Fish Out of Water

Musings and observations about life from an East Coast native now living on the Left Coast in the California State Capitol since 2004. This fish has made her home in Madison, WI (7 years); Portland, OR (2 years); Las Vegas, NV (7 months); Middlebury, VT (3 summers); Marne-la-Vallee, a small town east of Paris, France (6 months); Middletown, CT (3 years); and Marshfield, MA, the fish's coastal hometown 40 miles south of Boston (17 years).

Location: Sacramento, California, United States


Travel Journal: Picton

Jan. 5:  Wellington > Picton
I had a lovely morning run along the waterfront, all the way to Evan’s Bay – how fitting!  During our stroll the previous afternoon, we had located a relatively nearby Starbucks, so we headed there for coffee and hit up Subway for breakfast.  Although we both tend to avoid the typical fast food outlets here in the US, some of those options were actually quite useful while traveling, as they provided some low-cost meals that were also relatively healthy and quick.  We had numerous stops at various Subway locations, along with a few visits to Burger King (Hungry Jack in Australia) and McDonald’s.

We then visited the Te Papa Museum, right on the waterfront, and with free entry!  The Museum has 5 levels of expositions, ranging from decorative arts to painting to cultural and historical displays and modern multimedia installations.  Our time was somewhat limited, and we could easily have spent another hour or so exploring all that the Museum had to offer.

Scenes from Ferry Crossing Between Wellington and Picton 

The next leg of our journey was on the Interislander Ferry that transported us across the strait separating the North and South Islands.  The crossing was on very calm seas, with land always in sight, and we arrived safely in Picton after about 3 hours.  We dragged our bags up to the Broadway Motel, which seemed farther than expected from the Ferry Terminal, primarily because it was much warmer in Picton than the forecast we had seen earlier!  We figured out the laundry situation, divided up our clothes, and went for a drink at the Flying Haggis pub while waiting for the machines to be available for use.  Mr. E was able to provide instruction to the bartender on how to make a black & tan – apparently not a common drink order in New Zealand.  Dinner was procured from the Subway back near the railroad station in order to avoid any interruption of the laundry process, but we made reservations at a local restaurant for the next evening for after our Marlborough wine tour. 

We also stocked up on breakfast items (eggs, orange juice, New Zealand smoked salmon, bananas) at the grocery store in the Mariner’s Mall across the street.  Our room was equipped with a full kitchenette, including a mini fridge, dishes and utensils, and microwave egg cups, so we figured that breakfast in the room followed by coffee out would be the best arrangement for the next 2 days.

Jan. 6:  Picton
My morning run turned into a run/walk/climb when I decided to explore the Upper Bob’s Bay path in the Victoria Domain, a wooded area with multiple trails that separates the Wellington harbor from Waikawa Bay to the east.  Today was reserved for our Marlborough wine tour, and we were picked up at our hotel by Colleen at 11am.  We gathered 4 more folks from nearby Blenheim, and the van was then full of Americans.  Our tour buddies included Blue (Houston; Exxon/Mobil); Leah (St. Louis; Emerson); Jake (Walnut Creek, CA [!]; Chevron); and Justin (Singapore but originally Tennessee; Exxon/Mobil).  The overall group dynamic was quite pleasant and amicable – despite the fact that 3 of our 4 compatriots are employed by Big Oil – and the atmosphere remained easy even when we acquired 2 additional folks after lunch (Keith and Sandra from Bath, England, but originally from Scotland).

Marlborough Wine Country Vines

Colleen was a wonderful guide throughout the day, providing lots of information about the history and characteristics of the wine region.  We visited 5 wineries and wrapped up with a visit to the local artisan Makana Confectionary Company.

Our first stop was at Hunter’s, one of the oldest wineries in the region with awards dating back to 1979.  The next stop was Wairau Bay, where we had lunch in addition to a tasting, and Mr. E enjoyed a glass of the pinot with his lunch.  I ordered the kids “Platter,” which was absolutely perfect – pretzels, bread and cheese, pear, and chocolate fish!  The latter is something we had become familiar with thanks to the Chocolate Fish coffee shop here in Sacramento, which was founded by a couple from New Zealand and features New Zealand style coffees.  According to the lore presented in the coffee shop, a chocolate fish is a typical “thank-you” gift for kiwis, but the type we found overseas was always marshmallow enrobed in milk chocolate rather than the solid chocolate sold in the Sac coffee house.  Personally, I prefer the marshmallow version!

The third winery was Bladen, which is named after Blair and Denny, the children of the owners.  Denny was our host at the “cellar door” (kiwi for “tasting room”), and she was a charming hostess who shared funny anecdotes about the family’s foray into the wine world.  Next up was Framingham Cellars, a larger operation whose facility was somewhat reminiscent of a Napa tasting room.  We purchased a bottle of the F Series Pinot Noir to enjoy for later (Mr. E ended up rating the Wairau pinot a bit higher, but it was too late to purchase a bottle there).  At Bladen, we had encountered a trio of friends on bicycles doing a wine tour, and these folks were our shadows at Framingham as well.

Our final wine stop was Drylands, which encompasses multiple brands that are widely distributed internationally, including Kim Crawford.  The options at Drylands were far more varied than what we see of Kim Crawford here in the US, however, and it was interesting to end the day with this type of more “corporate” and larger winery as compared with a boutique winery like Bladen.  Colleen then dropped everyone back at their hotels, and we enjoyed some extra conversation time with her since we were the only folks staying in Picton rather than Blenheim.

We strolled down to Seabreeze Café opposite the harbor for our dinner reservation, and I was finally able to enjoy some yummy local scallops.  No real need for anymore wine after the day’s activities!  Mr. E and I both agreed that New Zealand whites can be quite tasty – Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling – but that we definitely prefer a US-style Pinot Noir. 

Picton Harbor

Picton Marina

One different aspect of our tasting experiences was the categorization of certain whites as “aromatic” wines, including Riesling and Viognier.  Neither of us had ever seen that type of grouping in the US, and when I asked about the terminology at Framingham Cellars, the response was less than helpful:  “for wines that have a strong aroma.”  Umm, what?  All wines have a scent or “nose” of some kind.  Not a big deal, really, but I was just curious to know why that type of distinction has evolved in certain wine regions and not in others that produce the same varietals.


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