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June Grape-to-Glass Essentials Newsletter

June has a number of fun, informative classes and events:  compare three “Classic" vintages of Napa Valley’s premier red; explore how wine and food interact on the palate; become skilled at the art of wine tasting by training your palate to identify acidity, tannin, sweetness and alcohol; experience a tour of the senses; partake in a comprehensive class on the ‘heartbreak grape’. There’s something for everyone – from a tastebud trial of five French cheeses and six French wines to a three hour intensive class featuring a global selection of 18 wines! See newsletter link for all of the details - cheers!

NZ Part 2: The South Island - Marlborough

This is the second in a series of three blog posts on New Zealand. The first post highlighted the North Island’s Kumeu and Hawke’s Bay. This, the second, will review our tour of New Zealand’s flagship wine region, Marlborough
Situated at the top of the South Island, Marlborough can be easily reached by air or ferry from Wellington. We chose the scenic three-hour ferry ride on the Interislander. The journey between Wellington on the North Island and Picton on the South is a must-do tourist experience. Cook Strait and the Sounds are spectacular! 
The city of Blenheim is at the region’s heart, and is just a short 25-minute drive from the picturesque seaside town of Picton. Most wineries are an easy drive from Blenheim. To do the region justice, you should allow at least two days for your visit. We were there four nights and stayed at the Hotel d'Urville, conveniently located in downtown Blenheim near many restaurants and cafés. 
Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine growing region and has earned an international reputation for producing some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world.  It also makes very good Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Sauvignon Blanc is the most important in terms of volume (85.8%), but it isn’t the only star to emerge. Pinot Noir production has increased dramatically in recent years, not only for table wine but also for bubblies!
For some fun facts and stats see Wine Marlborough New Zealand
Blenheim Dining Highlights
“Imaginative menus serving the best local produce, complimented by excellent wines from Marlborough, New Zealand, and around the world.” – our best dinner in Blenheim for service and food! Since our visit they have changed from fine dining to more casual and renamed it de Burgh's Bistro at Hotel d'Urville.
“Urban hippy food (if this descriptor even exists), smoking good coffee, retro junk decor, brilliant if under-appreciated Barbie Doll art, really really good looking Baristas, and music you and your grandma, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and offspring could conceivably listen to and it is better than the sounds in your average everyday elevator.” – enjoyed a couple of flat whites with our breakfast parfaits.
 “Freshly sourced local food, highlighting a clean, precise and uncomplicated approach to modern NZ Cuisine. Dishes are constantly evolving, reflecting seasonality, availability and creativity. The restaurant has a casual bar area for pre-dinner drinks, local brews and hand crafted cocktails along with a wine cellar.” 
Dodson Street is the only independent craft beer specialist in Marlborough, featuring authentic German cuisine, and a great pizza selection. We went for the pizza and beer as we needed a break from wine for the night.
“Raupō Café sits on the banks of the Taylor River in Blenheim. The extensive menu offers a balance of French selections amongst some classic favorites…the wine list makes the most of the beautiful Marlborough region, offering locally sourced wines, with an added French cellar list.”
Wineries we visited (11)
Of the 11 wineries we visited all but one (Yealands) were within a 10-20 minute drive of our hotel. 
1. Established in 1994, Wither Hills Winery is named after the imposing Wither Hills ranges, which form a dramatic backdrop to their vineyards which enjoy long sunlight hours, cool nights and are nourished by the waters of the Wairau River.
Their Cellar Door offers wine tasting in their beautiful courtyard overlooking the Wairau Valley, as well as winery tours, blending sessions and tailor-made experiences. They also have a restaurant where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch paired with a glass of Wither Hills wine. 
2. Nautilus Estate Winery is a small, family-run winery with over 25 years’ experience in producing exclusive Marlborough wines for guests to sample and drink. The Estate's imposing winery was inspired by traditional 'Kentucky barn' architecture. The inviting Cellar Door area makes extensive use of the natural curves found in the shape of the Nautilus shell and incorporates an underground cellar for storage of library wines. Personalized tours are available by appointment.  
The philosophy of creating food-friendly wines is paramount for winemaker Clive Jones. While the wines can easily be enjoyed on their own, at Nautilus they believe they are even better when paired with delicious food. 
3. Wairau River Wines (pronounced why-row) takes its name from the river on whose banks Phil and Chris Rose planted their first vines in 1978. Wairau is the Maori name for ‘many waters’. After supplying grapes for other producers for several years, Phil and Chris decided in 1991 to release a wine under their own label, and the Wairau River label was conceived. Wairau River produces the majority of its wine as Sauvignon Blanc including an excellent Reserve range that has been fermented in four and five year old French oak barrels (and only produced in limited quantities). Current production also includes Chardonnay, Riesling, and a very good Botrytised Riesling. 
4. Giesen Wines have been exclusively produced in New Zealand for over 30 years. Today they personally own and manage 700 acres of vineyards in Marlborough. In addition, they have developed long-term partnerships with some of the region’s best growers, allowing them to produce a diverse range of wines.
A very welcoming Cellar Door is where the Giesen brothers share their passion for hospitality, and food and wine pairing. Visitors can taste their way through the Giesen range. In addition to Giesen's current releases, wine lovers also have the opportunity to taste back vintages and try some cellar door exclusive wines thanks to their Enomatic wine dispensing system. 
Guests can also choose from a selection of platters showcasing some of the region’s bountiful produce and settle in front of the fireplace in the cooler months, or enjoy their picturesque courtyard in summer. 
