Monday, 18 March 2013


It’s fast becoming the most popular red wine in the UK.  It’s what you think of when you say ‘Argentina’, along with gauchos and tango and plate-sized steaks.  And it’s great.

Go into a wine shop in Argentina, and there will be a whole section devoted to malbec.  Ask for the wine menu and there will be a page of them.  Malbec is big business here.   They even have it in their fountains.

We decided that it was Malbec in the Mendoza fountains
We didn’t hire a car in Argentina, so we took a tour of Mendoza’s wineries.  It was the first, and only, tour of our trip – as you’ve probably gathered, we much prefer to go it alone.  But we thought it would be nice to be picked up at the hotel and driven around for a change – it also meant we could drink.

We hadn’t booked anything in advance, but had no problem booking through the hotel for the next day.  We were picked up at 9.20am, spent an hour driving round Mendoza picking up from other hotels, then went to our first vineyard, Navarro Correas, a large commercial one with massive steel tanks and rows and rows of French oak.

Rows and rows of French oak in Navarro Correas
Our second winery was a much smaller family affair, Vina elCerno, where wine is fermented in concrete pools, something we’ve not come across since a visit to France a few years ago (where we were taken up to the top and invited to peer in, gave me dreams of drowning in wine . . .).  This winery was very much a working one, no fancy house or pretty forecourt here.  Well, when I say working  . . .

Repairs underway at Vina el Cerno
We then visited the Cavas de Don Arturo, which would be an organic winery, but for the fact that, like all wineries in Mendoza, they irrigate.  Meltwater from the Andes comes down into channels and keeps the grapes watered – without this there would be no wine industry (and no tree lined avenues in Mendoza).  It also means no wondering what the weather is going to do around harvest time – irrigation is stopped a month before to allow for better ripening.

We were then taken to a restaurant, where we’d been told to expect a few samples of local meats and cheeses.  Turned out to be a table full of meats and cheeses, plus olives, pickles, dips, empanadas, a rice dish and spaghetti bolognaise – followed by ice cream and dulce de leche.  We decided we didn’t need to eat out that night, so went to a wine tasting bar and drank three more malbecs, all good.

The rest of our tasting was done while eating huge and delicious steaks, and after browsing in wine shops.  Oh, and in the bath at the wonderful  Los Proteros (just what you need after three hours in the saddle) – and drunk mulled after a ride as well.

I’ll write a separate blog about Los Protreros later.  But for now I’ll just say that the malbec certainly helped with the stiffness!

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

A trip over the Andes (by bus) via a winery (by car)

Eddie thought it would be great to travel by bus from Santiago to Mendoza, a journey of just 266km that takes a good seven hours – owing to the Andes being in the way, not to mention the border between Chile and Argentina.  But I agreed it would be an adventure – and it was.

We left Colchagua Camp (I’ll blog about that later) to a gloriously sunny morning, taking our last view from the deck with us. 

The view from the deck at Colchagua Camp - you can just see the Andes in the background
We planned to stop somewhere for lunch and I happened to spot a winery on the map, in the Maipu Valley, south of Santiago and only a short diversion.  As it was the only winery on a road map, I guessed that it must be pretty big and have a restaurant – a hearty meal before our bus journey would do nicely.  And that’s how we came to visit Vina SantaRita.  Set in beautiful surroundings, in old buildings with a medieval air, it’s an impressive place.

The rear courtyard at Vina Santa Rita
Wine tasting was by the glass, so we chose three wines at a cost of $4000 Chilean dollars (about £5).  But the portions were huge – I’d say the size of a small glass in a pub in the UK.  We sat down with our wine (no one-to-one service here) and, after our taste, still had three glasses of wine left.  So we picked them up and took them to the restaurant, where we were lucky to get a table as it was a Saturday.

The menu suggested wine pairings, so we chose accordingly.  A fillet steak to go with the Cabernet Sauvignon (excellent nose, smooth and soft, drinkable now, but could keep for longer); turkey cooked in an almond sauce to go with the carmenere (an interesting choice for turkey, but a lovely wine – blueberries on the nose with a lovely smooth palette with a hint of vanilla) and an avocado salad (which turned out to be a plate of avocado) to go with the sauvignon blanc, which was fresh light and very good.

