In different ways, the classifier "Made in Nelson" cropped up long before we made it anywhere near the small city, never mind knew where it was specifically. From a fortuitous internet-based discovery of a local jeweler, to various and delicious beverages investigated while in Rangiora and on our South Island road trip, to ever growing mentions of a well stocked weekend market, Nelson had quietly carved out it's notch in our landscape as a place not to be missed. Days of rain cleared from our heads and rear window as we drove along the road between town and the bay; we felt ready for whatever Nelson might bring to us - or perhaps 'bring us to' is more appropriate.
A picnic near the beach, a quick dip of our toes in the icy, milky-aqua waters and we headed for the hills to peruse (or pursue?) the local orchards and vineyards west of town. We set our furthest point as Upper Moutere, originally a small German settlement, and let the roads and weather guide our way. After heaps of cellar door/tasting/vineyard announcements, the simple sign guiding us to Himmelsfeld seemed right somehow. Pulling up the drive, what stood out first was the distinct lack of grapevines. Instead it was lined with beautiful old apple trees and roaming, freshly shorn sheep.
Not only did we end up enjoying small glasses of some the better aged Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc that either of our taste buds have experienced maybe ever, but the hour or so of conversation that accompanied was equally important. Beth Eggers, nurse turned vintner, has followed her passion and established one of the smaller, very successful boutique vineyards in New Zealand. Officially starting in 1991, she specializes in aged wines - primarily whites - and has done so with a deep commitment to knowing the land, soil, and plants. We spoke about the process of production and what really struck me was her comment that "people do not make wine, it is made in the vineyard." By knowing precisely what the plant or soil needs and when to harvest, will yield a grape at its peak and, thus, the best wine.
Another important part is knowing ones limits and to avoid a jettison beyond capacity - maintaining a smaller vineyard, and smaller output, is what makes sense for both her and her land. To expand purely because of the success would taint the essential elements that make it what it is. The apple trees are leftover from a foray into an orchard operation, the sheep the original impetus for it all. She wanted to give them a happy life and bought the land to establish it as such for them; the vineyard itself came after. As they graze through the fallen fruit and soak up the sun, it seems they couldn't be more content. The grapes, like the sheep, cared for with sharp eye and wit, sit soaking the same sun just meters away. We bid Beth and Himmelsfeld farewell with a bottle of magnificent 2007 Sauvignon Blanc in the trunk, squinting at the road, lost in the haze of feeling pretty damned lucky.
Saturday was reserved for Nelson Market wanderings and an afternoon studio visit. Both cross paths by way of artisanal foundations, and the gastronomic/aesthetic extravaganza that followed was the equivalent of soft focus dreaminess.
Not solely for food, the Nelson Market is held every Saturday and features local producers of everything from pastries to chutneys to whiskey, as well artists and craftsmen. However, food was (unsurprisingly) our focus here. Sage infused creamed honey, nasturtium capers (more subtle than regular ones), olive oil with lime essence, homemade dukkah blends, German sausages, and (as Eli discovered) a most wonderful apricot strudel with vanilla cream sauce from the Austrian bakery stand kept us fairly busy. While we managed to restrain ourselves from too many purchases, flavor combinations new to our considerations were noted for future experimentation.
Witnessing the diversity in represented goods as well as the mass attendance was inspiring in regards to local economies, community culture and interwoven support systems. With farmers and flea-style markets held at other times in the week, Nelson raises the bar for high-value convenings for locals and visitors alike - plus it's super tasty.