Joelle Thomson

Writer, author, journalist

Month: July 2016 (page 1 of 5)

Spain in September

Spanish wine is hot. It’s affordable, accessible and has wide appeal with its warm, soft fruity flavoured reds and fresh as a daisy modern whites.

This combo of win-win factors made it an ideal theme for Celia Hay’s third annual Wine and Food Celebration from Saturday 10 September to Monday 12 September in Auckland this year.

The event was first launched in 2014. This year it will again be held at the  New Zealand School of Food & Wine, where I teach New Zealand and WSET wine courses for Hay.

This year she has secured international experts for the event, including chef David Puig Zaragoza from Maximal Concepts in Hong Kong, who she met on her wine travels in Hong Kong. Australian TV food personality Lyndey Milan will share her baking secrets and the event will also include the New Zealand Sommelier of the Year 2016 competition, which will be led by head judge and Master Sommelier Cameron Douglas.

The event also includes how to cook an urban hangi, fresh ceviche and northern Thai food from chef Lek of Saan Restaurant in Ponsonby, Auckland. Masters of Wine Bob Campbell and Stephen Wong (New Zealand’s newest Master of Wine) will highlight tasting techniques at informative master classes.

Find out more and book tickets online at:

Protecting your ideas

Rod McDonald’s Trademark wines

It’s often said that immitation is the sincerest form of flattery but try telling that to a writer, artist or musician who has had the gut wrenching experience of seeing or hearing their own words, visual art or song mercilessly copied, without attribution. Or to a winemaker whose maverick house style has been copied, without acknowledgement.

Not that I speak from personal experience when it comes to the wine, music or art. And if the man behind the new ‘Trademark’ wines has felt copied, then he’s not saying so, but this year, Rod McDonald added another string to his  ‘Trademark’ brand.

Trademark is a bold name for a brand in any industry and this  is not lost on McDonald, who  added his own RM initials (rather than the customary ‘TM’) in small letters to the front label – “It’s intended to be fun because I could never trademark the words Chardonnay or Syrah but I would like to promote the fact that these two grapes do particularly well in Hawke’s Bay and are, I think, our region’s signature varieties.”

The first vintage of a Trademark wine was a 2011 Syrah and it was a big, bold, full bodied, high tannin red, made as an approachably smooth wine. He then skipped making a Trademark wine from 2012, which was a chilly year with a distinct lack of sun throughout the main ripening months of the New Zealand summer.

The new wine in the Trademark range is a Chardonnay. And the 2015 Rod McDonald Trademark Chardonnay is pretty awesome, even at $59, which is not a low price or even an everyday wine for most of us, but this wine delivers big time on flavour, not to mention the fact it tastes delicious. That needs qualification.

McDonald made 130 cases from grapes grown 100 metres above the Maraekakaho River on a single vineyard, divided into two separate river terraces. One half of the vineyard is significantly impacted by its slight 100 metres elevation – worth noting in Hawke’s Bay where most grapes are grown on flat or undulating land.

By way of contrast, the Chardonnay grapes grown at 100 metres elevation (and also slightly inland) experience high diurnal – day-night – temperature variation. The days are warm but the night time temperatures drop by 2-3 degrees, elongating the growing season because it takes longer for the grapes to ripen and they retain noticeably high acidity as they do so. This adds freshness and allowed McDonald to give it a strong (but not dialled up or controlled) malolactic conversion so that the grape’s natural malic acids evolved into softer, smoother lactic acids, providing creamy aromas, textures and richness in taste. All the grapes in this wine were hand harvested and 100% of the wine went through fermentation in oak barrels, 50% new and from four different barrel makers (coopers) in France. McDonald shares the love of different barrel styles around because he likes the complexity that each different barrel maker contributes to the wine. Not that the 2015 Rod McDonald Trademark Chardonnay tastes oaky, per se. Its spicy notes imply it’s spent time in wood while the taste is all  zesty lemons, crushed macadamias, almonds, walnuts and a rounded, soft full body.

The new Trademark Chardonnay  joins the new 2013 Rod McDonald Trademark Syrah at $75, a wine which will reward those with willpower to age it.

As to whether the Trademark brand has a sub text, let’s just say that McDonald isn’t saying.

Craggy Range’s newest… lodge

This story was originally published in FQ Life, June 2016.

Te Mata Peak towers in the foreground while the Tukituki River meanders gently along behind Hawke’s Bay’s newest luxury accommodation, Craggy Range Lodge.

Its chic doors opened in March this year in the dramatic setting that is home to the winery and its restaurant, Terroir.

The lodge is tucked inobtrusively behind the commanding building that is Craggy Range Giants Winery in the Tukituki Valley.