5. Saint Clair Family Estate is owned by Neal and Judy Ibbotson, viticultural pioneers in Marlborough since 1978. Grapes were originally supplied to local wine companies; however, a desire to extend the quality achieved in the vineyard through to the finished wine led to the establishment of Saint Clair Family Estate in 1994. 
We enjoyed a relaxed, informative tasting and lunch at the Saint Clair Family Estate Vineyard Kitchen. The newly renovated establishment is situated within a unique vineyard setting with views extending past the vines towards the ever changing and dramatic Richmond Range. The sunny courtyard offers outdoor dining with some dining options amongst the vines. The extensive menu features some of the best seasonal produce Marlborough has to offer. 
At the wine tasting counter guests can discover the diversity of Saint Clair’s large selection of award winning wines via their new wine preservation system. 
6. Dog Point Vineyard The name Dog Point dates back to the earliest European settlement of Marlborough and the introduction of sheep to the district. These were the days where, due to a lack of fences, border riders used dogs to protect the local flocks of sheep. 
Shepherds’ dogs occasionally got lost or wandered off, eventually breeding to form a marauding pack that attacked the same flocks they were expected to protect. Eventually settlers were forced to cull the dogs and the area was named Dog Point.
Dog Point has been dedicated to producing Marlborough wine since 2002. They insist on low cropped vines and hand-picked fruit while adhering to an organic regime. Their philosophy is to produce regionally distinctive wines that will drink well now and age gracefully for many years. They were in the midst of harvest when we arrived so we were able to see the winery in action prior to tasting through their current releases of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. 
Dog Point also has a boutique luxury bed and breakfast, located on the Western hillside of Marlborough’s Dog Point Vineyard. The Bell Tower B&B provides spectacular vistas over Marlborough's Richmond Range and Wairau Plains.
7. Highfield is a boutique winery producing premium, food friendly wines. Highfield’s Tuscan inspired winery tower, which visitors are welcome to climb, has commanding views over the Wairau Valley. Guests can also get a look at the inside workings of the winery by taking a walk over the footbridge. At the welcoming Cellar Door they offer tastings of their full Highfield range. 
The name Highfield originates from the Walsh family of Ireland. They purchased the 365-acre Marlborough farm in 1935 and named it Highfield after an area near Galway Bay in their homeland.
Highfield wines from Marlborough’s Wairau Valley tend to have intense fruit aromatics and fine minerality. The Wairau River that runs alongside their largest vineyard, has a strong influence on the style of their wines.
We enjoyed lunch on the patio overlooking the vineyards at Highfield’sTerravin Vineyard Restaurant. They serve delicious Mediterranean style cuisine.
8. Since being established in 1988, Grove Mill has been committed to making premium wines with minimal environmental impact.  The Southern Bell Frog, for which they have established a wetland beside their winery, symbolizes their commitment to environmental sustainability and preservation of the land for future generations to enjoy. 
The Grove Mill wine range includes both white wine and red wine, specifically Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir.
9. In January 1992, after the talking became planning, and the planning then planting, Fromm Winery officially started. A visit to their Cellar Door offers guests the opportunity to taste through their current release wines together with some older vintage library releases. Wines crafted at Fromm will always reveal their distinctive signature of old world winemaking blended with new world innovation.
We were fortunate to taste their “most eccentric and misbehaved grape in the vineyard” – the 2015 Malbec, which is the oldest single vineyard Malbec in New Zealand. They make only two to three barrels a year. 
10. Spy Valley Wines is based in the Waihopai Valley in Marlborough, up the road from a US government listening post (the Spy base). Owned and operated by the Johnson family, Spy Valley is one of Marlborough’s few remaining 100% Kiwi-family owned wine companies.
With over 400 acres of estate vineyards, a modern, fully-integrated winemaking facility and a passion for excellence, Spy Valley consistently produces globally acclaimed, award winning wines. Like most Marlborough wineries, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are their specialties but they have also set a benchmark for New Zealand aromatic whites including Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.
The Cellar Door is located in their award-winning architecturally-designed winery. Guests can taste through the current vintage of Spy Valley and Envoy wines inside at the tasting bar or outside on the picnic benches overlooking the vines. We enjoyed our experience outside while taking in the scenic view.
If you have time, the famous Spy Station satellite domes are just down the road! 
11. Yealands Estate Wines established in 2008 is New Zealand’s premier sustainable winegrower. Led by legendary entrepreneur Peter Yealands, few could grasp the breadth of his vision when he took on the challenge of creating terraced vineyards amongst the vast steeply sloped foothills of Marlborough’s Awatere Valley. While others saw obstacles Yealands saw opportunity. His “can do” spirit, innovative “out of the box” thinking and love of the land has resulted in an extraordinary vineyard where excellence in environmental sustainability has framed every aspect of viticulture and winemaking from the very beginning.
The Yealands Estate Winery is one of a handful in the world to achieve carboNZero certification, the largest in New Zealand to do so, and the first to have measured and offset all greenhouse gas emissions since day one.  Their intimate Cellar Door provides a welcome escape where you can discover the Yealands’ Estate story and try their quality portfolio of wines while relaxing in casual comfort. Afterward guests can take in the picturesque views across the sea of vines and Cook Strait on their self-guided vineyard tour. We packed a picnic lunch and enjoyed it cliff-side. This is a must for anyone visiting the region as the setting is truly stunning! Yealands was approximately 30 minutes from our hotel in Blenheim and well worth the easy drive.
The Marlborough photo album can be viewed on facebook. Up next the South Island’s Central Otago and Queenstown regions – cheers!

