Marching through the Dangerous Ides

The soothsayer said to Caesar, “Beware the Ides of March”, to which the great man blithely answered, “The Ides of March are come.” The reply was prophetic, “Aye, Caesar, but not gone.” This was according to the imagination of Shakespeare but what followed is a matter of historical truth. Before the Ides had passed Caesar was a bloodied corpse. What are the Ides and when are they important?

The Ides are particular days in the Roman calendar and there is one near the middle of every month. That in March falls on the 15th. If Julius Caesar had been grape grower in a temperate climate he would have had a double reason to fear that day because he might have lost his crop as well as being murdered. What rotten luck that would have been! It just so happens that the Ides of March lie virtually at the midway point between the longest and the shortest days and in frost prone regions there is enough warmth producing sunlight to kick the grape vines into life but the nights are so long that a frost remains possible. If Julius Caesar and had lived in the southern hemisphere then it is the corresponding Ides of September that he would have had to fear for reasons of viticultural, if not personal, safety.

It is about the middle of September when our grape vines’ little buds, which have been dormant overwinter, start to swell, open up and show the tips of their new leaves. From this minute flash of colour, that starts in only a few focal points in the vineyard, a verdant wave unfolds in slow motion, taking a month or more to flow across the entire plot. It is one of nature’s most magical spectacles, made even more transfixing by the pale green colour of the delicate little leaves; semi-translucent when viewed in the early morning light. As each day becomes a little longer it brings with it more warmth and each night is correspondingly shorter. This reduces the chance of frost but a significant risk remains until the Ides of October and the possibility of a rogue frost, riding on the coattails of a dying southerly storm, persists until the Ides of November.

Yes, we know to beware the Ides of September and the dangers they portend. They herald the unstoppable but nerve racking development of the new season and you can only be ready to respond to whatever Mother Nature bowls in your direction. In the spring of 2014 she was not playing cricket by the rules and she bowled the Waipara Valley an underhand ball. Because of the stage of growth and the conditions on that night many vineyards sustained some damage, Pegasus Bay included. But frost damage usually affects only some buds, leaving others completely unscathed. However, because of the resulting reduction of crop the wine from the 2015 vintage may be very good. In addition, because we mature our wines until we feel that they are drinking well we hold larger stocks than most wineries. This means that you, our loyal customer, will not be left high and dry and that you will still be able to buy your favourite drop. Stocks are just another weapon in our frost fighting armament, enabling us to march through the dangerous Ides!

A vine with non-frosted shoots on the left and frosted shoots on the right

The Flighty Visitor

They say that it is an ill wind that blows no good and we agree. We had a terrible storm that raged throughout one black night last September, causing all sorts of damage in the region and cutting power to many homes and businesses. The following morning Pegasus seemed unduly twitchy and excited but it was only later in the day that we found out what was upsetting the old nag. A visitor had dropped in and, not only was he unexpected, but he turned out to be quite a flighty type of guest. He clearly regarded himself as something of an aristocrat, always preening himself and generally keeping aloof but he was not beyond shovelling food into his mouth without being invited. It turned out that he was mute so that we never really found out his name but we called him Swanston, which seemed to suit to a T.

Pegasus and Swanston have now become the best of inseparable mates. As the visitor is the strong silent type, Pegasus never quite knows what he is thinking and one day he might just flit away. In the meantime, however, they are very content to share their space. Make sure that you have an audience with our guest next time you visit, should he still be in residence. He may be aristocratic but you won’t need to make an appointment.

Swanston being aloof

Perfecting your Pong

Most living things have their own special pong and to them it smells just fine. Whether their kin or those of an entirely different kind find it attractive is a different matter. One life form that can produce very special aromas is itself especially distinctive in that it is neither truly plant nor animal. I speak, of course, of yeasts; those little powerhouses that are essential to many of our creature comforts, including the making of bread and wine. Yes, yeasts can produce their own delicious smells. In the case of wine, these include esters that are highly perfumed and different from any that exist in the fruit, but for want of a better descriptor can be called “fruity”. They are readily apparent in young wines but gradually disappear to be replaced by a different set of aromas that may be described as “winey”. In the background lurk “varietal” characters that are typical of the grape variety and may be very striking, such as the aromas of sauvignon blanc and muscat. These “varietal” smells and tastes usually become most prominent several months after bottling and gradually fade as the wine goes over the hill.

The yeast uses some of its valuable energy to produce its special “fruity” aromas and scientists have long wondered why they do this. Recent work by Mat Goddard of the University of Auckland has shed light on this. It is not only you and I who are enticed by the yeast’s pong but also fruit flies. As yeasts are immobile they have no way of spreading themselves around and all life needs to do this in order to proliferate and survive.