Like the winery, the lodge exudes high class chic with no expense spared. Its four large king bedrooms each have vast ensuites, oversized window seats looking up to the peak and across to the river. These comfortable big rooms are designed around a large, open plan living area with a kitchen so well kitted out that it would easily be the envy of any professional chef, let alone a budding one.

There are two living areas in the lodge. One includes the kitchen, a long dining table and a casual lounge while the second one offers a more formal living room and dining table. An outdoor atrium courtyard has its own barbecue, fireplace and spectacular views up to the rocky peak above the winery.

The lodge was designed in stages by architects John Blair and Simon Clarkson, while its locally sourced artwork, antiques and furnishings were selected by the mother-daughter design team, Mary Peabody and her daughter Mary-Jeanne Hutchinson, both members of the family who own Craggy Range Winery.

“It was important to us to use as many locally sourced materials as possible. New Zealand, and in particular Napier and Havelock North, offer a world class range of artwork, antiques and furnishings and we felt the lodge was an ideal location to showcase the region’s treasures,” says Hutchinson, who worked alongside interior designer Andrew Melville to channel the lodge’s classic country look and feel.

Rustic wooden floors, sandstone surfaces and pewter finishes provide the lodge with a soft and natural colour palate.

Guests can take early morning walks to the top of Te Mata Peak up a clearly marked track across the road from the lodge. Helicopter rides over the peak, private tutored wine tastings and dinner at Terroir Restaurant are among the activites on offer to guests at the lodge.

Craggy Range Wines was established in 1997 and its winemaking focus is on single vineyard wines with flavours that reflect the microclimates of different vineyards. These wines are available for guests, as is a personal, in-lodge chef.

A stay can include bike riding around wineries, golf at the nearby coastal lodge at Cape Kidnappers and guided fly fishing. Craggy Range Lodge’s no-holds-barred luxury comes at a relatively modest price compared to many other top end luxury getaways. And with the winery right next door, it is possible to enjoy winery tours, tastings and knowledge while taking time out.

Craggy Range Lodge and the Giants Winery are at 253 Waimarama Road, Havelock North, phone (06) 873 7126.


Marlborough winery accommodation

The Bell Tower on Dog Point

Luxury New Zealand style is the theme for the French-Tuscan looking Bell Tower on Dog Point. The most luxurious aspects of tower are its spectacular view of vines as the building nestles into the top of a Marlborough hillside, surrounded by the region’s sea of Sauvignon Blanc vines. The vast tower has large lounges, bedrooms and en suites (all with baths) are spacious and comfortable with high spec’ linen, heated floors and a host to drive guests out for dinner and back again. A self-catered separate facility called The French Farm was constructed at the same time as the majestic tower, but has a more rustic recycled feel. This contrasts strongly with the main tower’s straw bale construction.

“We want guests to have a very relaxing stay that feels instantly chilled and also super luxurious,” says host Kirsty Sutherland, daughter of Ivan and Margaret, who bought the Bell Tower in 2007. The Sutherlands were among the first to plant Vitis vinifera grapes (the European wine grape species, which makes wine) in Marlborough in the 1970s. Ivan is a former Olympic rower, who won bronze for New Zealand in 1976. He is also the co-founder of Dog Point Vineyards, along with winemaker James Healy. Their flagship wine is Dog Point Section 94, a maverick style of Sauvignon Blanc. The Bell Tower is open year-round and is a five minute drive from the Blenheim airport.

The Bell Tower is at 71 Brookby Road, Blenheim, phone 03 572 8831 or email:

French connection

 Ruth and Barry Struthers moved from busy corporate lives in Timaru to a more languid existence on the outskirts of Blenheim in 2008, planting French lavender, Tuscan olives and opening French Fields Bed & Breakfast – a humble name for their luxurious accommodation. There are three suites and a studio called Petite Maison. All have fully working shuttered windows – helpful on Marlborough’s hot days, long nights and windy spring weather. All rooms include walk-in showers, bath robes, beautiful views and access to a swimming pool. Not to mention wifi, mod cons and decadently delicious local ingredients at breakfast, which is a full French, three course affair. Most visitors spend the day at wineries or yachting in the nearby Marlborough Sounds. The property is within five minutes’ drive of a day spa and golf course. Its theme was inspired by holidays in the south of France, which Ruth says reminded them of Marlborough. They moved there after their children left home and they realized they had at least one good adventure left in them. That adventure has become their home and work at French Fields. It’s an apt description. Visitors can enjoy wine and platters of local produce (including French Fields olive oil) in the sun drenched courtyard.

French Fields is at Fairbourne Drive, Blenheim, phone 03 578 6801, email: 

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