Wednesday, December 2, 2009


10.) Your Chariot awaits. When Mum & Dad (henceforth referred to as M&D) were here, we put just over 2,500 kilometers on my car driving all over the South Island, and almost every single one of those kilometers was beautiful! I have to tell you, I was awfully proud of the Chariot's performance. I had my doubts a few times along the way, as I heard more than a couple new--and somewhat ominous--sounds coming from under the bonnet (hood), but she came through like a champ and got us everywhere we wanted to go.

9.) Birds. Ulva Island is a wee little piece of land just off the coast of Stewart Island, which is a slightly bigger wee little piece of land just a few kilometers south of The South Island, which is a much bigger, yet still, relatively speaking, wee little piece of land). How's that for sentence construction? Ulva has been set up as a sanctuary for native NZ bird species, and has been completely predator free for many many years. As such, several species--that have been threatened with extinction--are thriving there. We took a guided tour there one day. Our guide? Why it was none other than Ulva--I think she was named after the island, not the other way around. On the tour we saw South Island Robins, Wekas, Keas, Saddlebacks, Tom Tits, and Tuis. And, while we didn't see one, we heard the call of the ever-elusive Kiwi. It was a fun day. Nice and relaxing.

8.) The Office. The one "must do" on M&D's agenda while in Wanaka was seeing where I work. Rippon Vineyard is a very special place, and I was so incredibly excited to share it with my folks. We had a brilliant blue-bird day when I took them out for the tour--couldn't have asked for better weather. We took our time walking all around the property, taking in the breathtaking vistas. I always like bringing people to the vineyard for the first time because I tend to take for granted what an awe-inspiring landscape my place of employment truly is. When newbees are on the scene, and taking it in for the first time, I kind of see the place afresh through their eyes and I'm reminded how incredibly fortunate I am to be surrounded by such beauty everyday.

7.) The Crew. Of course, while at my workplace, I got to introduce M&D to all of my coworkers. We hung out and visited with Shannon, Sione, Max, and Amy during their lunch break; Nick and Jo dropped in for a bit to say hello before heading to a meeting in town; Briar took us through a tasting of the entire range of Rippon wines in the tasting room; and Bret gave us the grand tour of the Winery and Barrel room, complete with a tasting directing from one of the barrels! This was an incredibly special day for me--introducing my folks to my coworkers--because my coworkers are more than just the people I work with, they are my very good friends, and it did my heart good for my parents to meet these wonderful people.

6.) Lunch time. One of my coworkers, Ned, had been recovering from knee-replacement surgery for the last couple of months, and I didn't know if he'd be back to work by the time I brought M&D out to Rippon. But it was very important to me that my parents meet Ned, and that Ned meet my parents. You see, Ned is the same age as my father, and he is the resident father figure at Rippon. He immediately took me under his wing upon my arrival at the vineyard, training me up on all the different aspects of the art of grape-growing. He's patient and kind and just simply a joy to be around. So, I was thrilled when I called him up to ask if we could pop by his house just to say hello and he responded by inviting us all over for lunch. We spent a delightful afternoon over at Ned and Gwenda's (his wife) house eating good food, drinking good wine, chatting, and just enjoying each other's company. That was another very special day for me.

Coming soon: 5-1.

What happened to November?

It sure flew by awful fast didn't it? For me, that's probably because, for the first two weeks of the month, I was tiki touring all over the South Island with my folks who came over to NZ for a visit. Then, as one does when removed from their normal routine for a bit, I spent the next couple weeks just getting back into the swing of things. Oh, and I moved into a new place to boot. So yeah, it was a busy month, and one without a single entry from this here blogger, you might have noticed.


As I said, my Mum (moms are mums down under) and Dad (dads are still dads) came for a visit. It was fantastic in every way, and we saw and did a whole heckuva lot of really cool stuff, but I've been struggling with how to write about it. "Why's that?" you inquire. Well, I'm glad you asked. So here's my dilemma: we saw and did so much I wanted to write about that my pre-blogging brainstorms just got too stormy. You see, I write all my blog entries, more or less, in my head during the work day (much of the work in the vineyard is solitary in nature affording many hours of quiet contemplation) long before I sit down at the keyboard. And for the past couple weeks I've had about five or six different entries vying for thinking time all at once. Basically, I've been suffering not from too little material, as one might assume from the complete lack of entries as of late, but from too much! It's funny how sometimes when one feels completely overwhelmed with too much to do, instead of doing what one can, even if it's just a little bit, one ends up doing absolutely nothing at all. That ever happen to you? Well, that's what happened here on the ol' blogspot.


Even though she doesn't yet know it, my Mum helped me come up with the solution to my 'too much material' problem. By the end of my parents' trip Mum had taken 1,400 some-odd pictures. I don't say that as exaggeration--she literally had over 1,400 pictures stored on her camera's memory card. I remember her wondering aloud how she'd ever be able to share them with people in a meaningful way (whether posting on facebook, publishing a picture book, or just scrolling through them on the computer) without boring them to tears. As gorgeous and interesting as her pictures are (especially the ones of me--totally kidding here), nobody wants to sit and sift through hundreds upon hundreds of someone else's vacation photos. Like me, Mum had the 'too much material' problem. Her solution? I remember her saying something to the effect of "I guess I'll just have to come up with my Top Ten from each subject." She chose her ten favorite pictures from Kaikoura, then her ten favorites from Fanz Josef Glacier, then her top shots from the Milford Track, and so on and so forth until she successfully winnowed down the entire collection into a more condensed and manageable format. Brilliant! I decided I'd take the same tack with my memories. So, coming soon, my ten favorite memories from Mum & Dad's visit. Stay tuned.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Eat your heart out Colonel Slade

In the spirit of not getting too complacent in my cozy little routine, I've decided I need to continue to find things to do that I've never done before. In that vein, last night I attended my first (of 6) Tango lessons. Yeah, you read that right.

Now, I know I've only been to one class, but, if I do say so myself, I'm not half bad. Seriously! Kasha, our instructor, seemed fairly impressed when I responded in the negative to her query about whether or not I'd ever had a lesson before. She said I did extremely well for a complete beginner. And, trust me, she doesn't just say that to all her students. The majority of the class certainly didn't elicit such praise. In fact, there are a couple of folks I think will require Kasha to dig pretty deep into her teaching bag-o-tricks to find the pearls to get 'em moving with even the slightest modicum of grace.

I don't know if I'll ever get a call to appear on Dancing With the Stars, but I imagine I'll do alright. We'll see.

Hold on. Now that I think about it, thanks to my 15 seconds of screen time on Country Calendar a few months back, I have actually been on television--and in the kiwi version of DWTS, I think that's pretty much all that's required to be considered a "star." I'm not kidding, apparently the guy who won it last season is the weather man on the morning news program. Maybe, I'll have my people look into it--after a few more lessons that is.


Monday, October 12, 2009

One tequila, two tequila, three tequila, floor!

Let me tell you about my relationship with tequila. I have no relationship with tequila. We had a falling out one night during the summer of 2001 in San Miguel, Mexico; and our feelings for each other ever since could best be described as silent loathing. I tried once to patch things up between us one evening at a bar in Montana in September of 2004, but to no avail. I'm afraid our differences then were as irreconcilable as they were immediately following the itinial rift. And, I'm afraid they remain so to this day.

All that being said, I can (and do) still appreciate the craftsmanship that goes into making a good quality tequila. So, when I saw my friends 'shooting' some Herradura the other night down at Barluga, I was utterly aghast. Despite my personal feelings toward the sinister liquor, I know that a good tequila (such as the likes of Herradura, Cazadura, or Don Julio, among others) is not supposed to be 'shot,' but rather sipped. I explained all this to my amigos, after thoroughly chastising them for wasting such a fine tequila by throwing it as quickly as they could down their gullets. I then introduced them (by way of explanation rather than demonstration) to a particular method of serving/drinking tequila that I picked up during my time in Mexico. It's called 'la bandera,' which means "the flag" in Spanish. La bandera is a shot glass of tomato juice (red), a shot glass of tequila (white), and a shot glass of lime juice (green) served together side by side so as to resemble the Mexican flag--which is red, white, and green. One then simply takes little sips, in turn, of the three parts of the flag.

My friend Mike, the bar manager at Barluga, was quite impressed. He said he might even add 'La Bandera' to the drink menu. I won't be enjoying any banderas myself, mind you, but there might be a discriminating tequila drinker or two in the future that'll appreciate this little Kiwi bar's efforts to serve up the quintessential Mexican quaff with some authentic Mexican flair.


Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Why is the ground rushing so quickly up to my face?

There are two standard questions that serve as conversation starters when you meet someone for the first time in Wanaka during the winter. They are: "So, you here for the season?" or "Been up the hill much?" They're kind of the equivalent of the "What's your major?" question asked by oh so many college freshmen. But I digress. Anyway, I received some strange, uncomprehending looks when I responded in the negative to those two queries over the last few months. The 'never summer' crowd of skiers and snowboarders--those that pop back and forth between the northern and southern hemisphere chasing winter year-round--who descend upon this little berg? burg? burgh? (I really must look that up sometime) every winter seem utterly perplexed by the fact that people actually live here all year and might not actually be here solely to ski (or board). In all fairness, I guess this is technically considered a ski resort town. And in more fairness, even most of those who are not here solely to ski (or board) go up the hill at least a couple times during the season.

