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New decade starts a new game

This year’s Wellington On A Plate festival will have Matahiwi host its 11th event. PHOTOS/SOUMYA BHAMIDIPATI

soumya [email protected]


After 10 years of hosting its popular ‘Winemaker for a day’ event, Masterton’s Matahiwi Estate will be shaking things up to start the next decade with a bang.

‘A Game of Wine’ will have attendees enjoy an afternoon of blind tasting, competitions, and prizes, including the ultimate challenge of recreating one of the winery’s specific blends.

Sales and marketing manager Fleur Nicol said the winery tried to organise “hands-on” events, not only for Wellington On A Plate [WOAP], but in general. As we spoke, the team were busy packaging bottles of blushing wine after a ‘Pick your own rose’ event.

“It’s a bit of a demystifying process.”

The change to this year’s offering had been made after organisers noted a competitive edge to the groups who regularly attended Matahiwi’s WOAP events. Some, who had made friends through the event, attended annually and asked to be seated together.

“They are hilarious and competitive,” Nicol said.

“It’s bringing that element that we’ve observed into the event … It was based on the crowd we get and they’re quite fun.”

The group was usually a mix of demographics, with people of all ages attending. About half the attendees were from Wairarapa, with the rest from out of town.

“That just adds to it,” Nicol said, “it’s just a super relaxed happy group of people.”

Vineyard manager Karina Southey, winemaker Miles Dinneen, and marketing manager Fleur Nicol.

Head winemaker Miles Dinneen would also be on hand to impart his knowledge. He has been at the winery for four years, with experience in Hawke’s Bay vineyards before that.

Opaki was one of the first areas to be planted with pinot noir in 1890s, he said, already keen to share his wisdom.

“Pinot noir is really what Wairarapa is all about … all the prevailing weather comes from the west.”

The warm site, combined with the cool climate, provided “classic” conditions for the fruit.

Matahiwi’s vineyards were established in the 90s, with the winery added in 2004.

Dinneen was particularly looking forward to the challenge where attendees would reverse-engineer a blend of his choice.

“That’s how winemakers think,” he said.

“When you taste someone else’s wine, you think ‘Oh, that’s pretty oaky, I wonder how much percentage oak they’ve used?’ and you work your way backwards from there.”

His aim was to make wine and the process behind it more accessible to the masses.

“For a lot of people, it’s a bit intimidating coming to a cellar door and being talked down to sometimes,” he said.

“Your palate’s as good as anyone else’s.”

‘A Game of Wine’ would include a wine-matched three-course lunch, prepared by Hawke’s Bay chef Kent Baddeley.

“The power doesn’t trip anymore, so he’s happy,” Nicol said.

“He likes to challenge some of the combinations you would anticipate, he experiments with food.”

Baddeley, who had once served creme brulee in a tuna can, only used East Coast ingredients, she said.

Setting up a kitchen in a wine cellar was seen as “a good challenge” by the culinary team.

Wellington On A Plate will take place from August 1-31. For more information, visit www.visawoap.com

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