We enjoyed our last bit of luxury before the coach, the bow-tied waiters and pleasant ambience.  Then we had a longer drive than anticipated to drop the car off at the airport, which wasn't sign-posted after all.

When we arrived at Santiago bus station, our taxi driver kindly told me to hang on to my handbag, pointed to the entrance and left us there.  It was heaving – and not easy to guard our two large cases, two small cases, small rucksack and the dreaded handbag.  But we managed to change our Chilean cash for Argentinian, buy some bottled water and pay a visit to the ladies, which cost $200 (about 25p) for missing doors, missing seats, loo paper that you had to tear off and take in with you, plus a queue.  They must be making a fortune.
But the bus arrived, we watched our luggage go on board (after a bit of misunderstanding about a tip) and we set off, bang on time.  We’d booked seats upstairs at the front and decided not to notice the crack on the window, nor the dents in the bus. 

Due to roadworks, the Andes Pass is one way at the moment and you have to time your journey.  It meant that the earliest bus we could take left at 5pm, but we hoped to see the best before it got dark.  And, despite an hour queuing over an accident involving some lorries, we did.

The Andes, just before the Andes Pass
The scenery was stunning - and we watched it go by while the TV showed The Hobbit in Spanish – maybe not New Zealand beyond our window, but the scenery out there and the rolling, shaking bus definitely added something.  We’d watched the film on Air New Zealand, so we know what was going on, when we gave it the odd glance.  But mostly we were looking out of the window.  Then we reached the Andes Pass.

The Andes Pass
This is the iconic part, the twisting, hairpin bit that snakes its way upwards, or downwards if you’re going the other way.  Looking up at the traffic above us and then slowly climbing until we were looking at it all below was an experience worthy of this road being known as one of the top most amazing roads in the world. (click on the link and you'll see a better pic than the one I took from the bus as it went round another hairpin).  And we managed to see it before the light faded.

Then there was the long wait at customs.  We were given lemonade and a sandwich and allowed off the bus to wander around.  We met a nice Canadian couple to chat to while we waited, before being marched single file to the checkpoint.

The border here consists of a booth with two people sitting in it – one Chilean and one Argentinian.  You hand your passport, plus form filled in quadruplet, over to the Chilean.  It is stamped and handed to the Argentinian and you have to step across with it, before your passport is handed back and you are in Argentina! 

This is where the Canadian couple disappeared.  For rather a long time.  Turned out they were whisked away into an office, where they had to pay their reciprocity fee, the rules of which had changed while they were in Chile.  But they were returned to the coach in time to see all the luggage thrown off, given a cursory check and thrown back on again.  Their case was dented by the time we reached Mendoza.  At 1am – when the city was just getting going.

Sunday, 10 March 2013

A wine map? No – this is Chile!

Ah, no, this is Chile.

We heard this a lot, almost as much as ‘you’re brave.’  And it always came with a friendly laugh.  That’s what’s Chile’s like – people are willing to help and easy to laugh.  Like when we tried to find a windscreen wiper for our hire car.

It was the driver’s side that was missing.  ‘Don’t worry, it won’t rain,’ I said.  ‘This is a dry time of year.’  Hmm.

Well, it didn’t rain exactly.  But we had a heavy dew and the clouds were down when we woke up on our first morning.  When we tried to clear the windscreen, we created rivulets that weren’t touched by the wiper - because it wasn’t there.  As we drove, with Eddie peering out like on a foggy UK morning, the mist condensed on the windscreen – I could see, but Eddie couldn’t.

I’d had an urgent message, emailed and hand delivered (no internet access in the hotel) from my editor saying that my proofs were waiting in my inbox and could I do them immediately.  So, we had to find a windscreen wiper and an internet café.

So the word for windscreen wiper (which I’ve forgotten) was about the first Spanish word I used.  ‘Ah yes!’ came the reply.  And we were given a bottle of windscreen wash.  Luckily windscreen wipers are easy to mime – especially when you add the noise.  Like I said, Chileans laugh easily.

