Greg Bruce is a weekend magazines writer for NZME.

Yealands Estate: Of Chopin, chooks and vines

Greg Bruce goes beyond the cellar door for a winery tour with a difference.
White Road Tour, Yealands Winery, Blenheim. Photo / Jim Tannock
White Road Tour, Yealands Winery, Blenheim. Photo / Jim Tannock

The bus rolled along, and Peter Yealands drawled on, with obvious passion but strictly limited appeal, about the effects of wetas and plastic sleeves on his vineyard, about compost, sustainability, lengths of wire and breakage of fence posts.

He was guiding us along what he and the now-vast company bearing his name call The White Road Tour, a 7.5km trail that winds through part of his vineyard - New Zealand's largest - and that is open for the general public to self-drive, with Peter Yealands-style points-of-interest notes available on a downloadable app.

The tour was in imminent danger of being a fairly complete bore when we crested a hill and came upon a view that could fairly be described as industry-leading.

We got out of the bus under the perfect blue mid-morning sky, surrounded by vines, the south coast of the North Island visible in the distance across the blue of Cook Strait and we were swarmed by friendly chickens. An unexpected soundtrack was provided by pole-mounted speakers playing classical music to the fields of grapes.

This was more like it.

Although I had never seen Peter Yealands before, there was something eye-catching about him. At first I thought it was charisma, but the more I looked, the more I realised it was that, with his long, luxuriant white hair and grand, untamed white beard, he looked a lot like God.

Like God, he has demonstrated a gift for creation, having turned a massive swathe of land on the northern tip of the South Island into New Zealand's biggest and possibly most beautiful vineyard.

That is a bad segue but an important point, because New Zealand has a pretty good selection of beautiful vineyards, but our access to them is usually limited to the small buildings adjoining their carparks and selling their wine. Sometimes those buildings are beautiful and have lovely views, but even so, they're just buildings.

What Yealands has done with the White Road Tour is to create a place where the vineyard has become more than just a pretty backdrop to the cellar door. It's the place itself - somewhere to relax and enjoy the wine, hang out, listen to some light Chopin, reflect on the beauty of the place in which we live, and maybe even think about how to preserve it.

Peter Yealands' slogan is: "Think boldly, tread lightly" and The White Road Tour
is a not-so-subtle way of demonstrating how that works in practical terms.

Peter Yealand of Yealands Estate, Blenheim. Photo / Jim Tannock
Peter Yealand of Yealands Estate, Blenheim. Photo / Jim Tannock


The wine grower says: "If people go away from here thinking, 'He's a crazy bastard, playing music to his vines, what the hell does he think he's doing?' to me it doesn't matter, as long as they remember, and they will, because there's no one else doing it in New Zealand or Australia."

He says he has run experiments in the various chicken coops around his property, demonstrating that chickens who listen to classical music lay eggs that are 20 per cent bigger than their non-music-listening counterparts.

He can't be so sure that the music helps the vines, but he thinks it does and he says that, regardless, his workers and visitors love it.

There is obviously some good marketing in the music, but he says there's enough evidence out there that proves it. "I don't think we appreciate the feeling that plants and animals have."

The company's latest project has been constructing New Zealand's largest solar panel installation, which has covered the entire winery building.

The end of the White Road Tour runs down behind the winery and looks down on the incredible new solar array. It's an impressive sight but, stopped there on the side of the white road, listening to Yealands talk about the power generated by the solar array, and its significance, my mind was still back with that classical music-backed, chicken-swarmed view across Cook Strait.

I had been there with Yealands, but I was imagining being there with my wife, parked on the side of the long, white road, drinking a glass of the vineyard's sauvignon blanc and reading out loud from the downloadable White Road Tour app. She, as the sober driver, would most likely be drinking water and would almost certainly be ignoring me.

No matter. Even just in the form of a thought experiment, the whole thing felt idyllic, almost spiritual. I couldn't have said whether Yealands was a crazy bastard, or whether I'd be more likely to pick up his wine in the supermarket, but I knew that someday I'd like to come back to his vineyard, drive the white road, and skip the bits about the wetas, the plastic sleeves and the compost.

Air New Zealand flies Auckland to Blenheim, with one-way Seat fares from $83.

- Spy.co.nz

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