There are some things in this world that seem like the perfect match. Things that were meant to be together. Things that make each other even better when used in combination. Take chocolate and peanut butter for example, movies and popcorn, or Thanksgiving and turkey. How about alcohol and that extended family get-together. (You know what I’m talking about. The people your parents insist you drive four hours to spend the afternoon with because it would mean so much to the “family”. Never mind the fact that they (your parents) have only met these people once in their life, in 1977. But it’s soooo fucking important that you show up. Nothing to do with personal experience, I am simply speculating). We all know that fourth glass of wine seems to make everyone a bit more conversational. But maybe you’re not convinced that alcohol is made better with a family reunion? Try doing one with out it and see how good that first sip of beer tastes afterwords.
There are also things that look good on paper, but once put into action, don’t seem to go together as well as you would expect. Lingerie football comes to mind, or gum and ice cream, ASUS and tablets would be another.
So when the idea of a wine tour by bike came up, I was slightly concerned about which way this combination was going to go. Now don’t get me wrong, I am a firm believer that alcohol can make just about anything better. I also have to rate wine tasting as one of my top activities (When not pestered by a pretentious vintner who obnoxiously points out the pontoon and pushes the bottle menu in front of your face. Knowing full well by the way you’re slurring your words, the only reason you are there is to get lit off of the tastings.) It was the 14K bike ride down a road with no shoulder where not everyone who was tasting was doing the responsible thing (driving sober) that was slowing down my enthusiasm.
Renwick is a small town in the Marlborough region of New Zealand. Not familiar with Marlborough wine? Pick up any bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from the region and enjoy.
If the best thing that has ever been done with fruit doesn’t interest you, Renwick might not be on your list of places to stop in New Zealand. The “highway” that leads you to Renwick briefly slows down to act as the main road of town before picking the K’s back up and continuing its wind through the north part of the south island. Outside of the essentials (two pubs), Renwick’s non-alcohol related activities are limited to a single room museum and a visit to the convenience store. But if 25 wineries within a 5 km radius in one of the best wine-producing regions in the world does sound like a delightful way to spend an afternoon, then Renwick is exactly where you want to be.
The Watson’s Way Lodge is the only game in town if you’re looking for a hostel in Renwick. But their monopolized hold on accommodation doesn’t mean you’re stuck with a sub par experience. The owners have a great facility and a wide selection of bikes for your tour. They are also well poised in the best approach to exploring the area. A map is provided with the wineries they suggest, price of tastings, the best places to eat, and even a prefered route that has enough thought put into it as to have the winds in your favor when peddling along. Suggesting that you have the winds to your back as the day progresses and you become more “fatigued”.
We set out on our bikes just after 10 AM. The last of the wineries closes at 6 PM. The premium wineries (i.e. Cloudy Bay) charge $5 a tasting (5-7 tastes). But there is also more than a handful of vineyards that are happy to serve you up their wine for free. That’s right, for free! We managed to make it to 6 wineries (and one beer tasting) by five o’clock, before disaster struck.
We pulled into the fifth winery feeling happily “fatigued”. As we parked our bikes and made our way to the tasting room we ran into a women from Germany. She was with a group of 15 but didn’t drink wine herself. So she was walking the grounds and enjoying the scenery. She marveled at the fact that we were on bikes. Her group was a little better funded than us and was enjoying the area via a large tour van.
“You don’t worry that the bike ridding will become more difficult with the tasting?” she asked.
We assured her that we were in complete control of the situation and laughed off her obvious foreshadowing as we went to down seven more quarter glasses of wine.
As we were wrapping up our fifth tasting experience we noted the day had got a little a head of us. It was 5:30 and we had only a half an hour to make it to one of the few wineries that remained open until six. We jumped on our bikes with determined aggression. We raced down the long driveway of the winery, whipping past vines of grapes at the highest speeds possible on our ten speed bikes. Sally had a bit of a head-start and was about ten meters in front. The natural competitiveness between the two of us is only heightened by inebriation. I stood up on my bike and began to throw my entire body weight into each push of the pedal. I quickly closed the gap between Sally and I to only three meters.
That’s when the chain of my bike slipped off the sprocket and I proceeded to introduce myself to the cement by exiting the bike over the top of my handle bars.
It only took Sally a quick glance over my mangled body to see that the most serious injury was the deep wounds to my pride. She asked with a smile on her face if I was alright and then proceeded to inform me that I was not a cancer patient and noted that the old adage ‘just like ridding a bike’ must not apply to me. (This would be in reference to a comment I made to her after her horse riding accident in Bolivia.) We hobbled our way back to the hostel and were greeted by concerned hosts. They cleaned and bandaged me up, then pointed us in the direction of the two pubs. Sally narrowed her eyes and asked in a firm voice if I was going to be alright enough to go grab a pint.
It took some serious soul-searching, testicular fortitude, and a deep thirst for a pint of beer, but I was able to make the one block journey to the bar.