We tried three auto repair shops before we found one that came up with the goods.  They were all within about 100 m of each other, which made me wonder how they could compete.  Then I looked at the age of the average Chilean car . . .

They couldn’t have been more helpful.  Using sign language and Eddie’s loud but slow English, plus my phrasebook Spanish (by the way, they speak a different Spanish here), we had two lovely new windscreen wipers fitted.  For a cost of £4.  And we’d spotted an internet café on the way.

All we had to do was point at our laptop and say ‘WIFI?’  We were connected and left to get on with it.  It took about an hour to do what was needed and it cost 90p.  I was beginning to like Chile.

We managed the rest of the day without a call for help – although we did have a very interesting drive towards Valparaiso docks along with a lot of fast moving lorries who meant to be on that road.  So I navigated a right turn and we came into Valparaiso the interesting way.  We found a restaurant by the square and had a meal of fish and seafood salad – one of those surprises you get when you gesticulate for the recommendations from the menu and see what arrives.  Oh, and we got two large beers as well – we know how to ask for beer in Spanish.

The next time we had to use our broken Spanish was in a fine wine shop in Vina del Mar.  And we had a very helpful shop assistant who pointed us in the direction of Casablanca reds.  We picked out a bottle of Casas del Bosque reserve pinot noir, as that was the place recommended by our knight in shining armour who’d shown us the way when we were lost yesterday.

Wine tasting is different in Chile.  I’ve heard it described as like South Africa 20 years ago, before wine tasting went commercial.  But I’d go further than that.  South Africa already had a tourist industry then – Chile doesn’t.  There is a tiny amount of ‘wine tourism’ here in the shape of guided tours, but we’ve managed to avoid those so far and do our own thing – as you’ll know from the hundreds of blog posts you’ve been reading, we like to pop into wineries we fancy popping into.

The first we tried was deserted, tasting room and all – obviously not expecting a tour that day.  But the second was the recommended Casas del Bosque, which is very much set up for visitors.

We were handed over to the English speaking cellar door manager (how do they know we’re English when I speak Spanish?) and invited into the tasting room.  It was quite different to what we’re used to.

The tasting room in Casas del Bosque - geared up for tours
Tasting was expensive – just over £10 per person, to try four wines.  To be fair, they do fill your glass (before telling you there is zero tolerance of drink driving – you are not allowed any alcohol at all).  But we weren’t there to drain our glasses, but to taste.   There is no waiving of the fee if you buy a bottle either – even if you have lunch there as well (which we did, oysters and all – and it was lovely)

William Cole was more traditional, with a counter and person behind it to talk about the wines (in excellent English).

Over-the-counter tasting at William Cole
Then we tried Vina Mar.  An imposing building, lots of steps, grand entrance.  We were invited to seat on plush chairs overlooking the vineyard, given our four wines (plus two complementary glasses of sparkling wine, a rose and a white – we didn’t like either) and just left to get on with it.  Afterwards we had to find someone to pay.

tasting at Vina Mar - with the splendid background view
This was the Casablanca region, where wine tasting hasn’t quite taken off, which is a shame as they make some lovely sauvignon blancs - because this area is near the coast, cool winds blow in straight from Antarctica, making this the only area in Chile that can grow it.

In Calchagua, wine tasting is far more on the ball.  Santa Cruz, the centre of the area, is a thriving town with a wine festival (which we managed to miss by a day), a wine shop and hotel that will set you up with a tour (but we did our own thing).  They even sold winemaps for a couple of dollars, very pretty with pictures of vineyards, but not very easy to navigate by. 

Estampa Vineyard was our first stop, where we met a cellar manager who used to be a tour guide, spoke perfect English, loved his wines and very helpfully recommended us some other vineyards (as well as some great advice about our impending trip over the Andes - more of that later).

Estampa Vineyard - over the counter tasting - plus lots of advice and recommendations
He sent us to Montgras, a lovely vineyard close by, where the cellar manager sat us down in a beautiful courtyard and spoke at length about each wine – he was obviously passionate about his wines and we could see why.  They were all excellent, from the Sauvignon blanc (using grapes from their vineyard south of San Antonio on the cooler West coast), the cabernet sauvignon and the blend.