So, yeasts lounge about like perfumed young ladies at a party that’s winding down, trying to hitch a lift to the next place of excitement. Fermentation peters out at the yeast party because the food and drink becomes extinct. Ms Lisi Yeast is not really a beast; she merely wants a slice of the next action before she becomes old, shrivelled and part of history so she tarts herself up and tries to hook on to anyone that will take her.

When fruit flies were put into a maze of glass tubes they preferentially found their way to the more attractive smelling yeasts and wine yeasts (Saccharomyces cerevisiae ) were 100 times more likely to end up attached to the insects than expected “if the flies randomly recruited members of the fungal community.”

But it turns out that the hitchhiker is not just a freeloader and she is happy to offer her services to the driver. When they get to the next gig she ferments up a storm and any fruit that he pulls up to will be rapidly turned into wine or something similar. It provides a great breeding ground for both of their progeny. While it’s a win-win situation for this happy couple we intend to invite only Ms Yeast to our vintage party. Mr Fruit Fly is definitely not welcome!

The party hots up as yeasts ferment red wine.

The Vintner’s Table

It was about 18 months ago that a smallish book entitled Where the Chefs Eat, subtitled A Guide to Where the Best Chefs Eat, was published by Phaidon in New York and London. This was a compilation and description of the world’s best eateries as judged by top chefs. Guess what, Pegasus Bay Restaurant was up there with the best. For a long time we have known exactly what winemakers like to drink and, believe us, it does not come cheaply. Having some experience in this matter, we can assure you they are equally demanding about what they eat but this does not need to cost you an arm and a leg, especially if you have been let into a few important secrets. It is now all revealed in a new book; The Vintner’s Table.

It was also about 18 months ago that were approached by Random House, New Zealand’s largest publishers, to see if we would agree to them producing a book about Pegasus Bay Vineyards and Winery, particularly showcasing our multi award winning restaurant. Like us, they must have been surprised when we were named as the Best Casual Dining Restaurant in New Zealand by Cuisine Magazine in 2005 and then proceeded to take out the accolade of being the top vineyard restaurant in the country in five subsequent years. Their confidence in us must have felt justified when we were one of only three vineyard restaurants throughout New Zealand to be awarded a coveted Chef’s Hat and we were named as The Best Regional Establishment in the Christchurch hospitality awards this year. Both accolades were due to the hard work of head chef Teresa Pert and our expert kitchen and front of house teams.

Random House has hired Adrienne Rewi to write the lively text and Aaron McLean to take the dazzling photographs that are liberally strewn throughout the pages. Pegasus Bay has called on five of their previous head chefs to reveal the secret weapons they have concealed behind their aprons. Each has gone on to carve a formidable national or international reputation. Oliver Jackson, James Stapley, Leungo Lippe, Adam Bennett and Shaun McGowan have responded magnificently with a range of mouth-watering starters, entrees, mains and desserts that are categorised into spring, summer, autumn and winter’s dishes, enabling you to prepare a stunning menu using fresh seasonal produce. Be it a starter of beetroot and chickpea fritters with yoghurt sauce, a mushroom consommé with asparagus and morels, an entree of salt beef tart with gherkins, horseradish and watercress, a main of stuffed zucchini flowers with beetroot purée, goats cheese and spring greens or a desert of banana parfait with chocolate tuilles, you will find something that takes your fancy for your next dinner party. All the recipes are imaginative and exciting. Wine suggestions are given and special suppliers of quality ingredients are highlighted.

The story of the establishment of our vineyards, winery and restaurant, the ecologically friendly and sustainable methods of production and the philosophy behind different wine styles are skilfully interwoven in the text. The project was masterfully orchestrated by our marketing manager, ex-head chef Edward Donaldson, and his wife Belinda, restaurant director.
You could use this as a coffee table book, keep it in the kitchen as a source of culinary inspiration or just enjoy reading it to find out about the Waipara Valley and Pegasus Bay Wines. It would make a great Christmas present.

But as well as trying these recipes, give yourself a treat and visit our restaurant. We would love to welcome you. It is best to phone 03 314-6869 ext 1 to reserve lunch and make certain that the restaurant is open but feel free to pop in to our tasting at any time without calling. We will definitely be closed on 25 and 26 December and 1 and 2 January to give our staff a break.

The Vintner’s Table - available from or on the Mail Order List

From the Prescription Pad

I guess that it all started 11 years ago or at least that is when the seed was implanted. My wife, Chris, and I were invited speakers at the Savour New Zealand conference. This was one of those gigs in which food was tarted up by celebrity chefs and matched with wine, with lots of enthusiastic audience participation in the eating and drinking department. The chef that I had to service sneaked in a dish of inland oysters, which as you doubtless know is colloquial speak for testicles. I have four sons but I could think of no other qualification that would fit me for the task of presenting wine to go with this delicacy. Chris and I had just finished our separate presentations and were recalling how she had ordered such an “oyster” dish at a restaurant in Turkey, only to be told that it could not be served to a lady! Being a woman of courage, Chris prevailed upon me to order it and we changed our plates when the waiter’s back was turned. The conference room in which we were now standing was atwitter with excited delegates who were pecking at nibbles and sipping drinks. An elegantly dressed stranger eased her way through the crowd and introduced herself as being from a well-known publishing company. She asked if I would consider writing an autobiography. While flattered, I was also taken aback. Such a preposterous notion had never entered my head and I thought it would be rather pretentious. Besides, I had done nothing exceptional and who would be interested in what I had to say?

