The best of the bay

Clearview winery at Hastings hosts a relaxed Vibes in the Vines event on a Friday night. Photo:...
Clearview winery at Hastings hosts a relaxed Vibes in the Vines event on a Friday night. Photo: Hawke's Bay Tourism
One of New Zealand's top food and wine festivals, FAWC Hawke's Bay attracts foodies from around the country, as Rebecca Fox discovers. 

Paritua winery at Bridge Pa Triangle held an alfresco lunch - A Taste of the Season. Photo:...
Paritua winery at Bridge Pa Triangle held an alfresco lunch - A Taste of the Season. Photo: Rebecca Fox
Strolling through an impressive vegetable garden, wine in hand, after whetting your tastebuds with a fresh oyster served in the shell, is a slightly surreal experience.

It is one of many such experiences on offer during the Hawke's Bay FAWC - Food and Wine Classic - which is held twice a year in June and November.

The events bring visitors from around the country and even a few international travellers to taste the bounty of the Hawke's Bay.

Going for six years, FAWC attracts people back year after year - one Auckland couple I met makes the road trip to FAWC twice a year and have done since it started.

The popular event did not want to rest on its laurels, though, and last year introduced a one-day food and wine festival at a local winery, bringing together celebrity chefs such as Martin Bosely and Ray McVinnie, local wine and food producers in a programme of masterclasses, a showcase of boutique wines and artisan foods, and a market place of cooking and tasting stations.

This was added to a varied programme already packed with events at wineries, restaurants and cafes - such as celebrity chef Al Brown hosting a secret location lunch, a local bar doing tequila and tacos, a cooking school holding a cheese-making workshop and a picnic in vines at a winery.

I got my first taste of the event at Clearview Estate's "Vibes in the Vines" event - a chilled-out relax in its garden bar, complete with "street food" by the estate's head chef, Pete Hallgarth.

It was a great event for a few relaxed drinks and a light bite on a Friday night.

Drinks in the vegetable garden at Craggy Range winery in Havelock North. Photo: Hawke's Bay Tourism
Drinks in the vegetable garden at Craggy Range winery in Havelock North. Photo: Hawke's Bay Tourism
On Saturday, we headed to The Bistronomy for its "Billiecart Brunch". Bistronomy - one of 15 New Zealand restaurants to make it into the international guide Truth, Love and Clean Cutlery, a "bible" of eateries that take an ethical and sustainable approach alongside producing great food - has also achieved "two hats" in the Cuisine Awards.

Chef James Beck teamed with French Champagne house Billecart-Salmon (founded in 1818) to create a light four-course fine-dining brunch with a few twists on some normal brunch dishes.

The highlight was the to-die-for mini bacon donuts served alongside a mini croissant with prosciutto and cheese mousse.

Luckily, I had the afternoon off before heading to Craggy Range, one of Hawke's Bays long-time wineries, which was hosting a "Giants Garden Party" in the winery's kitchen garden.

Unfortunately, the weather was not warm enough to hold the event outdoors. Instead, they held drinks in the garden - plots full of leafy green vegetables and herbs, every gardener's dream - accompanied by live music and oysters before guests headed inside for a dinner created by head chef Casey McDonald.

The Bistronomy Bellecart Brunch featured the most incredible mini bacon donuts with a mini...
The Bistronomy Bellecart Brunch featured the most incredible mini bacon donuts with a mini croissant wrapped in prosciutto on the side. Photo: Rebecca Fox
It was also a chance for Craggy Range director Mary-Jeanne Hutchinson to show off the winery's newly renovated dining space.

The shared-plate menu, with matching wines, showcased local produce, from the potato foccacia starter and slow-roasted lamb shoulder to the organic carrot, buffalo curd and burnt butter sauce to the rhubarb sorbet, poached meringue and cheescake cream to finish - naturally served with matching wines from its Gimblett Gravels, Kidnappers and Te Muna Rd vineyards.

One of the great things about these events is the passionate "foodies" you meet at each event, which come from all walks of life and for many reasons, from relaxation to business.

The next day as I recovered from the delights of the previous day's outing, we headed to Paritua Vineyard in Hastings for its "A Taste of the Season" event.

On its patio, under shade sails, a long table of guests were treated to a barbecue of spit roasted meats and salads before a delightfully light strawberry panacotta for desert, all while enjoying some of the winery's finest offerings.

While I had to rush to the airport for my flight home, my fellow diners were enjoying the chance to relax and learn more about the wines and winery.

Given the distances travelled to various events during FAWC, a car and sober driver are musts or make use of the local Dial a Driver service.

The writer travelled courtesy of Hawke's Bay Tourism.

 

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