For travellers to New Zealand who are interested in Maori culture as well as some of the country’s most revered food and wine, the sun kissed coastal town of Gisborne is a must visit destination.
Located to the far east of the North Island, Gisborne is the first city in the world to welcome the sun rise each morning – illuminating the verdant hills and surfing beaches with its glorious glow. Gisborne is unofficially regarded as ‘New Zealand’s Chardonnay capital’ for its critically acclaimed crisp white styles – although Pinot Gris and several European red wine styles are also successfully grown in conditions that encourage varieties with natural acidity, tropical fruit flavours and subtle marine undertones.
There are 19 wineries in the relatively remote region that can be reached from the towns of Hastings and Napier in the neighbouring Hawke’s Bay region. Gisborne is the country’s third largest wine producer – responsible for 4% of the entire production – although the area’s largest grower Pernod Ricard accounts for most of the harvest with grapes used to create the sparkling Lindauer Brut, or ‘Kiwi fizz’ as it is sometimes called. As well as world class wines, Gisborne also has a reputation for fine food – with the opportunity to taste gourmet local cuisine paired with premium wines available at some on-site Gisborne winery restaurants.
Since Gisborne is steeped in Maori history, sampling traditional dishes that originated from Polynesia can be part of dining experiences at some Gisborne winery restaurants. Maori food is typically cooked in earth ovens, known in New Zealand as ‘hangi’; stones are heated over flames before the food is packed in leaves, placed on top of the stones and then covered with foliage, cloth and earth to create a memorable taste experience.
Many of the local wineries host their own food and wine events, which can include elaborate tastings with delectable food pairings – sometimes accompanied by art exhibitions or concerts among the wines. Traditionally, Gisborne winery restaurants were involved in the annual and enormously popular Gisborne Food and Wine Festival, which took place on the Sunday of the long Labour Day weekend in late October.
However, last year’s 20th anniversary festival appears to have been the last after its popularity as a music event for youngsters outweighed interest from more discerning, high-spending wine enthusiasts who would appreciate the food and wine more highly. This year in the festival’s place, a group of local wineries, chefs and producers will be staging an assortment of events to showcase both the region’s fine wines and foods in convivial settings – as well as presenting opportunities to meet and learn a few tricks of the trade from Gisborne wine makers.
Among the events planned range from degustation dinners at restaurants to street food festivals and riding the so-called Chardonnay Express steam train.New Zealand cuisine is largely defined by local ingredients and seasonal variations, with food typically based on British-based cuisine that have gradually incorporated Mediterranean and Pacific Rim influences in a similar way that Australia’s food has evolved.
Since Gisborne is steeped in Maori history, sampling traditional dishes that originated from Polynesia can be part of dining experiences at some Gisborne winery restaurants. Maori food is typically cooked in earth ovens, known in New Zealand as ‘hangi’; stones are heated over flames before the food is packed in leaves, placed on top of the stones and then covered with foliage, cloth and earth to create a memorable taste experience. Gisborne is also the site where Captain James Cook first set foot on New Zealand soil during an ill-fated arrival in October 1769 that culminated in a conflict with local tribesmen that saw several of them killed. Cook left empty handed but coined the shoreline Poverty Bay, believing there was nothing of value there – time would tell that he was wildly mistaken.
If you are interested in a wine tour and meal at Gisborne winery restaurants, contact our local expert for more information and inspirational ideas before planning a bespoke trip that can be tailor made to your exact specifications.