This last Sunday, for the first time this season, I 'went up the hill'; and for the first time in my life, I strapped on a snowboard and hurled myself down a mountain (read, the very gentle decline of the learners' slope at Cardrona Ski Resort). With Shannon's board, helmet, and goggles; Mike's gloves and boarding pants; and a hookup on free boots at the rental shop from Amy I was ready to see what all the hubbub was about.

I'll say this: I can see how snowboarding could be enjoyable. I wouldn't go so far as to say that I, however, enjoyed it. I mean, falling down (sometimes quite hard) and picking myself up again a couple hundred times over the course of a few hours is not how I'd describe a particularly enjoyable day. Now, I think with a little bit of practice I might eventually get good enough to find some enjoyment in the activity, but for now, uhhh, not so much.

I don't mean to imply that I was completely hopeless. I mean I did show some (however slight) progress over the course of the day. For instance, I actually got pretty "good" at falling. What I mean is, I figured out how to fall, when I knew a fall was imminent that is, in such a way as to keep the potential damage to my body to a minimum. Sad to say, I never figured out a way to do the same for my pride. Still, I am glad I went and gave it a go, and, the soreness I've felt for the past four days not withstanding, I do actually look forward to getting back up on that horse, so to speak, and trying again.

The only thing is, my first day of the season happened to fall on the resort's last day of the season. Looks like I'll have to wait until the mountain reopens next June for my day two. That reminds me, did I tell you I was staying in Wanaka and making it my home for the foreseeable future? I didn't? Hmm, that's weird. :-)


Sunday, September 27, 2009


Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Dirk Benedict. A few random thoughts, observations, and ponderings that were just rattling around upstairs:

-At the bar the other night, I saw a man who bore a striking resemblance to "The Most Interesting Man in the World" from the Dos Equis commercials. He was drinking an Amstel.

-For the most part, I thoroughly enjoy the Kiwi version of the English language. There are, however, two notable exceptions that I find incredibly annoying. They are:
1.) pronouncing the words known, mown, and grown with two syllables.
2.) using a "t" rather than "ed" for the past tense of certain words, i.e. spilt and learnt.

-Bazooka is such a fun word to say it's a shame one doesn't have more opportunity to drop it in normal conversation.

-As exciting as the courses entitled 'Agri-chemical Application Safety' and 'Agri-chemical Equipment Calibration' sound, I can assure you they are nothing of the sort.

-The book I just checked out from the library has an honest-to-goodness library card still attached to the inside of the back cover. You remember those, right? The librarians stamped it with one of those little dial-a-date stamps every time a reader checked it out. I found it fascinating to study the book's circulation. It got checked out two or three times a year, every year between 1978 and 1986. Then it apparently sat on the shelf untouched until 1992 when, all of a sudden, it resumed it's previous pace of two to three checkouts a year until 2002. At that point the date stamps disappeared altogether. I assume that's when the library abandoned the card system in favor of the present electronic one.

-Speaking of the library, when I first got my library card I had to pay a $40 bond that I was told would be returned to me if I stayed for six months. I forgot all about it until this Saturday, when the librarian told me the six months was up and I was due back my $40. SCORE!

-I had Rippon's '07 Riesling for the first time last week--liquid gold!
-When I learnt that the Jumbotron at the Cowboys' new stadium is seven stories high, I had to smile. That "television" is four stories taller than the tallest building in Wanaka. And the tallest building in Wanaka isn't even suspended 85 feet in the air.

-I wonder why nobody wanted to read Brave New World from 1987 to 1991.

-I love it when a plan comes together.


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Hello stranger

As a few of my readers have recently pointed out to me, the blog entries have been fewer and farther between as of late. So I'd like to take this opportunity to explain myself.

See, what had happened was...

Actually nothing much really happened to cause the precipitous drop off in entries; and that's precisely the point: nothing much has really happened. At least nothing much worth blogging about. I think it was inevitable, really, that I got to this point. You see, after six months in this town, my life has shifted from more of a 'tourist' mode, where everything is new, exciting, and different to more of a 'local' mode, where everything is more routine, familiar, and comfortable. That's not a bad thing, mind you--I rather enjoy the laid-back little life I've carved out for myself here--it just doesn't make for very scintillating reading is all.

However, the hew and cry about my virtual blog abandonment (ablogdonment?) have served to remind me that, while a comfortable routine is nice, it's most important that I break out of it every so often and revert back to my touristy ways, even if only for good blog-fodder. So, dear readers--if there are any of you left out there, that is--I will make it my charge going forward not to get too comfortable in my routine.


Friday, August 21, 2009


Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Dolf Lundgren. A few random thoughts and whatnots:

-Today is the first day I haven't worn long johns in two and a half months. Spring is in the air, and I like it!

-There are some phenomenally talented Kiwi musicians. Some of my current favorites are: Kora, Tiki Taane, Paul Urbana Jones (all of whom I've had the pleasure of seeing live here in Wanaka), and Gin Wigmore (who I'd love to see live, and will if she plays anywhere close by in the future).

-I popped down to Barluga last Friday night where I found my buddy Mike (the bar Manager) training a new bartender in the making of some very exotic drinks. He was just in need of a Guinea pig to drink them. Oh boy, did I have the heads last Saturday.

-My T Bar M Squirrel hat's status has recently been downgraded from "anytime" to "work only."

-I need to do a better job of remembering to apply sunscreen during my lunch break.

-I recently discovered a new dessert. Brandy Snaps--oh, so delicious!

-I need to find a new Tuesday night activity. Last week was Amy and Shannon's last basketball game for the season. Their record: 2-10. They weren't good, but they sure were fun to watch.

-When a friend asks you "What are you doing this weekend?" and you respond "I have no plans." to which they reply "Wanna help me move?" you immediately regret not having replied with something else to their initial query.

-I'm three quarters of the way through The Count of Monte Cristo. It's fantastic. The Three Musketeers is now next on my reading list.

-One of my favorite Kiwi-isms is "lost the plot." I definitely lost the plot after my stint as exotic drink taster last Friday night.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

A star in the making?

Not hardly. But I did make my New Zealand television debut recently. Brief tangent: Kiwis pronounce the word "debut" like dayboo--it's kind of annoying.

Yes, so back to my non-starmaking turn on the small screen. Rippon Vineyards was the recent feature on Country Calendar, which is New Zealand's longest running television series of all time. For you readers from the Dallas area, you may remember that program on Channel 8 that used to come on on Saturday afternoons called Country Reporter. You know, with the guy from the old Dairy Queen commercials? Well Country Calendar is very much like that show. They travel around the whole of New Zealand and feature a unique place each week. The three episodes I've seen featured a 50,000 hectare cattle ranch that uses helicopters to muster the cows; a horse training facility that believes in training horses and riders in an all-natural way, meaning no bits, no bridles, and no horseshoes; and of course the one on my very place of employment.

The film crew came out and shot over the course of four days during harvest back in May. They got some really great footage. The aerial stuff they got from their helicopter is absolutely stunning. Nick tells us that they got something like 11 total hours of footage, from which they had to edit down to 24 minutes of programming. Crazy.

I make my first appearance on screen about 8-9 minutes in, when you see a pair of arms loading a full bin of grapes onto the back of a truck. Those were my arms! A few minutes later you see that same truck pulling away. Although you can't see me, I was behind the wheel of that truck! Then, in one of the very next scenes, you finally get to see my mug as I unload the bins of grapes onto the sorting table at the winery. It was a brief appearance to be sure, no more than a couple of seconds. But that was none other than yours truly making his television dayboo nonetheless.

The producers are supposed to be sending several dvd copies of the program so that every member of the staff can have one. When I get mine, I'll be mailing it to my people back in Dallas. I mean, I'm in television now, I've got to have "people." So if you want to borrow it for a look-see, you'll have to contact my people (read, parents).


