Sniffing deeply in Martinborough

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The Muirlea Rise winemaker in Martinborough was positively rude about Central Otago pinot noir when Taking the Pulse called to taste his hand-crafted wines.

Because I was driving, I left the tasting to family members who were staying with me for a couple of days.

Smelling was probably all right, I decided, so I breathed in deeply to the three wines on offer for tasting at $3 a person.

The Apres smelt the best: it was an aged pinot mixed with the Martinborough "mystery grape" that originally was identified as a syrah but, according to local lore, since a winemaker long ago won a gold medal, no-one has been able to call it a syrah.

So it is a mystery grape with syrah-like qualities.

Back to the winemaker in question, the hand-crafted wines are sealed with corks, something that has been losing its popularity, if reports in various magazines here and overseas are to be believed.

We talked a bit about that and how his pinot noir had different qualities to those made in Central Otago.

When it came down to it, he said, Martinborough pinot was much superior.

"When they say to me that `ours has screw tops', I reply that so does Fanta."

With that, we moved along.

Martinborough proved something of a revelation.

We visited because I was fascinated why a town laid out in the shape of a Union Jack flag would have streets like New York, Broadway, Panama, Texas and Kansas.

We stayed in a modest motel on Strausbourg St and found, to our surprise, that a beer festival was being held at Jaq's Bar, within walking distance of the motel.

The town was laid out in the 1870s by a patriotic landowner, John Martin, who named the streets after cities he had visited on his travels.

An arts festival in the town hall was raising money for a school in West Africa.

At $2 a head, it was good value.

The women on the desk were strong National supporters.

Martinborough is right in the heart of the National-held Wairarapa seat, once held by former Labour MP Georgina Beyer.

But before Ms Beyer, a string of National MPs had held the seat.

At Jaq's Bar, the barmaids were dressed sort of like German beer maids - low-cut frilly dresses, very short in length.

Jaq herself had resorted to a plastic chest enhancer to give some cleavage and match her staff.

German sausages were on the barbecue, specially-brewed 6% beer was on offer and the locals were drifting in.

After a few steins, I managed to steer the talk around to politics.

Wairarapa MP John Hayes is National's lowest-ranked MP.

I suppose someone has to be, but at 50, he is ranked one below Dunedin North candidate Michael Woodhouse.

Mr Haye's main opponent is second-time Labour candidate Denise MacKenzie, who is ranked 58 by Labour.

On current polling, Mrs MacKenzie has no show at entering Parliament unless she wins the seat.

Mrs MacKenzie had a few supporters in the bar but most people believed Mr Hayes will retain the seat for the second time.

A strange conversation then ensued.

While most farmers were voting National on the electorate vote, some of those spoken to whispered in hushed tones that some of their "friends" actually voted Labour on the party vote.

Here is why.

Many of the long-time mortgage-free farming families had their assets in a trust.

They paid themselves a low salary, say $35,000, while still getting the benefits of living on the land.

Finance Minister Michael Cullen had generously topped up their salary through working for families.

Of course, none of those spoken to had ever received working for families, but their friends had and they were probably voting Labour on the party vote.

Mrs MacKenzie has plenty of experience in the electorate and in farming circles, going by her curriculum vitae.

She might just be able to help Labour lift the party vote in the region by reminding voters that their "friends" have benefited under Labour.

The two political leaders were in the South Island yesterday, National Party leader John Key in Christchurch and Prime Minister Helen Clark in Motueka, part of the West Coast-Tasman seat held by Damian O'Connor.

Mr O'Connor will be in a tough battle with National list MP Chris Auchinvole.

Mr Key takes the point because of his announcement on rehabilitation for prisoners, something all but one of the minor party leaders advocated on television on Monday night.

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