New Zealand - Day 14 Yet More Wine and Christchurch

Morning came soon enough and we were once again on the road early. We had an afternoon wine tour booked in Christchuch and Beth wanted to hit a couple other wineries on the way up. I made a counter-suggestion. The Black Estate winery that belonged to Jo, whom we had met on the Routeborn trail, was less than an hour north of Christchurch, so rather then spend our time tasting south of the city, we could go north and checkout her place. It meant a decent chunk more driving, but I figured it would be fun to check out a place we had a personal connection to (and this was our only real chance to get up there). Beth was not amused. Alterations to the plan did not fall into the realm of things that she was willing to countenance this early in the morning (it helps to remember that when she went to Disney with her parents, she made a minute-by-minute schedule to ensure that MAXIMUM FUN was achieved. I’m still stunned that she doesn’t have any German heritage given her love of schedules). It is a sign of her great love for me that I am still alive and as we approached Christchurch after 2 hours of driving she was actually considering the deviation.

We did stop at the first winery south of Christchurch that she had on the schedule, Melton Estate. Their wine was, to put it nicely, shit. It started with a sparkling pink riesling which was a hideous as any American white zinfandel you’d find at a sorority party. The rest of their wines were not as vomit-inducing, but ugh. Furthermore the woman doing the tasting poured us all 6 wines and then vanished into the back never to return. We were the only people there so we finished our tasting and looked around rather bemusedly, before settling on the plan of running away before she returned. We made an attempt to find the second winery on Beth’s list, but it did not appear to exist any more. At this point, Beth threw up her hands and agreed to go to Black Estate. We were hoping there would be a couple other wineries up there we could hit before retracing our steps back down to Christchurch for our guided tour. Something funny happened, though. Black Estate turned out to be up in the Waipara Valley, which was also where the wineries we were going to visit on the tour were. We were confused as to what we were going to do now. It seemed silly to drive all the way back to Christchurch just to drive back up on the tour bus, but we had already paid for the tour so we weren’t sure if we wanted to eat the cost.

While we deliberated, we visited Black Estate for some wine (it was Beth’s day to drink). They were a small winery (obviously family-owned, since we had met the owner) and we got a really nice tour from Tim, who told us a lot about their wine-making process and future plans (including their new plantings of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc which should start yielding in a couple years). They only had three wines to taste that day and we also ordered some local hand-made truffles (chocolate and caramel/sea-salt). The wines were good, but nothing that we loved enough to buy. But we did hangout for a while enjoying the view from their terrace. The young lady who worked at the tasting counter had an amazing suggestion for us; rather than driving back down to Christchuch, we could just meet the wine tour at the first vineyard. We called the tour company and they said that would be fine. So now we could keep tasting until 2:15 instead of having to drive back to town. Success!!

We checked the list of vineyards the tour was supposed to visit, so we could avoid those, so our next stop was Greystone. They were actually two wineries, since they had just bought Muddy Waters, an all organic vineyard down the road, and we tasted a chunk of their wines, but once again nothing really stood out to us (?). As we were talking about the vineyards, the woman running the tasting mentioned that former owner/wine-maker of Muddy Waters had sold it to concentrate on brewing beer and ran the Brew Moon brewpub a few kilometers down the road. We had noted it on the way in and decided that after this recommendation, we needed to make it there. There were two more small wineries we hit on the way down, Fiddler’s Grove and Terrace Edge. Again, the wine was fine, but nothing that really blew us away. Lunch was sandwiches in the car (Gibbston cheese, tomato, and avocado). It was Beth’s day of tasting and she was starting to get a little woozy at this point, but there was MORE TO TASTE. There was just time to squeeze in the brewery before meeting our tour, so we drove five minutes back to the south and pulled into Brew Moon. They had four standard brews (a pale, an IPA, a brown, and a stout) plus a chili-infused seasonal beer. My favorite was the brown, which was incredibly malty and not too hoppy: just great flavor from start to finish. Beth liked the brown, the stout, and really enjoyed the chili beer. We picked up a bottle of the brown for later, despite the best efforts of the bartender to sell us a 2 liter growler (too much beer!).

It was about a ten minute drive back up to Waipara Springs Winery, where we were to meet the rest of our tour group. By 2:30pm, they still hadn’t arrived so we conferred with the lady behind the counter who confirmed our group was booked and offered to start our tasting. We aren’t ones to turn down wine, so we started the tasting. Just around 2:45pm, as we were finishing our tasting, the rest of our group showed up. We were not impressed. The rest of the group was an older couple from the UK who said nothing and a couple from Australia who said way too much. Think of your stereotypical over-loud American overseas and then make them more oblivious and you’ve got your typical Aussie traveler (I have met some lovely Australians in the American national parks, so they’re not all like that). Our tour guide was a disinterested Kiwi who seemed more concerned with chatting with his buddies running other tours than talking to us about wine. In addition to their tasting, the group was schedule to have lunch at Waipara Springs. I insisted we stay for a bit and try to socialize with the group, but I soon came around to Beth’s point-of-view that this sucked (and we were missing out on valuable tasting time watching other people eat). So Beth had a quiet chat with the tour-guide and ended-up with tasting vouchers for the places we were supposed to go and we set out on our own. Free again!