Personal attention in Montgras
We went to Santa Cruz winery, where tastings came with tours, so we ended up having a coffee on the terrace, admiring the spectacular view. 

The view from the impressive verandah at Santa Cruz winery
Our final stop was Lapostolle, which is owned by the granddaughter of the grand marnier family.  Production is entirely organic.  But tastings were only available with tours, so we bought a bottle of sauvignon blanc without tasting it – and tried it in the hot tub at Calchagua Camp.  But that’s another story  . . .

Friday, 8 March 2013

You’re brave! Our first day in Chile

It must have been the longest Monday ever.  After 10 hours of flying from Auckland, we arrived in Santiago five hours before we left.  It was 11.00am and we still had the whole day left – in which to get completely lost (twice) and set alarm bells ringing (once).

We arrived in Chile with a desire to try the country and its wines, plus a splattering of phrasebook Spanish.  Not enough to understand the instructions on the ATM, but enough to understand the word ‘invalid’ as our card was spewed back out.  ‘We’ll find another ATM on the way,’ said Eddie, looking at the long queue behind us.

He forgot – this is Chile.

We picked up our hire car no problem, paying extra for automatic tolls, to make life easier if we found ourselves on a toll road.  If only we’d known . . .

After some mad navigation and spotting a sign between two lorries, we did find ourselves on the right road.  With no map (‘oh, we can pick one up there’ – more famous last words from Eddie) and only Google instructions to guide us, it was a piece of luck, rather than judgment (I was still trying to work out where we were supposed to travel 8 meters before taking a left fork).  

Turned out to be a toll road.  By the time we’d worked out which lanes were for automatic payment, it was too late – we were in the cash only lanes.  Without cash.  But, with broken Spanish, we managed to explain that we’d got into the wrong lane and couldn’t pay.  Supervisors were called and after a lot of gesticulation and a few broken English words to go with our broken Spanish, they let us through, waving to the right – we assumed that was because that was the way the road went.  Not so.

We found ourselves at another toll, but this time we went through the automatic lane.  ‘Funny how no one uses these lanes,’ said Eddie as the barrier lifted.  Then we approached the red light by a booth, assumed it would change to green as we went through, and carried on.  The light stayed red, a barrier crashed onto our windscreen as Eddie screeched to a halt, while a whole load of alarm bells rang.  By the time we’d reversed away from the barrier, we were surrounded.

Well, not quite.  We only had to try and explain ourselves to two attendants.  They were very understanding, looked at our hire car contract and pointed out that we did not have automatic payment, that we still had to pay.  ‘Ah, but we have no money.’

I think we said that in English.  And they managed to tell us that we needed to take the ‘free road.’  Fine, we thought, we’d carry on and exit right – maybe that’s what they were trying to tell us at the last toll.  No.  We had to go back the way we’d come, back through the tunnel and take the road to Cuesta Hapita.   By reversing back through the express toll lane, waiting while some bollards were helpfully removed for us, then dashing across during a gap in on coming traffic, through the central reservation and back on our way.  As I've mentioned - this is Chile.

We decided it would be a good idea not to miss our exit.

So we went back through the tunnel and took the wrong exit.  But we got the right one next time – only to be faced with two options at the end of the slip road, left or right.  We chose left.  It did take us in the right direction back along the toll road, but the tar soon ran out and we were bouncing along a gravel road at about 20kmph.  This is what comes of not having cash for the toll roads we thought, but the road ended back at the toll road, the only option being a rough track up to what must be private house.
That what when the pick-up stopped by, a window wound down and a friendly voice asked if we needed help.

‘Si!’ I said. 

‘Do you speak English?’ said Eddie.

Turned out he did.  And very well.  Also turned out he lived in the house up there through the entrance and had spotted us as he was coming home. 

