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Featured Restaurant
posted January 18 2003 features the Vine Dining series.

Moutere Hills Winery Café
Eggers Road
Sunrise Valley
Upper Moutere
Phone 03 543 2288

Open daily noon 'itl 3pm, Labour Weekend thru Easter

Your hosts: Simon and Alison Thomas

Tucked away in Nelson's Moutere Hills, a bit off the beaten track past a valley of cultivated hops, is the aptly named Moutere Hills Vineyard.

It was given that name by an English couple, Simon and Alison Thomas who arrived here in 1993 via Australia and Wellington. They originally thought they were going to be sheep farmers when they bought the farm named 'Ranui' but the vinous potential of the area got to them. So as well as a few cattle, some chooks, a kunekune pig and a pine forest to provide for the retirement, they also planted 3 hectares (8 acres) of vines on the 25 hectare (65 acre) property.

Only about half the vines were producing for the 2002 vintage, so Simon, who makes the wines as well, buys in other grapes as needed to cater for his mostly cellar door and restaurant customers. "We're not trying to be a restaurant", says Simon. "We're just trying to do food that accompanies wine".

The 'food accompaniments' are served as a winery lunch, every day from noon 'til 3. It's a small but very reasonably priced menu. Customers can choose to dine either inside, on the flower-draped deck or out on the grassy slope that looks out over the rolling hills to Nelson's protecting western ranges. Picnickers are welcome to make full use of the pretty gardens and accompany their own food with Moutere Hills wines. It's family friendly location. Simon and Alison have young children and know what it's like when you are out to lunch and the kids get bored. So there's a sandpit at the bottom of the garden, and lots of toys for the kids to play with. It is far enough away so the yuppies and dinkies can enjoy lunch and wine without kiddy interruptions, but close enough for parents to keep an eye on.

I chose to sit inside even though it was a beautiful midweek November day. The flowers were a visual treat in their full Spring flush. There were lots of edible border flowers such as nasturtiums, lavender, borage, johnny jump ups, violas and calendulas and a host of herbs. All are used in the restaurant food together with grape leaves for garnish. But what caught my eye were the splendid climbing roses wrapped around the pillar and trailing along the top of deck, including the deliciously fragrant pink-coloured Aloha. It was just so beautiful in the gardens and I loved the colours and I loved the scent but they were just a little too fragrant and the sun was too bright for the serious business of wine tasting.

Simon tells me that the building we are in, which houses the cellar door tasting room and restaurant, kitchen and winery, was once upon a time the shearing shed for Ranui Farm. I wouldn't have guessed its heritage. We're at a corner table where the seats are built in. The conservatory-like corner window has a panoramic view out into the garden and over the lower vineyard. There's another huge building just below as well. Simon says it is about seventy years old and used to be a hop kiln. Now it is used for group tastings and restaurant overflow. Late I wander around it and find it houses a bit of a museum as well.

I ordered Sunrise Smoked Eel ($12), which came served atop bruschetta spread with a cream cheese and sundried tomato tapenade, all piled on top of a watercress and green leaf salad. I was surprised that the eel had been imported into Nelson, the seafood capital of New Zealand, however these Taranaki fillets were deliciously moist and tender, as if they had just come off the smoker - very tasty indeed.

Simon, my host, order Oriental Rice Wraps ($10), paper rice rolls of salad vegetable, tuna and fresh herbs with Asian dipping sauces and a garnish of summer salad. It was colourful and very attractively presented.

Other choices for the fare were a Woolshed Platter ($12), a selection of local breads and Kapiti cheese, Blackball salami, pickles and summer salad; a Breton Sandwich ($11), panini style roll with several filling to choose from; and a Cheeseboard ($10), which is available at any time of day.

There is a children's basket of goodies too, or one can simply order a basket of bread and butter, or a bowl of olives to nibble on.

Wickedly decadent desserts, which I didn't try, included Chocolate Cake with ice cream, summer fruits and chocolate sauce ($7.50), Ice cream and gooey chocolate sauce ($3.00), and Wine-drenched summer fruit with ice cream ($4.50).

Filter coffee and tea is available at all times and complimentary with meals.

Wines, however, have to be purchased. I tasted the whole range and decided that either that the splendid Moutere Hills Nelson Riesling 2000 was the best match for my seafood. It's a medium style riesling but the fruit is very good and the sugar is well balanced to the citrus acids.

Customers can also choose from a lightly oaked chardonnay, a sweetish sauvignon blanc, a summery Rosé made from Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir or a juicy Cabernet Merlot.

Moutere Hills Vineyard is open for wine tastings every day throughout late spring, summer and early autumn (Labour Weekend until Easter) from 11am until 6pm. The restaurant is open from midday 'til 3pm.

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