This week we have a special item written by a student on our last 12 week certificate course.
Judy O’Kane is an Irish lawyer on sabbatical. She recently graduated from Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork after three months travelling around New Zealand vineyards.
Have wine, will travel.
“Welcome back” Immigration greets me in Auckland on Christmas Eve. With Michael Cooper’s Wine Atlas under my arm, I wend my way through both islands, from Waiheke to Central Otago, filling my backpack along the way with pinot, aromatic whites and some great chardonnay.
I am lucky enough to hear of Himmelsfeld, a boutique vineyard in Moutere, with Romney sheep lazing in the shade along the tree lined drive, each allocating themselves a tree. Beth Eggers, the owner, welcomes us in the beautifully crafted tasting room, the Wine Loft, and her intelligent eyes dance without any sales pitch or clichéd wine patter. Like a good wine, her face opens out with the chat, full of character and passion. Her family arrived in Moutere 150 years ago and her German heritage tells in her hardworking sincerity.
Himmesfeld means “heaven’s field” in German. It boasts the country’s smallest chapel and several pretty sculptures. While we are seduced by the romance of the vineyard, she talks about the realities of living from the earth. Her heart wrenching decision to rip out the orchard some years ago was like losing a limb. She was devastated as each tree collapsed, left on the land to haunt her as regulations prevented the burning of timber over the summer months.
The sheep provide entertainment by scratching themselves against the picnic tables, lifting the slate tops. Tom, our designated driver, taken unawares behind the camera lens, narrowly avoids a close encounter with an enthusiastic ram while capturing some great shots – one gorgeous macro of bees’ wings in motion over the lavender.
Tasting measures are generous, and the chat is good. While the Wine Loft is unpretentious, several framed accolades tell us that these wines have made their mark since the vineyard’s beginnings in 1991. We are impressed by the Sauvignon Blancs, which are well recommended by Bob Campbell, MV. The 2007 has pineapple and passion fruit on the nose, fresh and yet quite ripe and full bodied on the palate. The 2003 Cabernet Sauvignon has hints of eucalyptus, cedar wood, and is fairly restrained. Michael Cooper described the 2001 as “perhaps the best Cabernet Sauvignon ever to have come from this region.” We keep returning to the Chardonnays of 2002 and 2004. The rich, golden 2004 is the favourite with its rich, creamy, caramel flavour, the oak not overpowering the wine but giving a lovely lightly nutty flavour. Like a good white Burgundy it is smooth and silky in texture.
This is a wine for food. One taster suggests berries, someone dreams of smoked fish, followed by barbequed banana split with chocolate. I take a few bottles for the backpack and an email confirms that a case has been consigned to the high seas. A few months later the wine arrives in Ireland where I am taking a 12 week gastronomic “boot camp” course at Ballymaloe Cookery School in County Cork. I open a bottle of Beth’s 2004 Chardonnay with Colm McCan, sommelier at Ballymaloe House, who lectures us at the School introducing winemakers from all over the new world and old. We pour a glass for the House’s head chef, Jason Fahey. The robust flavours need a meaty fish, perhaps lobster, turbot or scallops. Jason offers wild salmon pan fried and slightly caramelised, a perfect match for the slight buttery caramel of the wine. The natural richness and oiliness of the salmon perfectly complement the wine’s rich, creamy flavour. A magical night in Ballymaloe House kitchen observing the chefs at work is a fitting way to enjoy the last of the Himmesfeld.
This wine is not the mass produced bottle that will appear on supermarket shelves across the world. It is grown on Beth’s boutique vineyard with care and is a labour of love. The Viognier planted in 2006 will be worth seeking out. For those of you who can visit without the need for a round the world ticket, I envy you. Anyone who has not had the pleasure of tasting the wines, visiting the vineyard and meeting Beth in person, what are you waiting for?