‘I recognized that look!’ he said.  ‘It’s that WHAT?  look I have in a foreign country!  Where are you from?’
So we told him we were on a three month southern hemisphere get away from the winter around the world wine tour.  He said we were brave.  (Funny how people in the UK kept saying that as well.)  He gave us details of a great winery nearby with a good restaurant.  Then he explained that we should have gone right after coming off the toll road and the free road had spectacular views.  I’m glad he told us.

This is what you get if you don't have cash for tolls in Chile
The road wound its way upwards until we had a spectacular view of the valley with the toll road running straight through it below.  (this is when I noticed that our hire car had a windscreen wiper missing, but that’s another story . . .) It took us ten minutes to get as far as the tunnel, about five before we’d reached the end of it and another five before we spotted the fateful toll booth far below.  Luckily we had a full tank of petrol this time – and plenty of time.  And very lucky that we’d met our knight in shiny pick-up or we’d never had thought we were on the right road.

But you do get wonderful views from the Chilean non-toll roads
But it took us on a lovely journey through vineyards (very tempting to stop for a taste) to Casablanca, where we found three banks with banks with defunct ATM’s.  But the fourth one worked and this time we managed to press the right buttons (at the third attempt) and received a wad of notes.  Just as well, as the road to Algarrobo, where our hotel was (or so we thought) was a toll road.  How lovely to hand one of our notes over, receive a bundle of notes and be on our way.

A different way to the googlemap directions.  But I knew our hotel was on a road into Algorrobo, so all we had to do was take the roads out and see if we could find it.  There aren’t many roads out of Algorrobo, but our hotel wasn’t on any of them.  So we stopped by a taxi and asked.

The driver couldn’t have been more helpful.  After I’d used my limited Spanish to ask for directions and received a comprehensive but incomprehensible reply, he kindly drew us a map, with mucho explanation, but enough for me to get the gist. 

The hotel was nowhere near Algarrobo.  Just as well I understood that we had to go on roads that went up and down and round and round. 

We were just wondering whether he’d misunderstood and sent us to a different hotel with the same name.  Then we came across our hotel.

When I booked it through, I hadn’t realized that it was in the middle of nowhere.  And tiny.  More of a large house.  And beautiful.  And so peaceful.  With spectacular views.

The view over the pool of Le Mirage Picador
We managed to check in with our limited Spanish, into our lovely room with duvets that, according to the bilingual hotel information, had been designed for maximum guest comfort.

Eddie thought we should go back into Algarrobo, to try and sort out the windscreen wiper, find an internet café . . .

But I was already under the duvet.  Woke up two ours later – and it was still only 5pm on Monday . .

But a few hours later we were in the restaurant, the only customers, chatting to the wonderful cook and drinking a bottle of local Tunquen sauvignon blanc.  The windscreen wipers could wait.

Thursday, 7 March 2013

Would you like to try the banana bubbly? Wine tasting in The Cook Islands

The Cook Islands was little detour, a chance for a bit of rest and relaxation.  And it was everything we expected.

The Cook Islands

Transport in the Cook Islands

And so much more . . .

We came across Raratonga’s only winery while taking our hired moped out around the island – and we couldn’t resist.  But we decided to go back on foot, so we could bring our empty bottles.  Which was a slight problem - on arrival we encountered a notice asking us to honk our horns three times for attention . . . 

We made honking noises as loud as our reserved Britishness allowed. Nothing happened.  So we made some more.  And then the door burst open and out came third generation Cook Islander Mr Koteka, who welcomed us in to see his winemaking operation. 

Which was unlike any other that we’ve seen on this trip.

Mr Koteka explained how he makes his wines from bananas, mashing them and fermenting them and, if necessary, topping up with coconut juice.  We were invited to taste the result.  Mr Koteka joined us with a resounding cheers!

Koteka's banana wine - in a recycled whiskey bottle
Everything produced here is bottled in recycled bottles.  Any wine that doesn't make the grade goes on to be fortified into vodka.  We had a taste of that as well.  Then we tried the liquer, which is infused with all sorts of things before being decanted into recycled wine bottles.  We tried some coconut chilli liqueur from an Oyster Bay bottle – label removed and Koteka’s own label added.  (We recognized the bottle from the lid.)

