edited by Sue Courtney
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Casual is the word that is 'in' when it comes to vineyard dining, well it is at Kim Crawford's coastal vineyard at Te Awanga in Hawkes Bay. And casual is exactly what I needed after a morning of doing unforced wheelies in my MG sports car at the MG Car Club's motorkhana on a farmers paddock at the coastal settlement of Clifton - the gateway to Cape Kidnappers - a little further along the road.
It was Easter Sunday, a day when wineries are not officially allowed to open but restaurants are. So if a winery has a restaurant - or serves food - it draws the crowds on this holy day. Consequently the reports I heard, from my MG friends who didn't come to the motorkhana, was that the few wineries that had restaurants in the more traditional sense, (i.e. where patrons are seated on chairs at tables), were totally packed out. The wait for seating can be long and as the day wears on the maitre d's may become harassed as they continually turn away people who gather in the foyer eagerly trying to spot the diners that are about to depart next. Even those would-be diners who wisely made bookings but not for the first sitting, may have to wait if the first sitting folks want to keep their table to have a few more drinks.
But not at Kim Crawford's. There are few tables provided, just a couple in the winery tasting room and two or three outside under sail-like awnings . Most people who come here prefer picnic blankets tossed haphazardly under the shade of a tree or a sun umbrella that someone may have perchanced to bring.
Like the tables, the food offerings are also limited, but they are food offerings that hit the spot in this setting. A picnic box filled with goodies or a filled baguette can be ordered from the cellar door staff, or a delicious French style pizza or a steak sandwich can be bought from 'The Pizza Guy', who cooks them in his portable oven parked beside the entrance. You order your pizza, he gives you a number, you come back 10 minutes later and it is done.
It was like a mini wine and food festival, with people coming up to order food and wine as they pleased then taking it back to their pozzies, while music blasted from the turntables of 'Chill Pill'. But unlike a wine and food festival, there is only one winery involved and it is definitely family oriented. So the kids that are dragged along with their parents have a right old time playing tag on the lower banks beside the vines, playing boccé or kicking a ball around.
Drinking is encouraged as water is provided in 750ml screwcapped wine bottles that are kept cool in ice-filled half-barrels, placed in strategic positions with paper cups beside them.
But most people want to try the wine and they are in luck for the winery tasting room has a good selection of wines to taste and buy by the half- or full-glass, or bottle.
Tasting was not on my agenda today. I needed to eat. So I scanned the list and found a wine I hadn't tasted before - Kim Crawford Viognier Gewurztraminer 2004 ($7.00 for a chocka-full glass). The combo sounded interesting and indeed it was. It's a spicy low acid wine with a delicate perfume, a pleasing oily texture and a lovely vinous quality that matched so well with The Pizza Guy's thin crust pizza that was topped with spicy sausage and French herbs. I should have bought a bottle to take away as I didn't realise then it was a cellar door only offering.
After we had ordered our pizza and as Neil was ordering the wine, a table inside the tasting room became vacant. No-one else seemed in a hurry to grab it so I casually claimed it. I decided it would be perhaps a good thing for our skin if we sat inside for a while, because when you drive a topless sports car you need the occasional respite from the sun.
The folding windows had been fully opened and the windowless view from the tasting room was amazing with its framed vista over people on the lawn and the vines plump with about-to-be-harvested grapes to the aqua blue of the sea beyond.
So if you are ever travelling in the Hawkes Bay region and want a casual place to stop for lunch on a busy holiday weekend, this is one place, that if you are in the right frame of mind, you have no excuse for not enjoying. What's more, they didn't even add the 'Public Holiday' surcharge to their prices. Now that should make anyone smile.
Kim Crawford Wines
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