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Featured Restaurant
posted January 18th 2004 features the Vine Dining series.

photo by Sue Courtney

The Big Picture
corner of State Highway 6 and Sandfly Flat Road
Central Otago
Phone: 03 445 4052

Imagine visiting Central Otago in late spring early summer when the remnants of the winter snows, atop the barren steep slopes of the mountain ranges, portray a vivid contrast to the deep cornflower blue sky that reflects with a silver shimmer in the lakes. All around the lush greens of new growth are covering fields, trees and the rows of grapevines in the vineyards, while the cherry trees are just coming into flower.

Imagine taking a helicopter ride to the vineyards on this most glorious of sunny days. You will leave Queenstown and fly over Lake Hayes, through the Gibbston Valley to Bannockburn, head south to Alexandra then north again to the Cromwell Basin, dip over the Pisa Flats, cross the lake to Bendigo and arrive at Wanaka to complete this essential wine adventure.

You will stop at five vineyards on the way, enjoy a glass of wine at each and listen to the winemaker for a while as they tell you about their wine from their special place.

Now imagine if you could take this amazing journey for just $15.00.

Well you can if you visit 'The Big Picture', the newest tourist venture in Cromwell. It is an 18-minute visual experience that incorporates a wine tasting. The five glasses of wine are on a bench with underlighting, making them glow like jewels in the darkened theatre.

'The Big Picture' is the brainchild of entrepreneurs Phil and Cath Parker who are no strangers to the wine industry. Formerly from Gisborne where Phil specialised in producing Methode Champenoise - he called his wine 'Phil Parker M. C.' - and ran a popular restaurant called 'Smash Palace' named after a Kiwi film. Two years ago they moved to Cromwell, the epicentre of the Central Otago wine triangle to develop this all-in-one experience. Phil wrote, directed and produced the film and while aimed at tourists, even the most experienced wine tasters should enjoy it.

The complex also boasts a restaurant, a shop containing a good selection of local wine and other vinous paraphernalia, and a perfume room to complete the sensory experience.

Aroma is one of the most important facets of wine appreciation but to bring it to the visitor in a more meaningful way, an analogy is made to perfume which most people can relate to. There are bottles of perfume and books about perfume on the shelves above the aroma bench, where you can pull out a glass stick that exudes a scent commonly found in wine – like cherries, or chocolate, or cedar, or lemon blossoms. There are over 50 aromas to smell.

The picture theme continues into the restaurant where directors' chairs surround the picnic-like tables but the black cloth chairs are not only labelled for the directors, they also are lablled for the producers, actors, stuntmen, best boys, cameramen, key grips and so on.

The menus are presented like a script for a shoot and quite coincidentally the scene is from a restaurant…. For example …..

Scene one
- the waitress brings iced water with a hint of lemon to table
- having seated the guests she returns with the menu and wine list
- she eloquently describes the specials of the day
- the restaurant patron thoughtfully peruses the tantalising selection of Mediterranean cuisine

I starred as 'the patron' in my own version of the film and chose the 'Risotto of the Day' ($18), which today was a creamy parmesan-influenced taste with sun-dried tomatoes atop it. It went perfectly with a glass of Drystone Pinot Gris 2003 ($8.50), just one of the wines from the excellent list of Central Otago offerings. There is a good selection of cuisine with soup, salads and more substantial meals costing between $18 and $24.50. There are also meals designed for the child star, including a chocolate fish for dessert.

As I stared out from the set on the cold autumn day that I visited, I could see through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows across the expansive decking, past the rows of newly planted Pinot Noir vines, to the Dunstan Mountains in the distance. The deck would be perfect for outdoor dining on warm sunny days.

Looking around the restaurant I was impressed by the stunning art works adorning the walls and asked who this unknown artist was. It turned out to be Cath. She used to paint at school but was too busy to follow her passion in Gisborne. Arriving in Central Otago she was so taken by the beauty of the landscape, she just had to pick up a paintbrush again. It has unleashed her talent and her paintings are a true asset for the restaurant although none were for sale when I visited. Perhaps in time.

'The Big Picture' is in the on State Highway 6 on the Queenstown side of Cromwell and it is well worth stopping here to experience this wine adventure as well as partaking in some of the delicious food prepared by chef Paul Buckingham.

The film screens on the hour and seats 45 people for each session.

Bookings are advised.

Copyright © Sue Courtney
May 2004

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