Friday, August 7, 2009

The naming of barrels

Eiffel's got his tower. Wrigley, his field. JFK, an airport, a space center, and a couple thousand junior high schools. Me? I've got a barrel named for me. Yep, one of the 93 barrels of Rippon Vineyards 2009 vintage of Pinot Noir is named "Steve the Texan" after yours truly.
Hey Steven, why do the barrels have names?
Good question, you. I'll tell ya. Over the next 18 months, before the wine goes into bottle, the Winemakers will do periodic tastings and record their impressions of each barrel's characteristics. And, it's easier to really get to know a thing if it's got a name. Plus it's more fun to say "Jack Kerouac sure is coming along nicely" than "Barrel 36 sure is coming along nicely." Or: "How bout the tannins in Steve the Texan, huh?" Much better than "How bout the tannins in 27, huh?" "I think Kirk is way too oak-y." A better ring to it than "I think 75 is way too oak-y" don't you think? Besides, the wine in every single barrel will develop its own unique tastes, structures, mouth feel, aromas, and other characteristics. So much so that no two barrels will taste exactly the same. So if the wine from each barrel is unique, it stands to reason that each barrel should have a moniker equally so.
I see. But how, Steven, are the names determined?
Another good query. I'm glad you asked. You see, when the grapes are brought to the winery during harvest, they go into different fermentation tanks, or fermentors. Each tank has an identifying letter: A, B, C, etc. But, just as with the barrels, the wine in each fermentor will have it's own unique characteristics based on a number of factors, including, but not limited to, which block in the vineyard the grapes came from, what clone of Pinot Noir the grapes are, or whether or not the grapes were de-stemmed. So, why not give the fermentors a name to go along with their identifying letters? This year C fermentor was called Captains. D fermentor was called Deltas. U was for Ungulates. W stood for Wayfarers. And Y, Yankees. I think you get the idea. Well, from there, the barrels are given names so that they are subsets of the names of the fermentor from which they got their wine. For example, some of the barrels that got their wine from Captains include: Kirk, Hook, and Ahab--they were all "Captains" you see? Some more examples: Fermentor Deltas produced such barrels as Nile River, Mississippi River, and Airlines. Fermentor Wayfarers gave way to barrels including Jack Kerouac and Dr. Livingston. Fermentor Ungulates led to, among others, Antelope, Horse, and Zebra.
Interesting. But tell me, Steven, how is it that you got a barrel named for you?
My, you are an inquisitive one, aren't you? Well, it happened like this. Y fermentor was called Yankees. A couple of the barrels from Yankees were named for famous New York Yankees Babe Ruth and Joe Dimaggio. However; "Yankees" is also a term that those from Commonwealth countries have for Americans in general. As I am an American, Nick and Bret (our barrel namers) decided to call one of the Yankee barrels "Steve the Texan" in my honor.
Yeah, yeah. I get that. But there are literally hundreds of millions of 'Americans in general' from which they could have chosen. Why then, Steven, did they chose YOU?
So full of questions today. Goodness. Well, seeing as how it was me who unstacked all 93 barrels from storage, washed all 93 barrels, stacked all 93 barrels to dry, re-stacked all 93 barrels in the barrel room in preparation for filling, and then finally filled all 93 barrels, I guess Nick and Bret felt I had earned such an honor.
Fair enough. But tell me, Steven, why do they call you Steve?
Everybody just calls me Steve here. I don't know. I think it's cause Kiwis are lazy and can't be bothered with the second syllable.
Alright now, Asky McAskerson, I've had just about enough of your questions today, so I think I will say goodnight.
Night? Is it night time there?
Go away!
and Cheers!

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Familiar faces (continued)

Holy Chris, I'm behind on this blog! Right. Where was I? Oh yeah. Katie, Melissa, and I were on our way to Wanaka. First thing on my agenda was to correct my guests' pronunciation of my new home town. Kiwis, I've found, pronounce quite a few words and names differently than Americans would. 'Wanaka' is definitely among those. I imagine that, like me before I arrived here, most Americans would think Wanaka was pronounced so that it rhymed with 'banaca'--you know, the fresh-breath spray?--but no, it's actually pronounced so that it rhymes with Hanukkah--you know, the Jewish Festival of Lights? Correct pronunciation established. On with the trip.

We arrived in Wanaka after about an an hour and a half drive through some very pretty country. We passed more than a few vineyards along the way. Some quite picturesque. But none nearly as breathtakingly gorgeous as my workplace, which I was itching to show my former coworkers. And, after checking the girls into the motel, that's just where I took them. First stop, the tasting room. We sampled the entire range of Rippon wines, from Osteiner to Pinot, and there was much rejoicing. A wander through the vines and the requisite picture taking with the lake and mountains as the backdrop followed. I was so glad the weather was nice--we hadn't seen the sun once during the preceding nine days due to a most-stubborn inversion layer that had settled over the valley. But it cleared up brilliantly for my out of towners, and there was much rejoicing. After snapping a number of pics, it was up to the Winery for a tour, which Bret, the Assistant Winemaker, was more than happy to provide. He gave my guests (and me) quite an education on the process of wine making that was so much better than the tour I would've provided, i.e. "There are the tanks. There are the barrels. Any Questions?" Bret even provided us with a bonus tasting--straight from the barrels! We got to sample from two or three of the 08's and from two of the 09's, including from the barrel "Steve the Texan" named for yours truly (an entry on the naming of barrels, and how it is I got one named for me will be coming soon) and there was much rejoicing.

After the tour of my workplace, we went back to my house where Katie and Melissa took over the kitchen and prepared a most delectable Mexican food dinner. What a treat! They had read somewhere that I had been desperately missing good Mexican food and were so sweet to bring with them some much needed supplies. Although their beans got confiscated as contraband from Customs upon their arrival, they came through with flying colors. Our taco dinner was Grade A, muy delicioso, and there was much rejoicing.

After dinner we met up with Shannon down at the bar Woody's, where my friend Mike is the Manager. Jenn and Michelle joined us shortly thereafter and we had a fun night out, and there was much rejoicing.

The following day, the sky had reverted back to the grey palor it had maintained for most of the previous fortnight, but even so, the beauty of this place was little diminished so we took a long walk along the lakeside. About midway through our walk, it began to snow. The novelty of experiencing snow in July, especially for a couple of visiting Texans who, three days prior, were experiencing triple digit temperatures back in Dallas, was something to behold. I don't think it would've been possible to wipe the bewildered smiles from Katie's and Melissa's faces. I wouldn't have wanted to even if I could.

After our walk, I got to introduce the girls to one of my favorite Wanaka pastimes--drinking Brewskis at Kai. Kai is the cafe/bar on the busiest intersection of town, and if you sit outside long enough, sooner or later you'll see everyone you know. Shannon, Mike and Dean joined us, and for the next couple hours we all drank Brewskis, talked, laughed and greeted the multitudes of passersby we knew. Mostly I just sat back and watched as Mike and Dean kicked their 'entertaining out of towners' engines into high gear. Dean, an angry (not really, it's all an act) Welshman, and Mike, an affable (not an act, genuinely affable) Kiwi are quite the story tellers, and they had us all in stitches for hours. Just get Dean going on a diatribe about the French and you've got an afternoon's entertainment that's second to none. I really couldn't have asked for a better afternoon to show my guests just why this place has become so special to me. And there was certainly much rejoicing.

Come suppertime, we retired back to my house where Paula had prepared a traditional Kiwi dinner of lamb shanks, roasted veggies, and kumura. It was alright, but, frankly, not really worth writing home (or blogging) about, so I won't. There was only a little rejoicing.

Theirs was an extremely short visit--only a few days--but I'd like to think that Katie and Melissa had a good time. I know I certainly did. It was so great to see friends from back home, and I thoroughly enjoyed getting to play tour guide in my new little corner of the world. My only regret is that we never got a chance to make it to Puzzling World. Maybe next time. **Sarcasm heavily implied here. Brad knows, but for the rest of you, Puzzling World is the local, cheesy tourist trap.**

So, to sum up: good friends (both visiting and local) + good scenery + good weather + good wine + good food + inclement (but fun) weather + good beer + good conversation + good laughs = one helluva good time...

...with much rejoicing!


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

I feel the earth move under my feet

I was planning on writing about the Wanaka portion of Katie and Melissa's visit tonight, but that's going to have to wait.

About three hours ago, I was over at Shannon's house with Shannon, Mark, Michelle, and Paul watching a DVD of season one of Flight of the Conchords when, all of a sudden, I felt kind of weird. Sort of dizzy. Just the slightest bit queasy. Almost drunk even. I wasn't the only one feeling that way apparently. All five of us, all at once, just looked at each other for a few seconds, bewildering, confused looks plastered on each of our faces, trying to comprehend this strange sensation. What's going on? Why does it feel almost like we're on a boat? Why are the clothes hanging from the drying rack all swaying back and forth like that? Is this? Can it be? Yep, it sure is. This is an earthquake!

That's right. I just experienced my first earthquake. It was really trippy. There wasn't anything falling from the shelves or anything like that, and we didn't go running in terror to huddle under the nearest door frames. We all just rode out the three- to four-minute rumble smiling and laughing, not quite believing what we were experiencing.

I'm finding it exceptionally hard to describe. The best I think I can do is to say that it felt like we were on a boat in particularly rough waters. But still, that doesn't really nail it. Because there's just something so completely indescribably strange about the ground, you, two seconds ago, took for granite as being immovably rock solid, moving right under your feet.

We learned from the news shortly thereafter that it was a 7.8 magnitude quake, with the epicenter being some 250 kms southwest of us and 5 km deep in the ground. It's amazing that even that far away we could feel it as strongly as we did. What's more, there were reports of tremors being felt as far away as Wellington, which is on the North Island!

I tell you, I'm glad I had four other people around when it happened. Had I been by myself somewhere when it happened I most likely would've been scared out of my mind, but for some reason, because I was amongst friends, and it was a shared experience, it turned out to be the highlight of the evening. It was certainly more memorable than your average Wednesday night, that's for sure.

Granite, get it? Granite? Rock solid? Huh? Huh? Anyone? Is this thing on? Oh sod off, I thought it was funny.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Familiar faces

I recently had the great pleasure of hosting my first visitors! Katie and Melissa, a couple of friends from my old office, got themselves some fantastic airline-employee discount tickets and escaped the apparent blast furnace that is Dallas, Texas these days for the cooler climes of the southern hemisphere for a week. After stopping in across the ditch in Australia for a couple days, they found their way over to New Zealand. I met them at the Queensown airport, which, based on watching a couple of planes land there, has got to be one of the coolest airports in the world to fly into. The planes come in over the lake and literally land in a valley between two mountain ridges. It has to be an absolutely breathtaking view from a window seat.

