Distance Travelled: 127 km
Total Road Trip Distance: 317 km
11th – 13th Nov
Our journey to Blenheim started with a stop to fill the petrol back up to the top of the tank. The weather that had been so kind to us that day had changed its mind and started dropping all the water it had. During this storm we started hearing what sounded like air raid sirens going off, which panicked us a little, in an area that is on a very busy bit of tectonic fault line. No-one around us seemed to care and after a bunch of fire engines had driven past the sirens stopped and it turned out it was for them.
We set off in the rain to get to our hostel in Blenheim. The dramatic curves in the road that followed the rugged coastline looked a bit more ominous with torrential wind and rain.
We got to our hostel and checked in with a Welsh couple that were running it (from Swansea they were). Kate was tired out from her day of walking so I offered to go to the supermarket whilst she napped.
The rain had died down so I figured I would help save the planet and walk to the shop. It was only about ten minutes and we didn’t need too much stuff. Unfortunately I was very hungry so bought way too much food and lots of booze as well. Laden down with 3 full bags I decided I was too hungry to cook so I walked the five minutes to the nearby Dominos to get myself a pizza for tea. It was then that the rain came back.
So I walked the fifteen minutes back in the rain with two bags on one side and the third held aloft under the pizza box to keep it flat. When I got back to the hostel and Kate gently roused from her slumber, I thoroughly questioned my decision making that evening.
The next day we had booked a wine by bike tour that would be picking us up from our hostel at 11:30. But first I wanted to watch the FIFA World Cup qualifier between England and Scotland. I drove to a bar in town (mistakes had been learnt from) and found one that was silly enough to open at 9am.
I walked in to Fairweathers and saw they were showing sport but not the footie but they very kindly changed the channel and provided me with free wifi before I’d ordered a drink. Due to the driving and the time I stuck with coffee.
Once the football finished I drove back to await our pick-up. 11:30 on the dot our minibus turned up with two lovely chaps who took us to their bike garage in nearby Renwick. We had made the brave decision to try out a tandem on this wine tasting tour so we were given some pointers and a quick test run.
We were then given a rundown of the nearby vineyards that had tasting rooms (or cellar doors as they call it) including the wines they were famous for, opening times and whether or not they did food. We plotted an approximate route and set off to our first cellar door.
#1 was a small family run vineyard called Gibson Bridge. We parked up our tandem and wandered in. We were greeted by a lady who asked us a few questions including which wines we favour normally. Kate mentioned that she liked Pinot Grigio and the lady said it was a poor example of what could be done with the grape. She gave us a taster of her Pinot Gris to show the difference. It was ok. We tried a couple more and when asked about the Gerwürztraminer I mentioned something about bitterness and was basically told I was wrong. So we left.
Cellar door #2 was a much more friendly affair. We had arrived at Forrest just as a big coach trip of cruise passengers were mid tasting. We squeezed our way to the bar and managed to get ourselves a personal tasting guide, who reassured us our novice tastebuds were very welcome. We were also convinced to forego the free 3 tasters and go straight to the paddle of 6.
After all that wine we thought it best to get a photo early on before we got too drenched and too sozzled.
Before we set off once more we noticed the rain had started to pour. It had been drizzling off and on up to that point but now it was going for it. Our tasting lady very kindly allowed us to eat the packed lunch we’d so cleverly brought in their covered patio.
Cellar door #3 was Nautilus, named after the perfect-ratio abiding shell, which they had a few examples of dotted around the place. We had narrowly missed the cruise ship passengers at this one but the taster lady looked as if she had been broken. We ended up getting about 9 tasters because she’d forgotten which ones we’d had.
A couple came in shortly after us and we got chatting before we did the usual where-are-you-from dance:
Us: Where are you from?
Them: UK. You?
Me: Ah yeah us too, Kate’s from Scotland, I’m from Wales.
Him: Cool, she’s from England but I’m from Wales too.
Now at this point it had already progressed more than these vague-to-specific dances usually did, but we carried on.
Him: Whereabouts in Wales are you from?
Me: Cardiff. You?
Him: Me too! Where in Cardiff?
Me: Llandaff, you?
Him: Canton, but I went to school in Llandaff so I know it.
Me: Oh yeah!? Me too, which school?
Turned out he was in the year above me in school. Not only this, he went to uni in Sheffield with people I worked with in Leeds and worked in the North Island with a guy I went to uni with. Crazy!
Also the wine was good.
The next cellar door, #4, was Giesen, a rather famous vineyard apparently. We tried a few varieties and I even had a beer they brewed themselves, mostly to try and take a break from all that wine.
We cycled along from Giesen in what had become torrential rain. Our aim was to squeeze in one more tasting at a vineyard called Whitehaven. When we got there the cellar door was full. Luckily the compound had a few shops including a bespoke booze shop where I had a taster of manuka whisky (which was delicious) and they also sold manuka honey beer which I had to buy.
We went back to the cellar door but realised the time and had clearly been spending too long enjoying all our wine tastings. We wanted to pick up our favourite bottles of wine on the way back. We plotted our route on our now sodden map and thankfully discovered it was the way we came.
So we sped back to the 3 cellar doors we liked and made it through the torrential downpour back to base camp just in time.
From there we were given a lift back to our hostel where we cooked and ate our tea and then settled in our room to watch The Terminal on a not-quite-legitimate DVD before bedtime.
The next day we checked-out and piled everything into our beige machine to head to the west coast.
Grapevine backpackers is primarily a home for youngsters that leave their own country to go pick some grapes for a few months. But we were very welcome for our short stint. We ended up staying in a huge room with a double, a single, a chair and a TV/DVD player. Normally we just get a bed. It was a fair bit out from the centre of Blenheim, considering its size but it was still walking distance. We were very pleased.