Saturday, 2 March 2013

Vines on the lawn – friends of friends and Kiwi hospitality

More evidence of the passion of individual winemakers.

Gillmans is the smallest winery in New Zealand – and it produces some of the best (according to several accolades).  It’s hard to imagine that it makes much of a profit (I was too polite to ask), but it’s easy to see how passionate Toby Gillman is about his winemaking.

We were very lucky to be introduced to Toby, who is the son of a friend of a friend of a friend of mine back in the UK.  Although, when I say lucky, we’ve found that the Kiwis are very happy to welcome complete strangers with tenuous connections to their friends and family into their homes.  Toby and his parents couldn’t have been more friendly and welcoming.

We sat round the dining table, eating delicious cheeses and tasting Toby’s wines.  He makes reds in the Bordeaux style, including a clairet, which isn’t a misspelling but used to be the standard wine of Bordeaux before they lost their grapes to a nasty disease and had to replant, by which time the deeper Bordeaux wines were in fashion.  Clairet is a lighter wine – and very drinkable.

As well as making wine, Toby is an accountant.  He spent some time helping out on a nearby winery as a favour, learnt how to make wine, went to Bordeaux to find out more and then he was hooked.  Shortly after that, he started making his own wine.  As we sat round the table, I imagined Toby broaching the subject – er, do you mind if I plant some grapes on your lawn?  

We actually met Toby on the back lawn, as he was trimming the vines in his tractor.  He stopped work to greet us and changed before he brought out his wines.  We took our glasses of clairet out to his winemaking room, to see where he works.

As I said, this is the smallest winemaker in New Zealand.   Apart from help with picking and pruning (relying on willing volunteers from amongst family and friends ), everything done by Toby, from winemaking to bottling.

We tried Gillman’s 2009 and compared it with the 2006.  Both lovely and both only available in restaurants and fine wine suppliers.  You do not get Gillmans in the supermarkets.

I mentioned how much I’d enloyed visiting Takake Okada at the tiny Folium vineyard in Marlborough.  Turns out they have the same distributer, Puneet Dahl, who introduced us to Takake.  Puneet is another friend of a friend (OK, the uncle of a good friend of our daughter) who invited us two complete strangers to have dinner with him in Auckland.

Strangers we may have been, but we already had two small wineries in common when we met.  And then Puneet gave us some wine – in his office, which just happens to have a winebar in it.
Puneet presented us with a bottle of from one of his clients, a Stoneridge Cab sav/Merlot.  So I presented him with a copy of Dougal Trump.  Which I signed for him.

Signing a copy of Dougal Trump for Puneet Dahl in his office
We started with a delicious glass of Mersault and, while we drank that, Puneet thought about what we were eating that night and what would go with it.  He has a vast choice from wines that are sent to him by his clients and potential clients – plus the bottle of Bordeaux we gave him (after much thought about bringing coals to Newcastle, we decided on something from outside New Zealand, as he has his own ready supply of those).

I should mention that, as well as the winebar, Puneet does also have a desk – with several bottles of wine on it.

He told us how he likes to represent small wineries where the crop is grown organically.  ‘Not because I’m an advocate of organic vineyards,’ he explained.  ‘But because the wine tastes better, and that’s what I care about.’

Then he took us home for a barbeque and the most delicious (and huge) New Zealand ribs.  And instructions to remember them when we’re in Argentina.


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