New Zealand March/April 2017

New Zealand produces less than 1% of the world’s wine, yet it offers an impressive variety of grapes and styles. We (four winos) spent three weeks (March 15-April 6, 2017) touring and tasting our way through both the North and South Islands. In a series of three blog posts I will highlight the North Island’s Kumeu and Hawke’s Bay and the South Island’s Marlborough, Central Otago and Queenstown regions. 
Auckland has a choice of wine regions within easy reach of the city, including the distinctive vineyard island of Waiheke and the historic Kumeu regions. Hawke’s Bay’s impressive variety of wines, especially full bodied reds, attracts enthusiasts from around the globe. With 90% of the country’s Sauvignon Blanc plantings, Marlborough is New Zealand’s (some say the world’s) Sauvignon Blanc capital. One of New Zealand’s most picturesque wine regions, Central Otago and Queenstown, produce some of the finest Pinot Noir in the world, as well as vibrant white wine varietals. 
If you are thinking of visiting NZ or just interested in learning more about the country’s dynamic food and wine scene read on for details! See facebook for photo album.

The North Island

The evening of Wednesday, March 15 we flew – so conveniently - direct on American Airlines from Los Angeles, CA to Auckland, NZ. The flight was approximately 13 hours, and as NZ is 19 hours ahead, we arrived the Friday morning of St. Patrick’s Day - a fact that had escaped me when planning this trip. Auckland was definitely getting its green on!
Where did we stay?
Would I recommend? Yes
It’s about a 30 minute drive from the airport in a great location right on the water. The hotel has a modern, nautical style and is an easy walking distance to the harbor ferries, numerous dining options and shopping.
Dining highlights
“Serving fresh and unpretentious food alongside tasty handcrafted cocktails…spectacular sunset views looking out over Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour.”
“Mediteranean Meals and Tapas” – we ate here twice!
“The perfect place to drop in and refuel…order a selection of small plates and pass them round.”

Kumeu Wine Country

It was only a 30 minute drive from our Hotel to Auckland’s Heritage Wine Region.  There are wineries dating back to the 1930’s, ranging in size from boutique artisan winemakers to some of the best known names in NZ wine.
Founded in 1980, Coopers Creek Vineyard has grown and matured over three decades into a top class winery with a strong international presence. It continues to innovate, particularly with new wine styles, introducing and pioneering promising new grape varieties that are ideal for cool climate regions.
Very welcoming and knowledgeable. A diverse selection of wines was available to taste as you will see from the photo album.
The Brajkovich family came to New Zealand from Croatia in 1937 and brought with them their knowledge of wine-making. They went on to be a founding family of the New Zealand wine industry.
We thoroughly enjoyed our tasting with Melba Brajkovich, the family matriarch.  Their Chardonnay was some of the best we enjoyed on our trip!
Family owned and run since 1937, Soljans is known for their sparkling Muscat and Tawny Port. They also have a Café so this is a good option if needing lunch.
If in the area another great option for lunch or dinner is the Tasting Shed where you can enjoy "an entrée style gastronomic voyage that takes your taste buds on an adventure."  

