Oct 182015
start of our trip ~ Cycling in Loire Valley

start of our trip ~ Cycling in Loire Valley

After a busy tourist season, Glenn & I decided to take our cycling adventures overseas for the winter. After many, many months in the planning (flights, bring bikes or no?, where to visit, etc…) we solidified our plans ~ 5 weeks of cycling through France.

We decided to combine our love of cycling and wine (hence, VeloVino) and planned on visiting the Loire Valley, Burgundy and Alsace.  I had never really cycled in Europe, and Glenn did some (30?) years ago, so we were excited to check out the trails and also taste some amazing wines. Initially, the excitement quickly changed to frustration, as we had to maneuver our oversized bike bags (yes, we decided to bring our own bikes) through airports. Not the easiest to do in the best of times, but add North American summer vacation crowds into the mix, and you have a full-blown bottleneck at every turn. After working through 24 hours of brain fog traveling and a map-filled lost iPad, we finally landed at our starting point ~ Nantes, in the Loire Valley.  The Loire valley trail is a total of about 800km long, and we ended doing about 650km of that. While not the easiest first week of our cycling (flat tires & signage frustration abounded), the trail is mainly flat and meanders through quaint small villages that are surrounded by poppy and abundant wheat fields. We enjoyed some amazing wines (Reuilly sauvignon blanc, Chinon reds) and cheeses (chavignol goat is a fave)along the way and really loved the region.

Next, we made our way to Burgundy. At this point the weather was really heating up (35-38*C) and we wanted to make the most of our time on the bikes, so we took the train from Nevers to our destination village, Beaune. Known as the ‘Cote d’Or’ (gold hills ~ the colour of the vineyards at harvest), we decided to place ourselves in the Cote de Beaune (Beaune) for 5 nights and then the Cote de Nuits (Nuits St George) for 4 nights so that we could really DO the ‘VeloVino thing’ in each sub-region: spend a day cycling around the tiny villages and stop for tons of photo/go-pro video ops, and another day just relax around the towns and taste the amazing Burgundies I’ve been missing!  The region is as beautiful as I remember from so many years ago, except that it has grown and expanded.  It was quite a decadent treat to drink the luscious Chassagnes-Montrachets, Pommards and Vosne-Romanees and eat the stinky cheeses again (can you sense a pattern here?…..) It was hard to leave Burgundy (although my wallet and cholesterol-laden heart were more than ready!) but Alsace awaited us, and as an ‘Alsatian newbie’ I was ready for the next adventure.

Alsace is about 140km long, and we started in the southern city of Colmar and worked our way up to Strasbourg. Unlike the Loire and Burgundy, Alsace is very germanic in design and also hilly. We had plenty of time in the area, so while we enjoyed the many challenging hill rides and were pretty strong by this point, around every bend were flower-filled quaint villages and wineries to visit, and we took full advantage of them! The food is hearty (think choucroute, sausages and sauerkraut), and the (mostly) white wines are fruit-driven, rich and refreshing. I personally loved the pretzel stands and took full advantage of them anytime I could!

Loire cycle and wine trail map

Loire cycle and wine trail map

Great sushi meal in Nantes with Mas de Gaumas

Sushi & Mas de Gaumas ~ yum

Chavignol goat cheese in the village of Chavignol

Chavignol goat cheese

Cycling in France ~ Burgundy to be exact!

Cycling in France ~ Burgundy to be exact!

Gorgeous ride through burgundian vineyards

Gorgeous ride through burgundian vineyards

Alsace vineyards

Alsace vineyards

pretzels galore

pretzels galore

Jan 092015

The Sweet Summertime of the Nelson region is starting now and there’s a lot to look forward to!  Some of my favorite activities are rising with the birds (ok, not THAT early) and heading out for a bike ride before the city is up, picking my own strawberries, blueberries, raspberries and black currants – Wow! and taking the boat over to Abel Tasman National Park and going for a long hike or a kayak ride. I can’t believe it’s only early summer, and I’ve done those things already! No worries, I’ve got lots more activities to come…

PYO berries!

Summertime PYO berries ~ Sweet!

Christmas ride

Pohutukawa (New Zealand Christmas Tree) at its best!

Abel Tasman National Park

Abel Tasman National Park in the sweet summertime!

Nov 052014

It seems after the hibernation of Winter, everyone is itching to get out and enjoy the first warmth and blossoms of Spring. I know I certainly was, and what better place than the Nelson New Release Wine tasting. It’s kind of the ‘kick off’ of Spring where  the wineries bring out their finest wines ~ especially the first roses. It was a beautiful, sunny day out by the waterfront, perfect for lingering around, chatting with winemakers and nibbling on some tasty local Wangapeka cheeses…  Following that event was the grand re-opening of Woollaston Winery out in the Upper Moutere a few weeks later.  After being closed all winter, I wanted to see what new and exciting changes have been secretly underway at the winery.  Again, it was a gorgeous day to sit outside and catch up with friends and enjoy a glass (or two) of Woollaston wine.  They have a stellar location surrounded by vineyards, and now with plenty of room to relax outside or if the weather doesn’t cooperate, move inside to the new, chic interior space. They have also added a full kitchen, where one can now enjoy chef-created vinous fare. This is going to be a great season!

