What a welcome breath of fresh air the Farmgate label is? Have your heard about it? Perhaps not, as it's pretty low key at this stage with cellar door / mail order sales only. But it's an all-encompassing concept of wine, food, people and place.
In this case the place is Hawkes Bay - artisan wine from Hawkes Bay matched to the food of artisan producers of Hawkes Bay. And when wine is matched to food and enjoyed together, leisurely over meal, this is really the way I like to drink. I love the way the right food with the right wine makes chemistry in the mouth to take the experience of enjoying the wine and food, to another level.
Winemaker Peter Gough, regards the Farmgate challenge of pairing up some of the regions artisan food producers to his wines, as an intellectual diversion.
Currently there are only four wines under the Farmgate label, each matched particularly to a food producer but with 11 food producers embracing the Farmgate concept, new pairings will be born and other pairings may change with seasonal releases. And when it comes to tasting, there are no real hard and fast rules.
I could be raving about the Farmgate concept simply because Farmgate took me to Hawkes Bay for the day. But I am raving about it because I admire the concept.
It was a visit with a difference with wine not featuring until well in the day, and then when the wine did appear, it was wine be enjoyed as it should be, with people and with food.
Meeting some of the food producers in their own place was the primary objective and Harald's Breadworld in the Mid City Plaza in Napier was the first stop. Ah, the smell of sweet dough and baking bread - the aromas wafting out of this European Bakery whisked me back to childhood and the old fashioned home cookery along the road. I particularly liked the ciabatta, which is made with olive oil from local olive grower, Telegraph Hill. Harald's ranges of bread could go with any wine but some in particular lean to towards Chardonnay with the toastiness of the crust and the lovely 'breadiness' of the bread. However I am envisaging a bubbles may join the Farmgate label. All those yeasty nuances. Close your eyes and imagine it.
Next was a visit to Hohepa Farms where we met cheese maker Inacio Guimaraes, who crafts the cheeses from the milk of the Longhorn cows on the estate's biodynamic farm. Hohepa was primarily set up for children with an intellectually disability and the aim of the farm is to provide the children with a diet that is as healthy as possible. However the biodynamic cheeses, vegetables and other produce are eagerly sought out by the public and as well as the produce being available from the Farmers' Market, they have a shop on their property at Clive.
Next stop was Clyde Potter's Epicurean Supplies where fig trees laden with ripening figs partly obscured the sign. It's hard to believe this ramshackle of buildings is where some of these sought after herbs, vegetables and fruit are packaged up for delivery to top end restaurant clients, but the main focus is outside in the fields where the produce is grown. And such an array of produce too. We can order direct from the Epicurean Supplies too.
Lastly to Ngatarawa Wines, where the Farmgate concept was born, and a pre-luncheon gathering on the lawn to meet the food producers and then a lunch in one of the former stables.
On the lawn with canapes, I tasted the just off dry, floral and spice scented, warm and varietally flavoured Farmgate Hawkes Bay Gewurztraminer 2007 with a spicy pumpkin soup and later, at the end of the meal with a poached pear with a honey sauce and lemon-infused quark. Both beaut matches. Food producer Noel Crawford, aka 'The Saucerer' greets you on the label of this wine.
The Farmgate Hawkes Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2007 was slightly chilled to enhance the crisp freshness. Subtle nuances of herb, a fine seam of tangerine acidity and crunchy peachy fruit makes this a perfect aperitif as well as a classic match to salad greens and the rocket in the potato mash that accompanied my fish main course. It was the best match to a piece of caramelised fennel bulb and I could just imagine this with Clyde Potter's micro green pea tendrils stirred through a risotto. Yes, Clyde Potter is not surprisingly the artisan food producer that greets you on the sauvignon blanc label. But perhaps the surprise taste match was when I mistakenly tasted the sauvignon blanc with the poached pear desert - it worked and worked well too!
The Farmgate Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet 2006 is from a stunning vintage in the 'Bay, which has resulted in a gorgeous food-friendly wine. Deep in colour with concentrated fruit, hints of violets, silky tannins and just enough acidity to add bite to the soft Merlot flavours, it was a beautiful wine but went to another level with the food. The accompaniment was First Light venison (Marcus Kynoch, the venison farmer, greets you on the label). The venison was served with field mushrooms. It was not what I ordered, but I did a swap of a taste of my bluenose fillets for a taste of the venison and mushrooms from my neighbour.
And so to the Wine of the Week - it was the Farmgate Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 - my Wine of the Day. The wine and food combination simply took me to Cloud Nine. The bluenose fillets were swimming in an orange-brown coloured sauce and not being sure what it was, I dipped my pinky in and licked it. The taste was strong, buttery, sweet, savoury and rich. I thought it some kind of incredibly decadent burnt butter sauce. It was so screaming for chardonnay and when I satisfied that demand, the combination was absolutely sublime. When the chef came out and described the dishes later it was no wonder I loved the sauce - it was a crayfish bisque.
Farmgate Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2006 is ripe and creamy with a bright citrussy backbone to the juicy peachy fruit. Subtle barrel-ferment influences add complexity to the long tasty flavour. It's well rounded and beautifully balanced with a spicy savoury finish. With 13% alcohol it's not too hot and sits nicely in the mouth.
That evening, at home, I opened the three whites to taste and for Neil to share in my excitement. Also I particularly wanted to taste the Chardonnay with the Hohepa cheeses that had also travelled home with me from the 'Bay, because cheesemaker Inacio greets you on the label. I had two cheeses, - a piquant Danbo and a similar cheese with cumin seeds. I thought the former would be the best match, but it was the latter that set up some pleasing contrasts in the mouth. I loved the cumin cheese with the sauvignon blanc too, but it was the piquant Danbo that was the best match to the Gewurztraminer.
Most of the products are sold on mail order. The wines, most definitely. Find out more from www.farmgate.co.nz.
© Sue Courtney
12 May 2008