All of the stress of Christmas dinner is behind us so it is time to kick back, let someone else cook for you and enjoy the many outdoors dining opportunities the Nelson Tasman region has to offer.
You can sit outside one of the fantastic cafes in the CBD, enjoy the beautiful environment and restaurants at the Mapua Wharf, maybe take the kids to Jester House where they can feed the tame eels while you enjoy delicious food and a glass of something local to wash it down with or head to one of the cafes at the various beaches around the region.
One winery in the region has a fantastic outdoors dining area that offers both sun for those who haven’t had enough yet and shade if you need some time to let the sunburn heal, Moutere Hills Vineyard Café & Winery is located in Eggers Road, just a few minutes from the Upper Moutere village.
This winery may be small but the quality of their wines is outstanding and they have delicious food for you to enjoy while relaxing in the expansive vineyard dining environment; on Friday evenings they also open the Fox ‘n’ Grapes wine bar in an adjoining hops barn that has been converted into an inviting indoor venue that is warm and welcoming.
At the Fox ‘n’ Grapes they also serve a range of beers alongside the Moutere Hills wines and have a full a la carte menu available making it the perfect Friday night vineyard dining spot.
After a fire destroyed the original winery in 2006, a state of the art winery was built in its place along with a new cafe and cellar door tasting room but the owners of the time ran out of energy and the business quietly faded away.
Current owners Rusty Rayne and Lisa Goodson bought the neglected facility in 2012 and set about resurrecting the vineyard and rebuilding the café business, both are retired police officers, Lisa was a prosecuting sergeant and Rusty was a detective sergeant.
After losing their home and living through the Christchurch earthquakes they decided 21 years of police service was enough and it was time for a change so the couple went looking for something to buy “that would give us a lifestyle as well as a living” says Lisa. “A friend in Nelson (also a former police officer) told us about a property that turned out to be not suitable, but we loved the area so we looked on the internet and found this place.”
Why a vineyard? “Rusty was brought up in the McKenzie country on a high country sheep station and worked in the agriculture sector for ten years before he moved to a city job with the police, so coming from a rural background he was keen to get back to the land.”
Lisa on the other hand travelled for three years when she left school and worked for Reebok and Dalgety’s before she joined the police so she had plenty of sales experience to bring to the new venture.
Rusty told me “when we went on holidays we went to places like Margaret River, the Barossa, Central Otago, Hawke’s Bay, all the wine regions because we had developed a love for the product over the years.
“Having a vineyard was always in the back of our minds and when we found this we wondered what the catch was, it came with a winery, a café, and a spare house on the property and the timing was perfect for us.
“We set about rebuilding the business, it was totally run down, the previous owner hadn’t been making wine or maintaining the vineyard which meant the vines had been neglected. We haemorrhaged money for the first couple of years, discovering it takes a lot more than passion to create a great vineyard and excellent wines, you do need capital too.”
Neither Rusty or Lisa are winemakers so their wines are made by Patrick Stowe in their own modern winery that was rebuilt after the fire.
Stowe is best known as the man behind the outstanding Rimu Grove Wines so having him make their wines at Moutere Hills was a masterstroke.
They quickly decided two varieties planted in the vineyard, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon weren’t suitable and that the Sauvignon Blanc occupying a stunning north-facing slope was a poor use of that piece of land.
With advice from local viticulturalists Phil Gladstone and John Selwood the vineyard was brought back to full health. Out came those three varietals and they were replaced with Chardonnay, Chenin Blanc, Viognier, Merlot, Riesling and Pinot Noir. They now source the Sauvignon Blanc and grapes for their Rose from two small blocks on the Waimea Plains
The results of changing the varieties and planting the right variety in the most appropriate part of the vineyard are outstanding, with very good vineyard management and masterful winemaking you wouldn’t recognise the quality of these new wines as coming from the same vineyard that had been poorly managed for so many years.
The Fox ‘n’ Grapes bar has been created in an old hops barn, “the basic barn was there, it was a case of tidying it up to use as storage but as it started taking shape it was obvious it would make an ideal extra venue for us, so we built a bar with restaurant style seating, did a mail drop on the motorbike and that was it” says Rusty.
It is open on Friday nights as a wine bar and it is also available in the evening for private functions, “we have lots of celebration dinners and parties, small conferences and have had a few degustation dinners there too, it is just a great add-on venue for us.”
The chef at Moutere Hills Vineyard is Mikel whom is from Basque in Spain and while he brings a Mediterranean feel to some dishes they serve foods influenced by many cultures including lots of fresh salads with fresh clean flavours, a touch of Mexican with tacos, Asian flavours in the Thai beef salad and Cajun chicken salad but it is the platters and ribs people come back for.
“I run the café and he runs the vineyard, winery and bar on Friday nights, sisters Bronwyn and Ruby work in the cellar door and café but we are looking for a second chef to join us for the summer” says Lisa who works as a kitchen hand when they are busy.
One thing that really caught my attention is their very well thought out wine tasting form they developed, just tick the wines you want to taste and then decide either ‘not my thing’, ‘nice’ or ‘must have’, it makes for an easy reminder of the wines you love.
Moutere Hills Vineyard and Café is open 7 days over summer except New Year’s day so if you are looking for someone else to cook for you and somewhere you can find a range of beautiful Nelson wines then this is the family friendly place to visit.