After a mini Odyssey locating their rental car, it was time for Katie to take 'driving on the left 101.' She got more than her money's worth, I'll tell you. You see, I was driving the Chariot and Katie and Melissa were following in their rental, and I initially missed the driveway to the hostel where we were staying and proceeded to do a couple loops around town--through more than a few roundabouts--in an attempt to find our way back. Knowing what to do in roundabouts usually doesn't come up until 'driving on the left 201,' but despite her beginner status, Katie passed with flying colors!

We dropped our bags in the room and went for a wander about town. This was my first time in Queenstown, so it was all new to me too. Queenstown is a gorgeous, if slightly over commercialized, ski resort town. We had a great stroll along the waterfront and through the town; ate some yummy sushi; witnessed an elaborate Mardi Gras parade; found said parade to be completely random, given that Lent and Easter are both long since over; found a bar called The Lone Star--being Texans, we found that neat; freezed our buns off as soon as the sun went down; warmed up a bit in front of the fireplace at a local bar; listened a bit to a free outdoor concert; found a gelato shop that specializes in hot gelato drinks--brilliant; and called it a night. A very fun day.

Before setting off for Wanaka the following morning, we took the gondola ride up the mountain overlooking town. The vistas from the top (above some clouds, by the way) were absolutely stunning! The gondola is a must do if you ever find yourself in Queenstown.
Now, Queenstown was fun, but I was anxious to get to Wanaka, as this was my first opportunity to play tour guide for a couple of days. There's just something about sharing a place that's special to you with others that just feels really really good. You'll have to stay tuned for the recap of that part of their visit--I'm tired and I'm freezing, and my electric blanket has by now had sufficient time to get up to temperature, so I'm gonna go climb into bed.
Cheers and Good Night!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


A couple Mondays back, Nick came to work and announced he'd been up to Diamond Lake the previous weekend and that it was completely frozen over. He seemed particularly excited about this fact, and I soon found out why. A completely frozen Diamond Lake means curling! Several of us decided that would be a fantastic activity for the upcoming weekend, and we gave ourselves a mission during the week to make eight perfect curling "stones." All we needed was eight 2-liter ice cream containers, eight choice cuttings from the grapevines, and some water. We had zero problem rounding up the containers. With my bowl-a-day habit going strong for several weeks at that point, there was no shortage of empty ice cream containers at my place--I never throw them away, they make perfect storage containers/lunch boxes! Finding the perfect handle-shaped cuttings from the vines proved to be little of a challenge either. We filled the containers with water, stuck in the handles, popped the whole lot into the deep freeze and, abra cadabra, eight perfect stones. Or eight really big ice cubes with branches if you want to see it that way.

Sunday morning: Shannon, Nick, Bret, Bret's wife Jo, two of Bret's kids, and I loaded up our hand crafted stones, a couple brooms, a portable grill, a package of sausages and some buns, a tin of brownies, a couple bottles of Shannski (Shannon's home brew), and a bottle of whisky and made the arduous journey (10-minute drive followed by a 15-minute hike at a slight incline) to the rink. After a few extremely cautious first steps near the shoreline we were out in, excuse me, "on" the middle of the lake. Trippy! Other than at the American Airlines Center or the Galleria, you just don't see ice in such mass in Dallas, Texas.

Right, time to make targets. Two screwdrivers and a string is all you need. Anchor one screwdriver in the ice at a center point with a string tied around it. Tie the string around the second screw driver and pull it taut at a length of six inches, and simply walk in a circle around your center point, carving the business end of the screwdriver into the ice. Repeat the process with the length of string at two feet. And again at four feet. Voila. Three, perfectly round, concentric circles of one-, four-, and eight-feet diameters--a perfect target.

Nick and I teamed up and took on Bret and Shannon. One team member pushed the stone and the other used the broom to sweep in front of the stone's path, or not, depending on if you wanted the stone to go faster or not. Then you switch roles when you come back in the other direction. We quickly determined that our "sweeping" had precisely zero effect on either the stone's speed or trajectory, but we kept up the pretense in the spirit of the great game that is curling. That, and for a laugh--it was not uncommon for the sweepers to take hilarious tumbles from time to time. You try sweeping while trying to run slightly in front and to the side of a speeding ice cube on a big slab of ice and see how long you stay up, huh!

Nick and I made a pretty good team, and we dispatched not only Shannon and Bret in that first match, but all comers throughout the day. We left with an undefeated record. But, to be perfectly honest, Nick didn't contribute all that much to our efforts. Yep, I was, hands down, the best curler on the ice that day, my friends. Which prompted an oft repeated question from my Kiwi friends throughout the week's retellings of events: "how is it the man from the land with no ice is the best curler in the bunch?" I just shrugged it off as beginner's luck. What I may have failed to mention, however, was that a few years back, I made up one half of an illustrious* shuffleboard duo known as the Ted Strykers who dominated** the tables at Strokers and the Inwood Tavern. And what is curling really, if not shuffleboard writ large, on a slightly bigger, slightly more frozen table?

So, if you ever find yourself with access to 2-liter ice cream containers, grapevine cuttings, a deep freeze freezer, a broom or two, a couple screw drivers, some string, and a frozen lake, might I suggest giving curling a try. It makes for quite an enjoyable and memorable day.


*The "illustrious"-ness of the Ted Strykers may have been slightly exaggerated for the purposes of this story.
**The amount by which the Ted Strykers "dominated" the tables might also have been slightly exaggerated.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Living the dream!

For several years now--nay, for the entirety of my life--it has been my dream to be able to eat ice cream every single day. Today, I can proudly say that I am living that dream. I've eaten a bowl, cup, or cone of ice cream every day for the past six weeks or so. And, I don't say that as an exaggeration. I literally eat ice cream every day.

Of course, I've always been physically capable of eating ice cream on a daily basis. It's just that in my old life I didn't burn nearly enough calories to do so without potentially ballooning up to 400lbs as a result. But no longer is that the case. Now it seems all the physical work I do in the vineyards every day burns enough calories that I can eat all the mint choc chip, hokey pokey, cookies 'n cream, caramello, and raspberry ripple I want and never gain a pound. My scale hasn't budged from the 180lb mark for close to two months now!

However, it's not all peaches and cream, this dream of mine. Mostly because peaches and cream doesn't exist as a flavor here. Which brings me to my point. As much as I enjoy my daily bowl, I can't help but wish I was dishin' it up from a half-gallon Blue Bell container. Now, don't get me wrong; Deep South, Cadburry, and Tip Top make some fine ice creams. But they're not Blue Bell.

I thought about delving into the human condition and exploring that which keeps us from being fully satisfied when dreams or desires are achieved or obtained (i.e. I'm finally able to eat ice cream every day but it's not the brand I'd truly prefer), but then I decided I'd rather just go and take this new white chocolate raspberry flavor for a spin.


Thursday, June 25, 2009

Hey Bartender

A few weeks ago, when my friend Shannon asked me if I wanted a job for the weekend that involved long hours of hard work for no pay, I jumped at the chance. And that's how I found myself down at the Lake Wanaka Center on a Friday and Saturday night bar tending at the annual Wearable Creations Fashion Show & Party.

To be fair, I really couldn't call what I was doing "bar tending." We only had two brands of beer, four varieties of white wine, and one type of red on offer. Serving the beer took no more skill than opening the bottle, and serving the wine rarely took any more--most of our wine sales were by the bottle as well, rather than by the glass. Every so often I was called upon to actually pour a glass of wine, but I think I managed to master that particular skill sufficiently well. Like I said, not really bar tending--I didn't have to learn to mix any fancy cocktails or anything.

Wearable Creations is easily one the biggest, and most anticipated, events in town. The show is three hours long, and features, as the name implies, wearable creations conceived, designed and modelled by fellow Wanakans? Wanakites? Wanakanos? people from Wanaka. And, boy howdy, are there ever some creative and talented people from Wanaka! Some of the entries included: a suit made entirely of wine bottle corks; a 20's-style flapper dress made of plastic cutlery; another flapper comprised of a couple thousand beer bottle pull tabs; two dresses made of toilet paper; and a couple dresses made of red, yellow, and blue 'admit one' tickets.

But my three favorites entries were as follows:

3.) The dress made entirely out of zippers--10 kgs (22lbs) worth according to the emcee--that started out as a long, billowing ball gown but kept getting smaller and smaller throughout the routine as layer after layer kept getting unzipped until our model finally strutted off in little more than a tank-top and miniskirt, made of zippers.

2.) A dress made of old car parts, complete with a license plate in the back, flashing turn indicators on the elbows, and a pair of working headlights exactly where you'd expect a pair of headlights to be. This of course prompted more than a few cat calls from the crowd of "Hey baby, nice headlights!" Pretty clever--the dress design, not the cat calls.