Hawke’s Bay

Located on the eastern side of the North Island, Hawke’s Bay is the oldest and second largest wine region in New Zealand. With high sunshine hours and low rain fall, it is perfectly suited to growing wine grapes and crafting premium wine. The region is NZ’s leading producer of full-bodied red wines: Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and blends. They also make some equally impressive Chardonnay and aromatic Pinot Gris.  In cooler locations, plantings of Pinot Noir are revealing quality results.  
Where did we stay?
Black Barn Vineyards in Hawke’s Bay offers 17 unique properties for nightly vacation rental. Each is fully self-contained, exclusively yours for the duration of your stay and selected for its prime location, unique character and original style. 
Would I recommend? Yes, I’d advise anyone planning on an extended stay in the area to check out Black Barn’s properties – exceptional! The pictures on their website do not do it justice.
Wineries & Restaurants
Produce an extensive range of world-class wines from Hawke’s Bay and Marlborough that is available to taste in their very warm and welcoming Cellar Door. They also have a retail gift store with local food products, chocolates, local and international cheeses, unique collectables and glassware. You can also make the most of the gorgeous Hawke’s Bay sunshine and select your own cheese platter to enjoy with a bottle of wine on their sheltered terrace or outside next to the vines.
A boutique family owned winery set in the premium Bridge Pa Triangle growing area of Hawke's Bay. They concentrate on the key Hawke's Bay varieties of Syrah, Merlot, Cabernet, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. Their Cellar Door is situated amongst rows of olive trees and grapevines. A relaxing environment to taste their wines!
Produces single-estate-grown wines and is situated in the heart of the Gimblett Gravels wine growing area of Hawke's Bay. We enjoyed a tasting and lunch. The restaurant is set amongst a lush vineyard backdrop that features local produce with a Mediterranean/Middle Eastern leaning. The dishes are designed for sharing so we enjoyed an assortment of small plates, bites (the dill, lemon and snapper croquetas were fabulous) and Charcuterie with a bottle of their 2016 Left Field Rosé – a very unique blend of Pinotage, Arneis and Pinot Gris.
Established in 1896, Te Mata Estate remains family owned, producing internationally recognized wines exclusively from its Hawke’s Bay vineyards. In 2012, Te Mata Estate launched Estate Vineyards - a collection of five varietally-designated wines; Merlot/Cabernets, Syrah, Gamay Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc.
A single estate winery located in the winegrowing district of Havelock North in Hawke’s Bay.  They had a number of wines available to taste at their informal cellar door: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon based blends, Syrah, Pinot Gris, Gewürztraminer, Viognier, and dessert wines.
A boutique vineyard located five minutes from the Village of Havelock North in Hawke's Bay. Their focus is on Bordeaux styled reds of Merlot and Cabernet Franc and whites of Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. All of their wines are Estate Grown and with just over 25 acres of vines most wines are only available through the Cellar Door and website. Be prepared to spend some time there as in addition to tasting you can explore their Kitchen store and have lunch at the Bistro. In the summer months on Saturday’s there is a grower’s market and evening concerts in the amphitheatre. As mentioned above they also offer seventeen unique properties for nightly vacation rental.
Established in 1997, Craggy Range is a family-owned winery situated in the shadow of the spectacular Te Mata Peak. The Cellar Door and their restaurant Terrôir is located at their Giants Winery in Havelock North. The setting is stunning! Prior to going to lunch we experienced a relaxed tasting of their latest release wines. A personal tour of the winery and the grounds is also available for those that would like to learn more about Craggy Range and ‘The Legend of the Sleeping Giant’.
At Terrôir Restaurant you'll enjoy fresh, seasonal produce sourced from the gardens of Giants Winery paired to Craggy Range wines. To pair with our fresh market fish we chose the 2015 Kidnappers Vineyard Chardonnay from Hawke’s Bay. A perfect match!
Established in 2003, Elephant Hill is located within a stone’s throw of the Pacific Ocean on the idyllic TeAwanga coast of Hawke’s Bay. We enjoyed dinner in their stylish, warm and inviting restaurant. The food was delicious and the wine menu included some well chosen international options. The views over the vineyard and Pacific Ocean made this an ideal spot to unwind and appreciate the experience.
Established in 1851 by pioneering French Missionaries, Mission Estate is NZ's oldest winery and birthplace of NZ wine. Housed in an elegantly restored historic seminary building with sweeping views of Napier, Mission Estate offers visitors a year round complete wine experience. We visited their Cellar Door and tasted an extensive range of their current release wines. For those interested in history, they offer tours twice a day. 
Lunch or dinner is available in their renowned Mission restaurant. We enjoyed a casual lunch of fish and chips with a bottle of their Reserve Chardonnay out on the terrace. 
With a history dating from 1897…the Church Road Winery was renovated and reopened in 1989. From the 1990 vintage they produced their first Chardonnay, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. Today when visiting this boutique winery guests have the option to choose a behind the scenes tour, explore the fascinating underground museum, sample a range of wines at the Cellar Door, or enjoy a delicious à la carte lunch in their restaurant. We opted for the “Prestige Tasting” and were not disappointed. The tasting experience was one of our best and not just because the wines were good. The welcome was friendly and our educator was very informative and entertaining. The Syrah and Cab/Merlot were the group faves. 
A highly awarded boutique winery with a focus on low allergen, natural winemaking with the belief that the less interference from the “meddlesome hand of man”, the better! Their passion for wine and what they do was very apparent and appreciated. The relaxed and personalized tasting at their Cellar Door was a nice way to end our day and our time in Hawke’s Bay.