nelson tastingspring in NelsonWoollaston2

Sep 072014

To be fair, winter in Nelson is quite mild ~ but coming from San Diego, I still get quite chilled in late August/early September. :)  When the winter sun is shining and the temperature does get close to 15 C though, it’s the perfect time to head over to Abel Tasman National Park for a long hike. The park is quiet (the tourists haven’t descended on it yet) and the water has a crystal-blue quality that is breathtaking.  We picked one of those perfect days and got an early start to our drive to the park. It’s great that the boats out of Marahau run all year round so that we can jump on one and take it to whatever point we want to walk back from ~ this day it was Anchorage, a 14 km hike back to the car.
We were prepared for any weather, as it can change quickly. Getting outside and breathing in all that fresh air is such a relaxing yet energizing way to spend the day, and only about  1 1/2 hours from our house. We will definitely make more of an effort to get over to the park in the winters to come.

Jul 292014

As the tour season has slowed down for the winter, the wine tasting season has picked up!  Over the last couple of months I’ve tasted some great American, Spanish, and French wines.  As much as I love tasting the wines from New Zealand, it’s always good to keep up on what is happening in other wine areas around the world.

The season started tasting the great 2010 vintage wines from Bordeaux. The price points ranged from $20- $200NZD. Really interesting and solid wines across the board. Definitely worth buying and putting away some of those pricier (and heavier-style) wines.

bordeaux part 1Bordeaux part 2

Nearer to the US celebration ~ 4th of July, an American wine tasting was next. It was an interesting mix of more obscure varietals (viognier, petite sirah and zinfandel) and regions. California was the dominate area of production, with a touch of Oregon thrown in.  Same could be said for the group that attended ~ mostly expat-Californians with a couple of  expat-Washingtonians (?) in the mix!   Overall, well-made, delicious wines. So different than the Bordeaux tasting the month before.

US winesLastly this month, it was back to old world and Spain.  Lately it seems that we’re seeing a lot of inexpensive (but tasty) wines coming from Spain, and I am frankly really happy to see them. I find these wines offer good value for the money, and as a fan of the “old school” style of wines from there, they really deliver.  In saying that, there were some truly new world-tasting wines on offer ~ for example, the Cab. Sauv-Syrah-Merlot wine from Cadiz.  While very fresh, fruity and rich, I personally felt that the wine could have been from any country.  It just didn’t say “Spain” to me at all.  I was clearly in the minority, as it was the best selling wine of the evening!     We did end the evening with two wines that absolutely, positively screamed ” Spain, Spain, Spain!!” ~ The  Marques de Riscal Riserva and Gran Riserva. ~ Wow!.  Produced from one of the oldest wine houses in Rioja, these wines were classic Tempranillo – dark, deep an dusty. I was truly in my element.                              riscal




May 022014

Autumn has always been my favorite season as far back as I can remember.. as a child, I loved rolling in the leaves and hearing the crunching noise beneath me, and as a young adult the first chill in the year meant football games (American), hot (spiked :) apple cider, and the changing of the leaves to vibrant gold, rust and red.  I think back on those times now when autumn arrives here in Nelson.  We live close to a huge line of trees, and the hues
of the leaves are so rich that the view looks like a painting. I love it!

It’s also my favorite time to get out on the bike and just ride,ride, ride!  The mornings are a bit fresh, but it quickly warms up, and if the sun is shining ~ it’s magical.  The apple trees are bursting with red fruit, and the vineyards, who have done their job for the year, take on a golden sheen.

The one thing I didn’t have growing up that I have here in autumn, is the amazing sunsets.  Where the leaves take on vibrant hues, the sunsets are an ever-
changing light show of pastel pink, blue and violet.  I’m going to grab a hot cider, sit back and watch the show.

liquid maple treeNelson sunset

Apr 082014

With all the new cycling trails being created around the country, it’s really a joy to travel around and try out what the other regions have to offer. Recently we took a trip down to Queenstown and I spent an afternoon on the Queenstown cycle trails.

I left right from our accommodation in town and skirted along Lake Wakatipu ~ stunning views and all flat (a great warm up).  At the end of the lake I headed inland along the Kawarau river, and while it seems that following the river would be flat, the trail heads uphill towards the Old Shotover Bridge.  There were definitely a couple of serious uphills, but the views overlooking the lake were breathtaking and it was fun to cross the pedestrian-only bridge .   There are trails for all levels, and as I stayed on the Beginner/Intermediate trails I had a chance to get a good workout but also take in the scenery ~ no worry of  steep drop-offs or rock-jumping on this trail.

The trail continued to weave its way through a lush tussock field, and with nobody else around, just the birds singing away, I really felt like I was far away from town. I continued a ways ~ as the trail heads into Arrowtown, but I knew how far my ride was back home and I was already thinking about that glass of Otago Pinot Noir waiting for me… so….. back I went ~ lungs full of fresh air, a smile on my face and a real sense of joy thinking THIS is what cycling is all about.

views along the Kawarau river                                                          Old shotover bridgealong lake WapatikuKawarau river

Feb 062014

It’s amazing how as soon as the New Year is upon us, the sunny skies and warm breezes signal the start of the wine tour season.  The cellar doors welcome us with open arms (or doors, as it would be) and our phone starts ringing with those words I love to hear: “We’re interested in taking a wine tour in Nelson.”  Yippee, let’s go.