1.) Easily the highlight of the show! Two gorgeous women (who I later found out are aerobics instructors at the local health club) showcasing a local graphic artist's abilities with body paint. The medium? Chocolate. That's right--naked aerobics instructors body-painted in chocolate! Did I mention the show was a tad risque at times, and had an R18 rating? That means nobody under 18 was allowed in, which, as it turns out, made the bar tending gig that much easier because we didn't have to worry about checking IDs (the legal drinking age in NZ is 18).
The show, and even the bar tending work, was great fun. I met heaps of people and added them to my grocery list--that's the ever-expanding list of people I now know and could potentially run into while shopping. Or in Dunedin as the case may be! I ran into the show's head organizer, Kate, and her husband Ian, another of the bartenders, at the Governor in Dunedin the day after my big night out following the All Blacks game. That was kind of cool.

Now if you'll excuse me, my aerobics class down at the health club is starting soon!


Thursday, June 18, 2009

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage Part II

We entered the stadium and found our seats, stopping on the way at the concession stand for some Steinlagers of course. Our seats were pretty good. We were on the front row at the corner of the end zone. The ABs were doing their pre-game warm-ups not ten meters from us. Other pre-game activities included the Mayor of Dunedin (not my friend, Aaron, but the actual elected city official) singing the New Zealand national anthem. I'd never heard it before. It's really cool. It's bilingual, the words in both Maori and English. But that was just the preamble to the most important of pre-game festivities: the Haka. I've seen the AB's Haka on television or in you tube clips a number of times, but nothing compares to seeing it live and in person--a true highlight of the entire experience!

The game got underway. The French took an early lead, and looked as though they were going to dominate the entire match. Our heroes came back at the end of the first half to score a try (directly in front of our seats no less) to narrow the gap. But narrow the gap was the best they could do. The French emerged victorious with a 27-22 win. Bloody hell. Is there anything worse than losing to the French? Oh well, on with the evening's festivities. Can't let the AB's loss put a damper on a big night out on the town.

The queue for the buses going back into town was a mile long so we decided to hoof it. A good long walk, but it was kind of fun walking down the street with a couple thousand people. I did fear for the safety of a few rather boisterous French fans that kept asking people in a sarcastic way, "Who won? Did you see who won? Did the French beat the mighty All Blacks?" Not too bright.

After our marathon trek back into town, our first stop of the night was a bar called Toast. While there I bumped into a friend of Brooke and Aaron's who I met the first time I was in Dunedin. A while back I thought it was kind of neat to bump into someone I knew at the grocery store, now I'm bumping into people I know in a town three hours from where I live which I've only been to once before. Toast was alright. We only stayed for one drink. Next stop was Pop. Having just left Toast, all I could think of when we entered Pop was Pop Tart, and I wondered if we'd later round out the toastable breakfast foods with a stop at Bar Eggo Waffle. Pop was fun. A dark little bar below street level that played dance music. At one point during our Pop stay I had to excuse myself to the restroom. I found each of the two toilets occupied so I leaned against the wall in the little anteroom outside. Moments later a girl walked into the little anteroom and saw me waiting patiently. I said "hello." She said, "you're cute" and then proceeded to wrap her arms around my neck and start kissing me. Now I know this might come as a shock, but cute strangers kissing me out of the blue isn't all that common of an occurrence for me. But, 'when in Rome,' right? And I'll tell ya, I've had worse experiences while in line for the pisser--like, for instance, every other time in my entire life that I've ever been in line for the pisser.

After more than a few drinks at Pop, we thought it would be a fantastic idea to go to the casino and make a deposit. While we may not have had, the doorman at the casino seemed to have our best interest at heart, when he uttered three simple words before we were even within thirty feet of the door: "Not tonight, fellas." We sure felt like we appeared sober. Guess not. Thank you mister doorman. You probably saved us heaps of cash.

Having been denied our opportunity to blow all our money, we changed tack and decided finding some fallafel was now priority number one. And in this respect, our luck was aces. We found a late-night Turkish takeaway not three blocks from the casino. Winner, winner, chicken dinner. Well, maybe not chicken. What is fallafel anyway?

Having satisfied our late night kebab craving, we hit a couple more bars, the names of which, if I ever knew them, I have since forgotten. I remember though, at one of them I ran into my friend Agustin who worked at the vineyard during harvest. And that was nice.

The rest of the evening is a tad bit hazy. But I do remember our desperate attempts to hail a cab for the ride home, because there was no way on God's green earth we were going to attempt to walk up the small mountain atop of which Jason's house sits. I think it was probably the 12th empty cab to pass us that finally pulled over to take our fare. Another two dozen or so and we would have started to worry.

Next thing I remember is waking up on the floor of Jason's living room the next morning. Well, afternoon, if you want to get technical about it. Head pounding, teeth in desperate need of a good brushing, and wait, why do I still have my shoes on?
Right. Time for a good, greasy, hangover-curing breakfast. Shannon recommended Governor's--it's a Dunedin institution, apparently. Governor's is right down the street from the Dunedin Church of Chris--I'm guessing that's one of your lower-tier, lesser-known religions in the pantheon of monotheistic faiths. Either that, or the sign at the Church of Christ is missing a "t." Our afternoon breakfast was top notch. God bless the genius who invented Hollandaise sauce! Those were the best Eggs Benedict I've ever had--full stop. Until about a half hour later, of course, when they turned on me. They seemed to settle like a cinder block in my stomach. I guess I should have seen it coming though. There's really no one to blame but myself. I mean, what else should I have expected but treason from a dish with such a moniker. I somehow managed not to lose my lunch (breakfast), but I felt fairly queasy for the remainder of the drive.

We pulled into Wanaka a couple hours later, thank Chris. I took a shower and proceeded to do little more than read a little of my book and sleep for the remainder of the day. I paid for it in spades on Sunday afternoon, but the rip roaring Saturday night in The Big Smoke was well worth it.


P.S. For those unfamiliar with rugby, "Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage" are the instructions given to the teams by the ref during every scrum.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage

Last weekend I went road trippin' to Dunedin with friends Shannon, Mike, and Dean for the All Blacks test against France. Fully loaded with snacks and supplies, we set off for the three-hour drive early Saturday morning. It was nice to actually see the landscape this time around, as the majority of my first drive to Dunners about a month ago was done in the dark. Pretty country. Made one quick pit stop in Alexandra, the nearest town with a Telecom retailer, so I could buy a new cell phone to replace the one I left in the pocket of my jeans on laundry day earlier in the week. Apparently cell phones aren't built to withstand a good soak and spin. Who knew?

We arrived in "Sunny Dunnedin"--the highly ironic nickname bestowed on the city due to the infrequency in which it is actually sunny--to find it actually sunny! The weather was absolute bluebird in fact. That means not a cloud in the sky to you non Kiwi speakers. We took advantage of the brilliant weather and enjoyed a nice stroll around town for a couple hours. Then it was off to Jason's house for a good rest up for what was sure to be a big night. Jason is an old mate of Shannon's and Mike's, and he was gracious enough to put us up for the night. Good thing too, because with the ABs in town, the place was packed and accommodations could've proved difficult (and costly) to otherwise obtain.

Rested up and now dressed in our AB gear--all of us except Dean that is, who, as a Welshman, felt it his duty to wear his bright red Wales Rugby jersey--we walked down to the Octagon to catch a bus to Carisbrook Stadium, a.k.a. "The House of Pain," to join up with 30,000 some-odd other black-clad fans. The sell-out crowd, coupled with the fact this would be the last ever AB match at historic Carisbrook, made for an electric atmosphere. Everyone was all smiles entering the grounds, eagerly anticipating the forecasted forthcoming flaying of the French. I even heard mention a theory that, given the historical French penchant for surrender, they might just forfeit after the AB's pregame ritual, the Haka, and save everyone the formality of actually playing the game.

Would the AB's and their fan's overconfidence be their undoing? Would random girls try to kiss any of us at the bar later that night? Would we get turned away at the casino door at 2:00am for apparently, despite our best efforts, not approaching said door and it's accompanying doorman in a straight line? Would one of the ordinate number of Turkish cafes in Dunedin be open late enough to satisfy a late night fallafel craving? Would a taxi ever pick us up and take us home, or were we doomed to walk (read stagger) up that monster hill at 3:3o? Would we discover a new religion the following morning?

You'll have to come back for the next installment to find out, dear readers. I'm tired, and I'm going to bed.


Sunday, May 31, 2009


Scattershooting while wondering whatever happened to Mia Sara.

A few random thoughts:

-The Letters to the Editor section of a small town newspaper is one of the most (unintentionally) hilarious and entertaining reads you can find.

-Heard "Look Away" by Chicago on the radio yesterday, and it really took me back. That sappy bit of 80's cheeseball fluff was the official "break-up" song of the fifth grade, and the soundtrack to my first broken heart. Look away, Julie Eldridge, look away. ;-)

-Cadbury makes some good ice cream. Caramello is my fave!

-My car wouldn't start two days ago, and I have yet to do a thing about it. Walking to the grocery store is good exercise.

-As of last Thursday, I can add 'driving a tractor' to the Other Skills section of my resume.

-Just discovered that I can watch every episode of this season's LOST on TVNZ's website. Sweet!

-Not counting this one or the one entitled "Is it Weird?," I've inserted a line (or variation thereof) from the Shawshank Redemption into my last five blog entries. Can you find them?