Napa & Sonoma Escapes

Join M Wine Education Fall 2017 on a small-group tour of wine country! M is planning the ultimate insider getaways to Napa and Sonoma.
Sonoma dates: arrive Thursday, October 19 and depart Sunday, October 22
Napa dates: arrive Thursday, October 26 and depart Sunday, October 29
Thursday 'Welcome Dinner’ to get acquainted with your fellow wine enthusiasts.

Friday and Saturday you will enjoy a fun and informative day of touring, tasting and dining. You’ll visit three to four wineries each day that are rich in charm and history. M is very fond of the smaller, family "boutique" wineries, but there are no strict rules. Guests can expect to tour a winery, take in some exceptional views, stroll through the vines, learn about wine making, and discover the stories, history and people behind the wine. 

Lunch could be a multicourse wine and food pairing event where you will enjoy stunning vineyard views and a fine dining presentation at a shared table. Dinner may be a casual, laid-back meal of small-plates, “some wildly inventive and others comfortingly familiar”, paired with local wines. 
Sunday free time or morning and luch tour and tasting prior to departure.
This intimate grape escape, limited to six adventurous oenophiles, will be touring wine country by SUV. Morning pick-up will be 9:00 a.m. with a return time of 5:00 p.m. If your accommodation is within the wine region you'd like to tour, M will likely be able to pick you up and drop you off. Otherwise, she will meet you at a pre-arranged public place with ample parking. The same applies to dinner service to-and-from accommodation. These excursions are ideal for individual travelers, couples or a small group.
M can also provide you with a grape escape that is custom designed to your specifications. Why settle for a trip that is merely the “closest match” to what you want to do?
Sample Friday & Saturday Sonoma Itinerary
Friday - Russian River Valley
Pick up from your Sonoma accommodation at 9:00 a.m. by M and driven to your 10:00 Iron Horse Tour & Bubbly Tasting in Green Valley. From Iron Horse you will make your way to Sebastopol for an 11:30 Lynmar Estate Wine & Food Pairing Lunch on the patio overlooking their stunning gardens. Lunch is followed by two more tastings: 1:00 Merry Edwards Tasting, 3:00 MacRostie Estate House Tasting. After a full day of touring and tastings you’ll be driven back to your accommodation by 5:00 to freshen up. At 7:00 you will be picked up and head to Healdsburg for  a 7:30 dinner reservation that may be a Relish Culinary Adventure or a fine dining experience at Baci Cafe & Wine Bar.
Saturday - Alexander Valley & Chalk Hill
Enjoy a leisurely morning at your accommodation before proceeding to your 10:00 tasting at Vérité’s beautiful estate on Chalk Hill Road, located in the foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. From Vérité you will take a short drive to Stonestreet for a 12:00 seated tasting experience featuring their current release and single vineyard wines. After spending a fun and informative 90 minutes at Stonestreet you’ll need lunch so M will have arranged the ultimate culinary experience at Skipstone Ranch where you will enjoy a selection of their wines paired with local and seasonal fare prepared by their Estate Chef. This experience will last 2-2.5 hours and you will leave satiated! Dinner will be a little later so that you can recover and will be tapas-style dining at Bravas or at Willi's where they feature international small plates in a casual environment.