We are truly lucky in this area to have  such high-quality and diversity amongst our 24 wineries.  For me the best part is that every winery is family owned, with a unique and interesting background story as to how they started here in little Nelson, New Zealand.  For such a small wine growing area – about 3% of the country’s vineyard area, and 7th out of 10 in the number of hectares- there are such stunning wines, both white and red.   Many of my wine tour clients comment on how high the quality level is of the wines, and how beautiful the settings are at the wineries ~ I definitely agree.Rimu GroveRimu vineyards

kina beachkina wines

Dec 212013

One of my favourite summer discoveries since living in Nelson, is the abundance of pick your own (PYO) fruit & veggies.  While I have yet to get out and pick fresh peas- doesn’t it sound fun and tasty?  I have thoroughly enjoyed picking blueberries, raspberries, strawberries and boysenberries. I love seeing (and sampling!) exactly where my food has come from, and not just picking a punnet up in the supermarket or even the Farmer’s market.

My first foray into PYO was with blueberries a few years ago. I was out on a bike ride and rode past a big sign that said “PYO Blueberries today” ~ I HAD to stop in and see what it was all about.   I had gone apple and strawberry picking as a kid, but I absolutely love blueberries, so this was such a treat to find.  Turns out there are early- ripening and late-ripening blueberries, running from December through to mid-March, so I could pick all summer to my hearts content!  I’ve since gone many times and smile each time I defrost some blueberries in the middle of winter.    Off now to pick my latest discovery… cherries.


berry trifectaraspberry picking

Nov 082013

What a stunning day we had out in the Upper Moutere celebrating the local artisans of the region. The Upper Moutere hills sit in northern tip of the south island, with mountain ranges to the east, south and west, and the Tasman bay to the north.  It receives more than 2300 sun hours a year, making it one of -or as we in Nelson believe – THE sunniest region in New Zealand.
One crucial element that defines the area and makes it so special is the soil- clay-bound gravels known as the “moutere gravels”. Dense and naturally infertile, the soil retains the much-needed water throughout the summer and lends a concentrated, textural quality to the wines grown in the area.  We also found that is contributes to many other artisan products in the area- mainly cheese, olive oil and mushrooms. It was a thrill to meet these family-run, passionate producers right in their environment.

Our first stop was Neudorf Olives. Owned and run by Jonathon & Susan, they were inviting the moment we drove up- and drove UP we did! from the road their driveway is deceiving- doesn’t look that steep and windy, but we kept going, and going, and finally found ourselves at the top of the hill with amazing views of the sea and Nelson beyond. WOW. They produce only single-grove extra virgin olive oil and it is exquisite. They have 1310 olive trees, planted to Leccino, Frantoio (both italian) and Koroneiki (greek). We tasted them all and truly each one has its own unique flavour & texture. Really worth seeking out or ordering online.

Our next stop down the road was Neudorf Mushrooms, owned by Hannes & Theres.  Again, their property is hidden back off the road and allows for stunning sea views.  I adore mushrooms, and am thrilled we have a boutique grower in the region. I had tasted their Saffron milk- cap at the farmer’s market- how is it I had never heard of that mushroom before? but now I’m hooked! It is a beautiful saffron colour, and tastes rich and deep. They are the first commercial growers of it in New Zealand, and they’re right in our back yard! (so to speak)- that means more for us…what I’m really excited about, though, is their small “truffiere”. They haven’t had any truffles from it yet, but are staying positive (as am I!).

Next it was on to Neudorf Dairy (seeing a pattern here with “Neudorf”?- all the producers are on Neudorf road :)    I can proudly say we have had every cheese that Neudorf dairy makes- many more than once!  Their solely sheep’s milk cheeses are made in the traditional European way, and if you closed your eyes and tasted them,  the smell and taste would harken you back to a “fromagerie”…  They had a nice mix of hard & soft cheeses for us to sample- I’ll never pass up a cheese tasting! and we took away a small cheese platter to enjoy with our wine at our last stop (whew!) of the day – Neudorf Vineyards.

It’s 1978, and the New Zealand wine industry is almost nonexistent, but Tim & Judy were young and enthusiastic, and thought they’d give it a go! Because so little was know about basic viticulture in New Zealand at that time, they planted a plethora of  varietals (think Merlot, Cabernet Sauv., Gewurtz and Muller Thurgeau) to see what would stick. Those mentioned above did not, but what did, and has put them on the wine industry world stage, is their amazing Moutere Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.  It is that combination of climate & soil type (both mentioned at the beginning) that has given their wines an intense concentration and texture not found in other wines around the country.  They, like the other producers we saw, are creating unique and amazingly flavourful products from the land they love, and we are the spoiled (and oh, so lucky) recipients of their work.