Saturday, May 30, 2009

More fun than a barrel of something

For the past four weeks, my services have been appropriated from the vineyard, and I've been working in the winery. My official job title is Cellar Hand, but I'm more affectionately known as the Barrel Monkey. Basically I have taken the barrels from storage, washed the barrels, stacked the barrels to dry, re-stacked the barrels in the cellar to be filled, and finally filled the barrels with the 09 Pinot. Did I mention that each empty barrel weighs about 50kgs? That's 110lbs. I thought repeatedly lifting 10kg bins of grapes was a workout. That was until I had to create stacks of barrels three high! My first day maneuvering the barrels was quite reminiscent of my first day ever at the vineyard--some three months ago--in that when I got home it took a considerable amount of will just to summon up the energy to take a shower. And I was in far better shape after harvest than I was when I first got here. There's no possible way I could've done the Barrel Monkey job right off the street. I wouldn't have had nearly the strength or stamina required. But it seems that every job I've had here at Rippon has had the effect of preparing my body for the next, more physically demanding one. Pulling out the nets was hard, but it got me in shape for the Monitor job during harvest. Being the Monitor was harder, but it got me in shape for the Barrel Monkey job. The Barrel Monkey job was harder still, but now I'm ready for just about any physical challenge my Employers could possibly dream of throwing my way.

Because, you see, I'm now, without question, in the best physical shape of my life. I tipped the scales this morning at 180lbs--some 30lbs lighter than I was at the beginning of March, and some 45lbs lighter than my all-time high of 225 back in early 2008! I haven't seen the scale south of 190 since my freshman year in college. Oh, and muscles. Holy crap, I've found muscles I never knew I had. Anybody wanna arm wrestle?
I think 2009 will ultimately see Rippon Vineyards produce a good Pinot Noir, but we'll have to wait 18 months to find out. What is already apparent, however, is that (at least in my opinion) they're responsible for the best vintage of Steven Bearden to date!

Saturday, May 23, 2009

An offer I can't refuse?

When Charlie first hired me over the phone back in February, it was based solely on the fact that I knew one of "The Texas Boys." My initial employment period was to be for five weeks of pre-harvest work, with the condition that if they were pleased with my performance, they'd keep me on for the three weeks of harvest. So, at most, I was looking at a possible eight weeks of work. I'm now one day into my 12th week. By week two, Charlie told me they were sufficiently impressed with me that they'd be happy to have me stay on for harvest. By week five, she offered me a full-time, permanent position. She said they loved my work ethic, attitude, and enthusiasm, and felt I would make a good addition to the permanent Team. What's more, she said that Rippon would sponsor me for residency when my current work/travel visa expires come January!

I like it here and I've decided to stay...

...through winter that is. I haven't accepted Charlie's offer (yet) but I agreed to stay on through the winter and give it some serious thought.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Is it weird?

Is it weird...

...that I don't have (and never have had) a key to the house in which I live because the door is never locked?
...that I'm now suprised when I DON'T run into someone I know at the grocery store?
...that on a clear, sun-shiney day the first thing I think is "ooh, it would be a good day to hang the washing?"
...that I filled up my car over a month ago and still have more than a third of a tank left?
...that it's less than a five-minute walk to the homes of most of my best Wanaka mates?
...that now, every so often, I get an extra stamp on my Brewski card (buy 9 and your 10th is free) at my favorite watering hole because I'm a "local?"

Nope! All just part of life in small town New Zealand.


Saturday, May 16, 2009

Party Time! Excellent!

So we finished up the picking on a Thursday afternoon--the last two hours of which in a torrential rain--and I delivered my final load of the harvest (#117) to the winery at approximately 5:20pm. Two days before, I had bet Ned we'd have 120 total loads for the harvest. He bet 115. His guess was one closer than mine, so yet another pie is coming Ned's way, and my 0-fer record on the prop bets is still perfect.

After my last load had been delivered, the entire crew came up to the winery to celebrate the end of harvest by sampling the first two jugs (approx. 5 liters each) of Bret's legendary Harvest Ale, the balance of the two kegs to be enjoyed two days later at the official Harvest Party.

The party was to start at noon on Saturday and last until the last person left--which could be sunrise the next day for all anyone cared. I had to come in at nine to do some work in the winery before hand. The first thing Nick says to me (after the obligatory "good morning" of course) was "Okay, get your kit off?" You know you're in for an interesting day when the first thing your boss tells you to do is take off your pants. Easy folks. No, I do not have a sexual harassment case now pending against my employer. They had pumped the juice from one of the fermentors, and into a settling tank, before my arrival, and it was my job to "dig out" the skins from the fermentor to be loaded into the press. The only way to do this is to jump into the fermentor--which you can't very well do in socks, shoes, and pants. I had a pair of athletic shorts (that I now keep at the winery for just such occasions) to change into, having learned from my first experience in a fermentor (doing pigeage a couple weeks prior) when I had nothing but my Under Amour boxer-briefs to guard my modesty. Should you find yourself someday enjoying a bottle of 2009 Rippon Pinot Noir, keep in mind that it can't be said that this product has been untouched by human feet. In fact, it may interest (or repulse) you to know that most (if not all) quality boutique red wines have at some stage in their production been touched by human feet.

What to wear?

It had been decided on Thursday evening that the Harvest Party should have a silly dress-up theme. I had, however, been unable to procure an outfit between Thursday evening and Saturday morning so I was in a quandary. No worries. After digging out the fermentor, Nick took me up to Lois' house to raid the party closet. Fancy dress parties are apparently not uncommon in this little hamlet, and the Mills family has accumulated quite an assortment of dress-up wear. I chose a nice little lederhosen/sweater/pageboy-hat combo for my ensemble. It was a bit chilly out so I opted to keep on my polypropylene long johns rather than sport the traditional knee-high socks that normally accompany lederhosen. No matter, it was still a well-received outfit--some might say, the best at the party. I mean, someone could've topped me with a pair of fuzzy britches, a la Raquel Welch, but noone did.

Party supplies

Turns out the Harvest Party is not only for the harvest crew. Other invitees included: anyone who'd done any work for the vineyard over the last year, family friends, neighbors, suppliers, other winemakers in town, and local restaurateurs who sell Rippon wines in their establishments. It was quite a crowd--I'd say close to eighty. Even with all those folks, we were want of very little. There was probably enough food to feed twice the number in attendance (a common practice at NZ parties I've attended). The fare included a spit-roasted lamb, tomato basil soup, couscous with beetroot, New Zealand green mussels, roasted pumpkin, butternut, and acorn squash wedges, and fresh bread with real Kiwi butter. And as far as liquid refreshment was concerned? The party was at a flippin' vineyard/winery. Trust me, we had no worries on that front!

Some see the glass as half empty. Some see the glass as half full. If I see your glass half full, I fill it up! During all the post-lunch toasts (of which there were many) it was my duty to keep everyone that was drinking Harvest Ale all topped up--a job at which I excelled by the way. You see, Bret taught us the proper pouring method on Thursday night to audition us for the post. And it seems I was rather adept at the task--which isn't inherently easy given that a full five-liter jug is not light. The way you do it is hook your right index finger into one of the loops at the neck of the jug, raise your arm so that your palm is facing away from you and the jug runs along the back of your hand down to the outside of your elbow. When you're ready to pour, simply lower your hand and raise your elbow. A true pro can do this with his left thumb tucked into his suspender with his left elbow pointing straight out to his side, his chest puffed out like a peacock, and his head back and proud. It took me a couple jugs, because one's initial instinct is to lower one's shoulder when pouring, but I got it down and attained my "pro" status by the end of the toasts. It was a great job to have too because the guy with the beer is much beloved; and I rather like being much beloved--it's nice. Plus, my duty gave me a built in excuse to approach and visit with everybody at the party--including a couple of cuties I might not have otherwise approached. It's good to be the king...of beer.

Barrel Racing

After virtually everyone at the party had been toasted three or four times each, the next item on the agenda was the barrel races. This was an absolute highlight. The four relay teams were determined as follows: those with hats and ties, those with hats but not ties, those without hats but with ties, and those with neither hats nor ties. I was a hat/no tie. The way the race works is two teams square off at a time, with one racer from each team poised over his/her barrel waiting for the signal from Charlie to begin. Once the gun (Charlie's two-year old son, Fred, saying "bang") goes off, the racers roll away. Each racer has to roll his/her barrel past the midpoint barrel, down to, and around, the far barrel and come back, stopping at the midpoint barrel, where Ned and Bones are waiting with full glasses of beer to be downed be each racer before crossing over the start/finish line and passing the barrel off to the next member of the relay. The race featured a few unorthodox rolling techniques, some good collisions, a close call or two for Ned and Bones, our faithful beer pourers, and more than a few great laughs. We lost our semifinal round to the hats/ties, but we took the consolation, third-place race over the other semifinal losers: the no hats/no ties. The no hats/ties took the overall crown by just edging out the hats/ties in a thrilling photo finish. And there was much rejoicing!