Mr Koteka showing us how he infuses his banana vodka to make liqeur
This must have been the smallest winery (bananary?) of our trip.  Yet Mr Kotaka was as enthusiastic about his wine/vodka/liquer making as any winemaker that we’ve met.  We might not have found notes of leather, cedar and musk in his 2012 vintage, but Mr Koteka’s enthusiasm made up for that.  I thought his banana wine might go well chilled with soda water – a sort of Cook Island spritzer, I thought the vodka was suitably firey and the chilli and coconut liqueur would make an interesting post dinner discussion point.  I did like it, Oyster Bay bottle and all, but we have to restrict ourselves to keep within our weitght allowance, so we had to pass on buying one. 

Mr Koteka didn’t mind – and we left him with some empty wine bottles.  And some beer bottles.   ‘Oh good,’ he said with a big grin.  ‘I’m going to make some banana beer!’

We drank a lovely bottle of Cloudy Bay that night – I wonder how soon that will have banana liqeur in it?

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.


Tuesday, 19 February 2013

Wine tasting in the living room – why wine-making is like writing

‘I like wine.'

That’s what Takaki Okada of Folium Vineyard says when I ask him why he’s decided to start his own vineyard in Marlborough Country.   Set amongst the vineyards of Brancott Estate and Cloudy Bay, he’s been busy making 1200 cases of wine, while around him Brancott produces thousands.

Tasting Folium wines - in Takaki Okada's living room
Takaki confesses, with a smile, that he doesn’t like Marlborough sauvignon blanc.  To him the grassy, fruity flavours that everyone knows mean the fruit is over-ripe.  So he picks his earlier and makes it in the French way.  He’s made two, the 2011 and the reserve.

We try the 2011 first – it’s delicious.  We do love the grassy Sauvignon Blancs, Brancott is our staple wine back home, but we also like the crisp dry French style as well – Sancerre being a favourite.  This was lovely and crisp and dry.  We’d have bought a bottle, but Takaki doesn’t have a cellar door yet, nor the facilities to sell wine – so he gave it to us.

The full range of Folium Wines

He also gives the reserve after we’d tasted it (lovely!).  And the pinot noir 2011 and the pinot noir reserve.  ‘I’m going away for the weekend, so I can’t drink it,’ he says.  Then we go out and he shows us his grapes.

He explains why he likes them planted closer together, why he doesn’t irrigate, why he doesn’t cover them.  And then he shows us his tractor.

As soon as we leave, he’s off to trim his vines.  He already has his working shoes on and his gloves are ready – it’s obvious that he has work to do, and there is no one else to do it.

Takaki Okada is Folium Vineyard.  He does everything himself, from tending his fruit, to making the wine, using the facilities of the nearby Fromm vineyard.  He does employ workers to pick grapes, but everything else is down to him.  But he is obviously passionate about his wine and is doing something he loves.
‘Not all the time,’ he says with a smile.

I know how he feels.  I feel the same about writing.  And, as we’ve been tasting and talking our way round wineries, I’ve seen a lot of similarities between winemaking and writing.  Winemakers tend their fruit the way we build our characters, they craft their wines the way we put our stories together but, most off all, they are passionate about what they do.

Then they have to find a distributor for their wines, by sending samples off, just like we send our work to agents.  Finding a distributor means your wines will be shown to retailers, the way our agents show our books to publishers.  It was Takaki’s distributer, Puneet Dhall, who put us in touch and set up our meeting.  It was Puneet who told us that Takaki makes ‘one of the best savs,’ the way an agent will enthuse about an author.

In wine, you have the ‘big boys’ like the Brancotts, who sell by the truck-load, or tanker-load, who are commercial and successful – there are authors like that as well. 

Winetasting at Brancott - no living rooms here
And there are winemakers like Takaki, who have small vineyards and make wine because they love it.  In writing, these would be people who had to have a full time job as well, so maybe it’s not all the same.

Or maybe I’m comparing the two, because I like nothing better than to sit and write with a glass of wine (which is what I’m doing right now . . .)