We corresponded briefly but I decided that I was too busy for such an indulgence and promptly forgot about it. This was a year before I joined the board of the newly formed Brain Research Institute.Three years ago, while thinking about how I could raise money for the Brain Research Institute, the idea of writing a book germinated from some dark cerebral recess; clear proof that in spite of what the good book says, seed sown on dry rock can grow.

It took almost 2 years to morph into The Truant from Medicine. Writing is a very antisocial activity and should be discouraged on this basis. I spent many a sunny day cloistered away inside writing but I did not resent it. In fact, I enjoyed it and I hope you can sense this happiness and enthusiasm when you read it. Thanks to Random House and its publishing director Nicola Leggatt, The Truant is now available.

I would call it a memoir, rather than an autobiography, and I hope you find it engaging. It is the true tale of a fresh faced young doctor (me, just in case you did not recognise the description) who was determined to devote his life to healing the sick. This simple goal became complicated when a nurse (Chris) unwittingly lured him into the world of wine. Yes, it tells of how I was seduced to the dark side and how I ended up having dual careers; one in medicine by day, the other in the wine industry at night. I feel privileged to have had two jobs and to have loved them both. But this has only been possible because of the hard work and sacrifices by my self-effacing wife, to whom the book is dedicated. I am a hopeless romantic and she is a practical doer. I dreamt and she made it happen. We are both indebted to our sons who have wholeheartedly aided, abetted, guided and now instruct their doddering parents.

The Truant plumbs the deep mysteries of the human brain using the touching real-life stories of patients intertwined with the experiences of a naive junior hospital doctor who works his way up through the system to become a consultant neurologist. At the same time he and his wife graduate from making evil tasting home-brewed wine to developing Pegasus Bay Vineyards, Winery and Restaurant while trying to bring up their 4 sons. Tales from clinics and wards are interspersed with adventures in dry sun-drenched vineyards and refreshingly cool wine cellars. They are grouped in themes and follow a trail, admittedly a little tortuous at times, rather than just being a haphazard collage of memories. The narrative strides boldly between the New World and the Old, giving insights into the workings of both the medical profession and the wine industry.

All of my royalties and profits from the sale of this book will go to the New Zealand Brain Research Institute for research into neurological disorders. They are very common and blight the lives of many in the community. I urge you to reflect for a moment on those that are near and dear to you; on who you, your family and friends really are. You might lose a limb, become paraplegic or have a heart transplant but you are still the same person. Should your brain suffer serious mischief then you are not, even although you may physically appear unaltered. The essence of who we are lies within our brains and that is why we all have such a vital investment in neurology. Think of your 4 closest friends; one of you will develop a neurological condition. It is only through understanding the causes, natures and effects of these disorders that we can alter the devastation that they produce.

It may seem strange that two books on Pegasus Bay are being released together. In fact, The Truant from Medicine was started and finished well before The Vintner’s Table and it was held back so that they could be released at the same time. It is probably the first time that Random House has done this type of dual release but it was felt the books were complimentary rather than competitive. Yes, they are both about Pegasus Bay but the material, styles of writing, authors and presentations are quite different. In addition, with Christmas just around the corner, you could solve two of your gift problems with one stroke of the pen, or rather by entering your bank details only once. Think of the economy that would produce!

Be moderate this festive season but drink good wine. You’re worth it

Recent Seasons

Drought conditions were staved off by a mid-summer downpour in 2008, but beautiful weather followed. End of autumn rain produced noble botrytis in late harvest fruit. The growing conditions of the 2009 vintage were amongst our best and we were delighted with both the reds and whites. The 2010 season was marked by a cloudy and indifferent late spring and early summer. In February, however, the sun began to shine and we had 3 months of perfect, warm, dry weather, allowing us to achieve excellent ripeness and levels of natural acidity.
The 2011 vintage followed a very warm season and was one of the earliest we have experienced, producing beautiful physiological ripeness. It was a complete contrast to the following season and 2012 was one of the slowest ripening vintages that we have experienced. Dry weather in late autumn allowed a prolonged hang time, which has produced a splendid spectrum of flavours and a lively freshness. A mild spring, a warm summer and a long lingering autumn created a perfect prelude to the 2013 vintage.

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Filed in: 2015

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