Riding Through the Vineyards, Tasting Peppercorn Chocolate

P1580482 744965Today we drank in new tastes, sights and sounds…and began with an early morning train ride from Waterloo Station in North Wellington up to the Wairarapa district, a foodies paradise dotted with artisan craftspeople who create great tasting wines, olive oils, jams, fruits, and chocolates.

The 90-minute train ride took us to Greytown, the kind of place couples love to wander and pop in and out of shops and cafes. It’s the kind of town Cindy and I enjoy exploring, and our first stop was at the Main St. Deli where an assortment of New Zealand olive oils waited to be tasted. Susan McLeary, of Zest Food Tours, a devout foodie, showed us around the town. Her goal is to take visitors behind the scenes and she introduced us to Odell Sugrue, who has 25 hectares of olives and infuses the oil with lime, P1580505 793407mandarin and lemon, and sells them here in Wairarapa.

Like many ranchers here, she realized that the market for sheep and beef wasn’t sustainable a few years back so they planted olive trees from cuttings 14 years ago. Many of the farmers who grew apples and other fruits have ripped out their orchards, the market price is just not worth using the land that way.

Then it was time for chocolate. How about smoked paprika, lime chilli, pink peppercorn or sea salt flavors? These and many more are all found at Schoc, ‘real chocolate for real people,’ where these varieties can be tasted and they also have bars made from cocoa from Ghana, Ecuador, Papua New Guinea and Grenada. The flavor is much deeper and richer than milk chocolate, it was fun trying to figure out which off-beat flavor we can taste among the familiar cocoa bean.

From chocolate we moved on to….gin. Andrew Wright is one of the former cider makers up here who now make something more profitable. He and his partners distill gin and he showed us the nine ingredients: Juniper berries, kawa kawa leaves, cardomom, licorice, lemon, orrice root and casawa bark that they infuse to give their gin its unique flavor. It was early but we did sip some of his fine concoction, as a group of five local moms nursed their babies in unison out on the hotel’s deck.

But enough of this eating. It was time for a bike ride. For this we connected with Gretchen Bunny, who started March Hare cycling just a few months ago. She provides maps and a simple route where people can bike through vineyards and taste the wines at five local vineyards. Our trip included a picnic by a stream and a stop at the Wee Red Barn, where they make strawberry wine and had a giant pig with an army of week-old piglets ferociously suckling.

Riding through the vineyards, looking up at the gorgeous green Tararua mountains, and meeting these friendly Kiwis, who all work in businesses that focus on great tastes was hard work, and when we got on the train, we closed our eyes for a spell. It is great to be back here in New Zealand, where people really do have their eyes on the things that truly matter and taste so damn good.