After sunset

By the time the barrel races wrapped up, the sun had gone down and the DJ had arrived--it was time to turn this mutha' into a dance party! Well lubricated with beer and wine, we dancing machines lasted long into the night. But we also worked up a bit of an appetite as a result. Luckily for us, the lamb, which hadn't yet been carved up completely, had been stashed away for just such an eventuality. Nick (the big boss man) and I were on the job. We shovelled out some coals from the fire and set the spit back up. Then Nick, armed with knife and tongs, and I, armed with a torch (flashlight) proceeded to find, and carve up, all those yummy good bits still hanging on the bone in order to feed the hungry, dancing masses. Being the carvers, it was our prerogative to invoke carver's privilege (which we did a number of times) to tax all the best bits! After getting every last morsel that could be gotten from the lamb, it was back to the dance floor (read, picnic tables) for a couple more hours.
Sleepy time
I came to the party knowing full well I would be in no shape to drive home by the time it was over. So, I came fully prepared to sleep in my car--having that morning folded down the back seats of the Chariot, laid my foam mattress in the back, and spread out my sleeping bag, my wool blanket, and my duvet. Thankfully, however, it never came to that, because even with all those covers, I reckon I still would've frozen my buns off had I camped out in the Chariot for the night. My friend Brent, who doesn't drink, was able to give me a lift home, and I was able to crawl into my bed at about 4:00am. It was a grand party (all sixteen hours of it), and I think good times were had by all.

Needless to say, mine was an incredibly lazy Sunday. Actually, come to think of it, I was still moving pretty slowly come Tuesday. I've learned that you might still be able (from time to time) to party like you're 21 when you are, in fact, 31; but you sure can't recover the next day like you're 21! Headaches hurt!


Friday, May 8, 2009

Drinking and gambling: just your regular workday activities


Do you know how many times in my former job I would've loved to knock back a cold beer or a glass of wine at lunch? I don't either, but I can tell you it was more than five and fewer than 7,542. Not that my former job drove me to drink (alot), it's just that sometimes a little indulgence during the midday meal is just what the doctor ordered to lift one's spirits before heading back to the grindstone/keyboard/grapevine/whatever.

Well, one of the distinct pleasures of working the harvest at Ripppon Vineyards is the lunchtime libations. Lunch, in and of itself, is worth writing home, or in this case, blogging, about. Lois, the owner of the vineyard and the mother of the Head Winemaker (Nick) and the Vineyard Manager (Charlie), cooks lunch for the entire crew every day. And a good cook she is too. She always makes it so there's plenty available for seconds, and seconds are had by all. But the true treat of the noon-hour break is that accompanying our feasts are always several bottles of wine. Nick likes for the crew to have an idea of the final product that will result from the day's labor. So, if we're picking Pinot Noir one day, we'll have a previous vintage Pinot with our lunch that day. If we're picking Osteiner; we'll drink Osteiner. Picking Gewurztraminer; drink Gewurztraminer. Riesling; Riesling. You get the idea. In addition, Bret, the Assistant Winemaker, happens to be a master brewer; and from time to time, he'll bring out a couple jugs of his famous Harvest Ale for us to partake. You know, I think it really adds something to the (pardon this wee bit of corporate-speak here) "Teambuilding" when you can pour a glass of wine (or beer) for your coworkers, clink your glasses together, and toast each others' health with a hearty cheers/salud/slancha/prost!

Of course, given that my actual job during harvest involves driving the truck, one small glass is my lunchtime limit.


Let me tell you a little about Ned. Ned is year-round, full-time staff at Rippon. He's in his early sixties and enjoying the sixth year of his second career growing grapes after thirty-some-odd years as a school teacher. He's as strong as an ox and tough as nails, and as gentle and kind a man as you'll ever meet. He's been my mentor out in the vines for the past two and a half months; and it's been my distinct pleasure to work with him and learn everything he's had to teach. Ned's as straight-laced, salt-of-the-earth as they come. No outward vices. He prefers a night in reading a book or watching BBC World News to just about any other activity. And a big exciting weekend for Ned is a trip to Dunedin to see a movie in a theater. So, you can imagine my surprise when harvest started and, all of a sudden, Ned's a betting machine!

Apparently, proposition bets are a harvest tradition; and let me tell you, nobody likes a good prop bet more than Ned. When Ned thinks of something to bet on he rubs his hands together excitedly and a devilish grin appears at the corners of his mouth before he lays his proposition on us. Sometimes if I'm on the fence on whether or not to take his action, he'll goad me into it by saying "C'mon Stevie!" Ned is one of only three people ever in my life that I've allowed to call me "Stevie" with no hard feelings, by the way.

So what do we bet on? Just about anything. Who will be the first person to lose a full bin of grapes off the back of a moving vehicle: Ned or Amy with the four-wheeler/trailer combo, or me with the truck? How many days will harvest last? How many total loads will I take up to the winery during harvest? Who will be the first picker to cut his/her finger with the clippers? Can Lewis go a full minute without talking today? Will we have to jump start the Bedford this morning? How many bins will we get off of the Rieslings in H Block? Will anyone be dumb (drunk) enough to try and jump over the Harvest Party fire this year? Will it rain this afternoon? They're as good a things to bet on as any, I suppose.

And the currency for all these wagers? Pies! You heard me. Pies--specifically, ones from the Hammer and Nails Bakery (the best in town, I've been told). I'm already into Charlie for a sweet chocolate fudge pie (for dropping a full bin off my truck) and into Ned for three savory steak and kidney pies (for bets I can't even remember at this point). Alas, I don't seem to be very good at these bets and I currently don't have a single pie owed to me. No matter. When I go to the Hammer and Nails to purchase my payoffs, I imagine I'll pick up a little something to nibble for myself.

So, you think you'll be tempted to order that drink at lunch tomorrow? A pie says you will!


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Harvest Time!

No time to sit back and unwind. Nope. Things shift into a whole new gear when it's time to make the doughnuts, er pick the grapes. So much so, in fact, that come harvest time, Charlie hires a dozen pickers (from all over the world it seems) to get the job done. This hiring results in a more than doubling of the size of the Rippon Vineyards staff, and makes the ritual morning greetings exponentially more enjoyable! To Brent (the only other American) I say: "howdy." To Antoine and Camille (our Frenchies) I say: "bonjour mon amis." To Christina (Colombian) and Augustin (Peruvian) I say: "buenas dias mis amigos." To Simon (German) I say "guten morgen." To Lou, Alana, Chris, and Kathy (all Kiwis) I say "g'day." For my Aussie friend Tim, I throw in a "mate." To Emily (Canadian) I always present my greeting in the form of a question: "It's a good morning, eh?" And to my Scottish friend, Lewis, I quite deliberately say: "Top 'o the marnin' to ye," to which he replies: "I'm not bloody Irish, you wanker!" Ahh, the day can't really begin in earnest until you've raised the hackles of a Scotsman! I've mentioned that this motley collection are Pickers. Their job is to--well I hope you've put this one together--pick the grapes. They snip the bunches from the vines and place them in plastic bins. When the Pickers fill their bins, they leave them under the rows to be collected by the Porters.

Ned and Amy are our trusty Porters. They motor along through the rows on their four-wheeler and trailer, collecting all the full bins left by the pickers. They then deposit them at the head of the rows to be collected and transported to the winery by the Monitor. I am the Monitor! No, I am not a civil war-era iron-clad battleship, thank you very much. I am the record keeper of the harvest. It is the Monitor's job to keep track of such things as the total number of bins per load, number of bins picked per row, type and clone of grape, block and parcel of land, and number and time of load. For example: Load number 12 was delivered to the winery at 8:45am and consisted of 54 bins of Pinot noir (clone 777) grapes picked from block A, parcel 6, which is six rows long, giving us an average of 9 bins per row. The powers that be assumed (correctly as it were) that such a job would appeal to my meticulous nature. I have my own little clipboard and everything! Oh, but hold your horses dear readers. Lest you begin to think my role purely bureaucratic in nature, let me nip it in the bud and correct your faulty line of reasoning forthwith. Actually, mine is not only the most meticulous job of the harvest, it is also--and by a long way I might add--the most physically demanding. I have to lift each and every 10-15kg bin onto my truck from down in the vineyard and then again from my truck onto the sorting table up at the winery. With an average of 40-50 bins per load and about 12-15 loads per day, the "Kay Gees" (or "Ell Bees" for you lot still on the Imperial system of measurement) add up! Nick did the math and figured out that I lifted 3.5 metric tons of weight onto the sorting table one day. That means I lifted 7 metric tons total that day, because I lift every bin twice--once onto my truck and a second time onto the sorting table.

Back on my first day at the vineyard two months ago, I thought the job putting out the nets was tough. That was nothing compared to this job. There's no way I could've done this job in the shape I was in a couple months back. No frickin way! But, luckily enough for me, I'm not in the shape I was in a couple months back. I'm actually quite fit now, thank you very much. I've never been, and probably will never be, what I'd consider "buff." However, I've turned into one lean, mean, grape-lifting machine! My 34-inch waist jeans now fall straight to the floor unless I've got my belt cinched up to it's tightest setting. And my shoulders, chest, and arms are noticeably bigger than they've ever been in my life. I gotta tell ya, I kinda like the new me!

