very often
  7. I can’t blame my employer when I get down (or if I do it doesn’t feel nearly as good as it used to)

But self-employment also has its advantages.

A good friend of mine is also self-employed. She has the great fortune (or had the great foresight) to live in the countryside an hour or so away, just on the outskirts of the wine village, Martinborough. Her house is a quaint cottage, with a croquet lawn out front, and dozens of olive trees. And I’ve been meaning to visit her all year. Yesterday morning, I realised that time was running out, winter is almost upon us, and I had nothing that could not be put off until today. Neither, it seems, did she. And so, after my personal trainer had tortured me at the gym, I drove over to visit her.

After a good coffee and lunch with fresh, local produce in the village, we purchased a bottle of local wine, and headed back to her house. I exclaimed over the fruit on the quince and apple trees, at how large the olives were now (inadvertently opening myself up for an invitation – or more accurately, a summons – to help pick the olives in a few months time), at the beautiful roses that were still blooming, at the divinely scented lavender that surrounded the house. Then we sat in her book lined living room, looking out over the lawn, across the fields to the mountains beyond, listening to the Chinese wood chimes in the neighbour’s trees, sipping sauvignon blanc, and chatting about everything from Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fox News (although we both become apoplectic if we dwell on this), Wills and Alzheimer’s, curtains, sisters and husbands, and our dreams of retirement in Europe.

Driving home past the vineyards, the low, late summer sun giving the vines swathed in netting a silvery, misty, mysterious quality, I reflected on the good life.

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