Friday, February 5, 2010

Winning Waipara Wines

Fantastic food and wine, passionate people and great landscapes are all the encouragement I need to head up to North Canterbury. Just 45 minutes north of Christchurch and you’re right in the heart of Waipara Wine Region - one of the fastest growing wine areas in New Zealand. There are over eighty vineyards in the region now covering over 1,500 hectares - all flourishing in a pretty valley of rolling green slopes and marching vines, backed by the gentle slope of the Teviotdale Hills.
On a recent jaunt north, we stopped for lunch and wine tasting at The Mud House Winery & Cafe. This gigantic winery, just off the main highway, sprang to life several years ago when a wealthy American decided to create the largest winery in the region. It’s under new ownership now and has recently been remodeled to create a much more pleasing interior and garden dining area – just the place to while away a hot, sunny afternoon before returning to the city.
The Mud House has a diverse selection of award-winning wines, bottled as Mud House and Waipara Hills, using grapes from their three regional vineyards in Marlborough, Waipara and Central Otago. The Waipara Hills vineyard covers 550 hectares and spreads out from the enormous winery complex like a rumpled green tablecloth.
To my mind, no wine tasting is complete without food and at The Mud House you can indulge in everything from thick, delicious seafood chowder to salads and generous platters filled with a selection of meats, cheeses, pickles, dips, crackers and fresh breads. One of their menu highlights though are the Wild Pies. They’ve taken the meat from wild Canterbury venison, boar, mountain thar and wild goats and created flavour-filled stews incorporating their wines and topped with golden pastry; and there’s a Kaikoura monkfish version for seafood lovers.
Wine appreciation tours at The Mud House run daily from 11am to 3pm. They include an inspection of the winery, wine tasting and a walk through the vines. This in turn includes an introduction to the Greening Waipara project, which aims to build biodiversity back into the wine experience throughout the region. The project ultimately aims to re-plant native trees particular to the region and to encourage environmentally-friendly practices to reduce reliance on herbicides and pesticides. Wetlands, swales, shelter belts, stream and pond edges and vineyard borders are all receiving ‘an ecological makeover.’
If you want to explore the wider Waipara Wine Region, you’ll find a good itinerary here and you can also pick up the excellent North Canterbury Food & Wine Trail brochure at information centres.

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