Well, harvest has been going on for three weeks now, but unfortunately my computer chose this same time to crash and burn on me; and I haven't had much energy at the end of each day to trudge down to the internet cafe to update the blog while it's been at the repair shop. Thus, there is a substantial backlog of blog fodder concerning harvest. I got my laptop back from the computer repair guy today, hence this entry. However, in the interest of my sagging eyelids, I will take this opportunity to bring it to a close. More to come, faithful readers, I promise.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Big City Weekend

Last weekend I went to the big city. Well, "big" for this part of the world at least. With a population of around 130,000, I doubt Dunedin would even crack the top ten in the DFW Metroplex, but here it makes it the largest city in the Otago region. I went there to visit two particular Dunedin-ites--Brooke and Aaron. Brooke, a Texas girl, and Aaron, a Kiwi guy, met at a wedding my dad officiated last year between another Texas girl and Kiwi guy. What is it with these Kiwi guys that they think they can just saunter over to Texas and make off with our best girls? ;-)

I had actually first met Brooke and Aaron, I think it was my third week in New Zealand, when they came up to Auckland for a friend's wedding. We had lunch together then went to a preseason rugby match. I really enjoyed my afternoon with them so I was quite looking forward to my weekend visit.

I set off for the three and a half-hour drive after work on Friday afternoon. With daylight-savings now over, the light fails pretty early in the afternoon, so most of the drive was in the dark. Much to my consternation, I discovered that the Chariot's headlights are not tip top, so much of the hilly, windy journey was spent in white-knuckled terror. Okay, so not really "terror," but there were a few spots that were of more than just a little concern. But ultimately we came through unscathed and I arrived at their apartment at a little past 9:00pm. I was greeted with a hearty handshake (from Aaron), a nice hug (from Brooke), a cold beer, and what turned out to be music to my ears--Brooke's Texas accent. As much as I enjoy the lilting Kiwi accent, I hadn't realized how much I miss hearing a good ol' familiar Texas drawl. I was also greeted with an unexpected little boost to the self esteem. The first time I met Brooke and Aaron was during the height of my quest for Auckland's best gelato, and was before seven weeks of good, hard, manual labor at the vineyard. Since then I've lost close to twenty pounds, and I have to tell you, when Brooke asked what happened to the rest of me, I couldn't help but smile.

With our Steinlagers drained, we moseyed down to The Octagon--an area of town with several restaurants, cafes, and bars--to check out the goings on of the Friday-night scene. We bar-hopped to three or four different joints, all of which were playing Kings of Leon over their sound systems. The Kings of Leon are huge over here. They had a concert up in Christchurch three weeks ago that I unsuccessfully tried to get a ticket to. Apparently the tickets sold out the first week they went on sale--last November!

Around midnight, our rumbling bellies led us to The Dragon Cafe for some late-night deep-fried sweet and sour pork (and chips). There was a table of about ten people sitting near us and Aaron knew a few (if not all) of them. Over the course of the weekend I came to realize that Brooke's nickname for Aaron, "The Mayor of Dunedin," is quite apt. Everywhere we went, it seemed Aaron knew everyone there.

On Saturday Brooke had to work until 3:00pm, so I cruised with Aaron down to the Saturday-morning Farmer's Market (the largest in New Zealand, I believe). Aaron owns a fish-supply business and has a stand at the market. Oh, and he also knows everybody there--did I mention he is the "Mayor" of Dunedin? Next we were off for a tour of his factory. Didn't care much for he smell--even though it was closed on Saturday and no fish were being processed at the moment--but it was quite an impressive facility. He has contracts with about a dozen boats that fish for his operation, and he told me if I came back in July or August, he could probably get me out on one of them for a day's worth of crayfish (lobster) fishing. You can bet that I'll take him up on it!

After the tour, we headed down to Port Chalmers where he plays rugby with the Harbour Rugby Football Club. While he was getting ready for his match I took the opportunity to explore this charming little port community. I hiked to the lookout point over the bay where I discovered a fantastic little sculpture garden and a commanding view of the harbour. After admiring the outstanding pieces of art, I just sat down for about a half an hour to observe the operations of the port below from my eagle's-nest-like vantage point. It's quite a fascinating sight to see one of those huge container ships being unloaded no more than 150ft away. I knew Aaron's game was about to get underway to I strolled back towards the playing field, stopping into a corner store for a Bundaberg's Lemon Lime and Bitters soda on the way. It's my favorite New Zealand soda. Followed closely by Bundaberg's Ginger Beer then Bundaberg's Sarsaparilla. Basically, I'm a big fan of anything made by Bundaberg's. With my Lemon Lime and Bitters in hand I cheered on Harbour as they cruised to a lopsided thirty to nil victory over I forget who. After Aaron had showered up from his match, we bought a couple jugs of Speight's and stayed to watch Harbour's premiere team play against I forget who's premiere team. The "Premes" didn't fare as well as Aaron's team and ended up losing to I forget who. But, I don't know that it matters because, win or lose, both sides end up afterwards in the clubhouse to drink beers together anyways. I have to tell you, of all the experiences I've had thus far in New Zealand, I don't know that I've had one more "absolutely Kiwi" as drinking jugs of beer in a Rugby Football Club's clubhouse with two opposing teams that just finished beating the hell out of each other for 80 minutes. It was fantastic!

We met back up with Brooke, now off work, and went and had Turkish food for dinner. I don't know if the number of Turkish restaurants in Dunedin constitute an inordinate amount (Neil), but I have learned that Kiwis like kebabs! We stayed in to watch a movie that night, and I think all three of us fell asleep halfway through "The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly." Weeooweeoooo, woaw, woaw, woaw.

Sunday morning, Aaron tells me that we're going for a "wee walk" before breakfast. What he fails to mention is that by "wee walk" he means we're going to scale a mountain! Alright, so it wasn't really a mountain, but The Pineapple Track traverses some rather large, steep hills. Aaron just strolls along like it's nothing. He looks back every so often toward Brooke and me, breathlessly trying to keep up, and tauntingly asks "No hills in Texas?" I certainly don't remember any on the Katy Trail. Our planned after-walk breakfast morphed into a light snack as we were heading to a friend's barbeque soon. At every New Zealand barbeque I've been to, it seems the rule is to cook enough food to feed twice the number of those in attendance. This one was no exception. That's no complaint, mind you. Just an observation.

With our bellies full and the day getting late, we said our goodbyes to their friends and headed back to their apartment so I could gather my things and get on the road back to Wanaka. We took one small detour on the way, to drive up, then back down, Baldwin Street--the Guinness Book of World Records record holder as the steepest street in the world! It was pretty cool.

I thoroughly enjoyed my big city weekend, and my hosts were positively top-notch! I'm greatly looking forward to visiting them again. I just need to get used to climbing mountains before I agree to any more of Aaron's "wee walks."


Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Naseby Camping Trip (Continued)

Easter Sunday morning. I was awakened by the the most glorious sunrise you ever saw, set to the soundtrack of the warbling sing-song call and response of several local magpies. After everyone had been equally roused from their slumber, David gave us the skinny on the best rabbit hunting area on his land and a complete gun-safety lecture. Having a bee bee stuck in my nose for the past 19 years from when my friend shot me in the face with his bee bee gun, gun safety is something I take very seriously, so his lecture was most appreciated. Having been thoroughly briefed on the workings of the safety switch and what not, we were off to shoot some bunnies. I mean, could there be a better Easter morning activity than bunny shooting? As it turns out, the local rabbit population had little to fear from our lot. Dead-eyes we certainly are not. Still, it was fun to pop off a couple of rounds, even if they had little chance of hitting our intended targets. Next time, you silly rabbits! By the time we made it back to camp, David had a nice breakfast of scrambled eggs, venison sausage, bacon, toast, and of course, some of that marvelous chutney from the day before, waiting for us. Ummmm, chutney!

Sufficiently sated (read stuffed), we were in no particular hurry to get out and about any time soon, so we spent the next couple of hours just lounging about camp, reading and talking. When our breakfast comas finally subsided--well after lunch time--we went for a nice walk down in the Black Forest. Passed a spectacular-looking swimming hole that we would have been more than keen to strip down to our skivvies and jump in were it only a wee bit warmer than it was. After about three hours trekking through the woods, we were decidedly hungry again (we had forgone any type of lunch, having had such a big breakfast) so we went back to David's house to check on the roast mutton he had put in the oven first thing that morning. Ummmm, mutton! It was fall-off-the-bone tender, and went very well with our roast potatoes, carrots, and Brussels sprouts. Yes, Brussels sprouts. What? They're good. We roasted marshmallows for dessert, and good times were had by all. It was another good day.

Once again, on Monday morning, we were serenaded at the dawning of the day by our magpie friends. After a not so hearty a breakfast as the day before (there was still some chutney to go on our toast though), we went for a little drive through Danesby's Pass and St. Bathans (both old mining towns built during the great gold rush in the 1860s). David owns a little piece of land in St. Bathans where he recently felled a huge pine tree. With winter looming, the gathering of fire wood was of pressing concern, so David asked if we wouldn't mind helping him cut up his downed tree into fireplace-appropriate size chunks. We didn't mind in the least, because it meant learning how to use his chainsaws--following the requisite safety lecture of course. Chainsaws are fun, I have to admit; and I'm happy to report that I still have all my fingers and toes.

With the firewood cut and split, it was getting late, and we Wanakans needed to start heading home, so we said our goodbyes to our dear friend David and set off, back through the Kingdom of Rohan, toward our little berg? burg? burgh? (I still don't know). It was a fantastic weekend filled with good food, great friends, and gorgeous scenery--all well above worry level.

I'm looking forward to my next visit to David's little piece of paradise.