In early summer 2016, one of New Zealand’s sweetest North Island towns will host its 25th annual wine festival. And like the fine vintages it celebrates, Toast Martinborough just keeps getting better with age, with an exciting musical finale just one new ingredient keeping it fresh.
A pretty village in the rural Wairarapa region, neighbouring the capital city of Wellington, Martinborough is home to around 1300 people but, with the promise of world-class wines, delicious food and good times, it will lure in 9000 revellers for Toast Martinborough on Sunday 20 November.
Martinborough’s picturesque setting has been a major drawcard for wine-lovers since the festival started in 1992. The small but perfectly formed colonial-era village is centred on a leafy town square, enveloped by seemingly endless stripes of grapevines and hills rolling into the distance. In all, the area boasts nearly 30 vineyards, around half of which lie with 4km of the square.
The nine wineries hosting this year’s Toast can be found within an easy 2km stroll of the village centre. With the roads closed to all but courtesy shuttles, festivalgoers can expect plenty of fresh air and sunshine on their way between stops.
Then there are the wines, of course. Martinborough is the hub of the Wairarapa winemaking industry, established in 1883 but crushed by the temperance movement of the early 1900s. A hundred years on from the first plantings, in the 1980s, a handful of Martinborough winemakers led the revival, encouraged by a terroir with similarities to Burgundy in France.
The hard work and courage of these pioneers paid off. Martinborough pinot noir now consistently ranks among the world’s best, with labels such as Dry River, Escarpment, Kusuda and Martinborough Vineyard leading the charge. What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that most are still family owned ventures, producing relatively small quantities using hands-on methods.
One such winery is Ata Rangi, co-owned by one of the industry’s founding growers, Clive Paton. The new release 2014 pinot noir – available for tasting at Toast – was recently awarded a whopping 99 points by Bob Campbell MW who described it as “spectacular … dark-fleshed plum, black cherry with a suggestion of floral, mixed spice and sweet herbs.”
While seriously seductive pinot noir is clearly on the cards, it isn’t the only varietal that has thrived in the area’s mineral-rich soils and cool climate. Other notable successes are tropical sauvignon blanc, elegant Chardonnay, luscious riesling, and peppery, Rhône-like syrah.
There’s no better time to try them than at Toast, when top-flight Martinborough wineries team up with some of the region’s best chefs and musicians to offer a fully immersive and indulgent experience to suit all tastes.
Gourmands will revel in a choice of around 70 dishes served across nine festival sites. Refined and perfectly proportioned, the Toast menu is a chance to sample a wide range of mouth-watering local produce such as cured meats, seafood and cheese. Discovering the perfect wine match is where the magic happens.
In between sips and nibbles, frocked-up festivalgoers can tap a toe or go the full twirl to one of 20 acts offering non-stop music across the festival venues. Starring many beloved New Zealand acts performing everything from Latin and jazz to classic rock and disco, the scene is set for show-stopping entertainment.
This year’s Toast will be topped off with a two-hour grand finale, staged in the village square. Festival favourites The Beatgirls will wow the crowds with their cool moves, hot costumes, and a smorgasbord of popular dance hits, while stalls selling wood-fired pizza, ice cream, refreshing juice and soda will help the good times roll on to the very end.
While Toast guarantees a great time in the vines, Martinborough is a rewarding place to visit at any time of year, with a procession of Wellington weekenders lending the rural village a bit of buzz even in the depths of winter. Atmospheric accommodation, boutique shopping and a vibrant culinary scene join wine-touring in a list of the town’s attractions, with bicycles a deservedly popular way to see the sights and visit cellar doors.
There’s plenty to do further afield, too. Dedicated wine-buffs can broaden their Wairarapa horizons by visiting another six vineyards around the region’s main town, Masterton. A series of scenic drives through pretty countryside reach other quaint towns such as Greytown and Carterton, as well as unforgettable landmarks such as Castlepoint and Cape Palliser, both on the wild Pacific coast.
About Toast Martinborough
Toast Martinborough is an annual wine, food and music festival. The 2016 edition will take place Sunday 20 November, 9am–6.30pm (wine sales 10am–4.30pm).
First held in 1992, now celebrating its 25th anniversary, Toast Martinborough 2016 features nine wineries: Ata Rangi, Dry River, Luna Estate, Martinborough Vineyard/Te Kairanga, Margrain Vineyard, Muirlea Rise, Tirohana and Vynfields.
Tickets are available eight weeks before the event via www.ticketek.co.nz, and provide entry to all festival sites, live music, a tasting glass and festival programme, plus free shuttle bus services around the festival circuit. The 2016 ticket price is $85.
Festival wine and food is purchased via a cashless, hands-free wristband payment system, charged up at each of the festival sites.
Martinborough is a 75min drive from Wellington, 35min from Masterton. It can also be reached by train and bus.