Unfortunately, the company had changed their list of wineries, so Greystone was on the list and Torlesse was off. First stop was going to be Torlesse then. I remembered this place fondly from my last visit to the area, but I wasn’t as impressed this time. We did pick up a bottle of the Sangiovese Rose, since it was definitely different for NZ and on-sale, but that was for drinking here, not bringing back. After that we figured we’d hit the two remaining wineries on the tour (also the two largest wineries in the area). Mud House was first and though we tasted quite a few of their wines (multiple Riesling and Gerwurtz, as well as some of their Pinots) we were pretty unimpressed. The rest of our tour arrived as we were on our way out and we were once again thankful we weren’t with them. Last winery of the day was Pegasus Bay. We tasted their basic range and except for a delightful Sauv Blanc/Sémillon nothing was too impressive. They also had some of their reserve range for tasting and this went a bit better. We liked a variety of these wines and settled on getting bottles of their Bel Canto Dry Riesling and their Encore Late Harvest Riesling (from one end of the sugar scale to the other). We also met a father and sun from Southern Jersey who were out in NZ for a couple weeks fishing, so we chatted with them a bit. Our tour group showed up, did their tasting, and left all in the time that we were tasting and talking. We finished up our purchases a smidge after 5pm and then it was back in the car for the drive back down to Christchurch. Even though they had left ten minutes before us, we caught and passed the tour van, so in every possible way we won.

Beth, meanwhile, was very happy from all the beer and wine, so she curled up and took a nap on the drive back. I woke her up as we approached Christchurch and we found the apartment we were renting a room in with only some minimal difficulty (I might have driven right past it and had to go around the block). Our hosts were Tim and Aoife (?), a NZ couple who had lived in New York for a couple years (we had found the place on AirBNB) but were back in NZ now. We brought all our stuff in and chatted with our hosts a little. They recommended the same place that Jo had recommended for dinner—a place called Smash Palace. It had started in the aftermath of the earthquake as a kind of protest against how long the rebuilding was taking. It was a bus, ruined by the quake, that they put up on blocks, gutted, and turned into a street restaurant. Since that time it has evolved, adding another broken bus as indoor seating and a large number of outdoor tables complete with gas heaters for warmth.

It was a bit of walk to get from where we were staying to the restaurant and our path took us right through the heart of the ruined Central Business District. Despite several years of rebuilding the center of Christchurch is still a wreck. It had only been a week or so before that Gloucester Street had reopened which had finally provided a path through the middle of the CBD (previously you had to walk all the way around it, essentially cutting the city in half). On one hand, it was stunning how much was yet to be rebuilt (and there were huge sections that were blocked off that still needed to be demolished before being rebuilt) given that it was years. On the other hand, considering that almost 90% of the center of the city needed to be repaired or rebuilt after the quakes, it was pretty amazing how much still existed radiating out around the ‘red zone’. The ruins themselves were pretty striking. Some buildings were completely gone, with only a facade remaining. The big cathedral was mostly rebuilt, but the stain glass was all blown out and the rear of the church was still covered in massive supports to keep it from collapsing. There were a couple blocks that looked almost normal, but were fenced off as structurally unsafe until they could be demolished.

Smash Palace was awesome. It reminded me a lot of The Lot in NYC, from that one summer when it existed under the north end of the High Line. It took up most of a street corner in a space enclosed by tall piles of plastic packing crates. In the center of the space was a gutted bus that was now a full bar, complete with taps and friendly NZ bartenders. The kitchen was in a small shed they had built next to the bus. We ordered two of their burgers (the fish burger and the portobello mushroom), a beer for me (Beth was still not up for drinking more), and a plate of potato wedges with a sour cream/chili sauce. Everything was excellent. We ate and then walked back through the CBD. We stopped off at the outdoor bar that had been built entirely from shipping pallets, right after the earthquake, as a place for all the recovery volunteers to congregate and hangout, and for locals to come to search for missing people, etc. It was a really cool space and they were supposed to have live music, but there wasn’t any live music so we didn’t stick around. Once back at our place, we talked with our hosts for awhile until they went upstairs to watch a movie and then we read for a while before falling asleep early, since we had another early wake-up coming.

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