I am most definitely not a wine aficionado. I have difficulty identifying a dry wine, much less one that has oakey or honeysuckle flavours. If someone asks my wine preference, it’s usually for white, rather than anything more specific like Riesling or chardonnay. Therefore, I thought my visit to Pegasus Bay Winery would be a good chance to try to develop my palate.
When I arrived, I was the only person in the wine tasting room, which meant I got very personal attention. I was told all about the history of the Donaldson family, their winery, and its wines (especially the famed Riesling varieties). The tasting itself started off with a sauvignon/semillon mix before moving through a very dry Riesling (which I didn’t particularly like) through to the standard Riesling (which I really enjoyed). I also got to try some red wines such as pinot noir and merlot/marbec (which had a very unique flavour). Overall, though, I think they saved the best for last — the Aria riesling was nearly perfect.
One interesting addition was the bowl of grapes that was brought out part of the way through. They were fresh picked pinot noir grapes, and they were delicious.
As I tasted, people gradually filtered in until we had a bar counter full of people and one server trying to make sure everyone always had a glass in their hands. She was great at it and always remembered exactly which wines people were currently tasting and what was left in the list for them to try. My new neighbours were lovely as well; I had conversations with two different couples. One of the couples was up from Christchurch for their wedding anniversary. They had literally watched the winery grow up through the years and had some very interesting stories to tell.
Once I finished tasting the wines, I moved over to the restaurant, where I had possibly the most filling meal of my trip so far that consisted of a fish carpaccio entree and four massive lamb chops for the main. My waiter tried to convince me to have a glass of pinot noir with my meal, as their menu was specially designed to complement their wine selection, but unfortunately I had to pass knowing full well that I had to get back into the car and drive on to Hanmer Springs (although it is interesting to note that Pegasus Bay does have a breathalyser on hand for situations like this).
Once I rolled out of the restaurant, I wandered around a very small portion of the vineyard’s grounds. Pegasus Bay’s setting is truly idyllic, and in places it feels more like an English garden than a Kiwi vineyard. There are red bridges that wouldn’t be out of place in a Japanese Garden, crossed perfectly still (and rather green) water. Trees brilliantly coloured in orange and yellow provide perfect framing for a pond reflection of the winery building. One of my personal favourites was the small stream that was writhing with eels. A son and father were tossing food out to them and the eels were all trying to rush upstream, crawling all over each other in the process, to get it. It made my skin crawl a bit but I couldn’t help but watch, because really, when’s the last time you saw eels fighting in a stream at a vineyard?
My last stop was at the barrel room, which the lovely lady that had served me during wine tasting let me go in to take pictures. The barrels were enormous — some much taller than me. Apparently, all of these barrels have to be shipped in from France because the few coopers in New Zealand only repair barrels rather than making them from scratch.
Overall, I thought it was a great visit, and the only reason I left when I did was because I would have missed my next scheduled stop otherwise! The meal was delicious and the wine very tasty, but I think it was that in conjunction with the wonderful setting that made it such a great stop. So, even if you’re not in the mood to try some wine, it’s free to wander around the grounds to take in the sights…and you might even get to see some fighting eels in the process!
Pegasus Bay Vineyard is located on Stockgrove Rd in Waipara. It is 3km from the highway and the turnoff is between Amberley and Waipara. Wine tastings are available between 10am-5pm daily; the restaurant is open from 12pm-4pm daily.