After more than 10 years trying without success to get a seat at the annual Pinot at Cloudy Bay event I was beginning to think it was just my destiny to forever fail.
The first year I was about to pop my cheque in the post when the phone rang. "Congratulations, you're pregnant," said the nurse, confirming that a blood test had revealed a conception, not an infection. "Curses," I muttered in the nicest, most motherly manner. The next year the newborn, a toddler, and a husband on nightshift meant a big girls' trip to Blenheim was out of the question. The next year it sold out and after that I was overseas.
Twelve months later I was poorer than usual, actually that goes for the following year, too, and so it goes on.
Which is why, when heading to Blenheim on the tiny, flying pencilcase they call a plane earlier this month, my usual white-knuckled, nervy demeanour gave way to great gladness because I would actually, finally, be one of the 100 fans from here and overseas at the 13th annual Pinot at Cloudy Bay. For the team at Cloudy Bay, showcasing its pinot noir with others from around the world and opening the floor to comments from anyone is a challenge, as well as a great benchmarking exercise.
Cloudy Bay winemaker Nick Lane chose wines from New Zealand, California, Tasmania, France and Austria, which made up three flights of six wines, all from the 2009 vintage. Lane was also MC, flanked by two large screens broadcasting a live Twitter feed of the event. I loved the fact that on one hand we'd be analysing the finer points of cool-climate pinot noir and trying to sound expert-like, and on the other hand someone would be tweeting to the world that the wine tasted "amazeballs".
There were some stunning wines and an education to be had; but for lively debate, discussion, controversy, constant humour and an absolutely sublime meal afterwards.
Pinot at Cloudy Bay is an event any pinot lover should attempt to get to - at least before they get pregnant.
Two stunning new pinots have just been released and, though they are pricey at $80 to $85, I'm sure you can convince your accountant to list them under "personal development" or something.
The first is Rockburn's The Art Central Otago Pinot 2010, crafted from a single vineyard high on Bannockburn's slopes. I asked winemaker Malcolm Rees-Francis about its creation.
"The concept of 'art' really comes into it where, say, a sculptor looks at a block of marble and sees the statue within. All they have to do is chip away at the bits that aren't the statue. Max Gimblett has a great way of approaching a blank or unfinished canvas, he yells at it - in a very Japanese fashion - and "knows" where to place the next brushstroke.
"I don't yell too much at my bins of fruit but I try to approach each tonne or so in that kind of way.
The dense core of bramble-fruit evident in The Art is something I identify as a typicite of Bannockburn Pinot Noir, and the tannins you see at the finish of the wine are far more structural and robust than anything I can find out in Pisa.
"So yeah, I get to flex my winemaking muscle and make something different, a vin de terroir, and something that hews close to what I'm trying to achieve down here."
Rees-Francis' other achievements haven't gone unnoticed as he's just been named as one of only 10 finalists in the Wine Society of Australia Young Winemaker competition, and Rockburn collected the first gold medal ever awarded for a Central Otago sauvignon blanc at this years New Zealand International Wine Show - a class dominated by Marlborough offerings. Speaking of Marlborough offerings, the Nautilus Four Barriques Pinot Noir 2009 is only the fifth ever made and it's blended from their best four barrels and less than 100 cases are made.
Winemaker Clive Jones and his team have carefully coaxed into the bottle one of the most exceptional examples from Marlborough that I've tasted.
I've been a fan of Nautilus pinot for years, but this wine sidesteps the norm and epitomises what the region is capable of when excellence is the only option.