Ah, the politics of tourism in the provinces.
In planning my greedy food weekend in Hawkes Bay this winter, I had come across reports in our fine sister publication, Hawke's Bay Today, of a tiff between tourism operators in Napier and the wider region. The fine burghers of the town were insisting that it was a waste of time (and, no doubt, money) promoting the whole province to visitors, and that the tourist money should go only to Napier and its Art Deco charms. The rest of them could dine off the crumbs, apparently.
I beg to differ.
Although the town does boast some pretty examples of that period's architecture - including the recent, loving restoration of the gorgeous old Masonic Hotel - there's a limit to how much walking, gawping (and shopping) a person can do. Instead, mention a weekend in Hawkes Bay to most Aucklanders, and they go all dreamy eyed about the wineries and the food, rattling off their favourites. Repeated eating and drinking is a much better way of bringing back visitors, I reckon.
Which is why a greedy person is delighted that there are now two compelling reasons a year - at least - to make the food pilgrimage south. Last summer's FAWC (Food and Wine Classic) was such a success, Hawkes Bay Tourism created a smaller winter FAWC as well. Which saw us through the dark patch and we can now book for this November (see below).
Our winter food is all about nesting and cosy, roaring fires and moody food, so we were delighted to start the weekend at our favourite Craggy Range for their rotisserie dinner at Terroir. That giant stone fireplace just gets better with age, and the dishes were wintry and warming, smoky from the fire and just what winter is about.
To our delight, our accommodation ticked the famous regional architecture box, too. Not Art Deco, but even better, a cottage by architect John Scott that summed up his clean and classic design. Built for the owner's parents when they retired from the farm, John's House is furnished with a mix of mid-century and antiques, rugs and paintings and memorabilia from the former airman and his wife's life. Best of all, it had a fully equipped kitchen, a fireplace lit to welcome us and a stack of logs to keep the fire going. And home-made bread, preserves and eggs from the resident chooks.
We had fully planned to make use of the cycle trail, the wide gravel path wound past the river at the foot of the property, to cycle into Havelock North and parts beyond. Howling wind and rain put paid to that, so we had to drive to our favourite Mister D's in Napier for coffee and their famous doughnuts (we can never decide between the jam, custard or chocolate-filled syringes for the fillings and have to ask for extra). Lunch was booked at Kent Baddeley's 1024 restaurant on the edge of Hastings. You never know what you are going to get with Kent - he writes his menus in the mornings, then trots out dishes you didn't order, just to get a reaction. It pays to get a table right by the kitchen so you can watch him and his tiny team - with their array of clever garnishes - turn the dishes around in such a smooth way. Ridiculously cheap and ridiculously clever food, you can see why his Petit Lyon restaurant in Wellington was such a legend.
We'd left our booking for the evening FAWC events too late - lesson learned for November - so instead treated ourselves to breads from Havelock North's French baker, Ya Bon, local cheeses and charcuterie from Bellatino's, and of course wine, before heading back to John's House to light the fire and settle for an indoor picnic while the storm raged.
The Sunday event was a clever combination of producers from the Hawkes Bay Farmers' Market and Vidal's winery. While we'd stocked up that morning, it was great to listen to the stories of the producers (olive oil, a new tonic water, lamb, cheeses) and winemakers while we sampled. We couldn't resist, after watching diners in the restaurant, ordering a basket of Vidal's splendid triple-cooked chips to see us on the road home.
November's event is already booking out fast - our favourite picks, a repeat of the Locavore's Lunch (gathering produce at the Farmers' Market, cooked by local chefs), a producer's tour mid-week, and a selection of novel dinners. Martin Bosley's food truck by Havelock's Advintage winery went off last year, and we're pleased to see a return of James Beck's astounding, delicate degustation (albeit a more modest six courses, compared with last year's15).
Yip, food and wine tourism is the best thing about the Hawkes Bay region, in my book.
F.A.W.C! Summer Series
Choose from more than 60 events at various locations in Hawke's Bay, from a spectacular launch party by the vines at Craggy Range Winery to the Carnivore Carnival at Hawkes Bay Racing.
Join local and visiting chefs including Martin Bosley, Rex Morgan, Ben Bayly, Gareth Stewart and Simon Wright, with Ray McVinnie as ambassador, sample the best wine and beer.
To check the event schedule and buy tickets go to fawc.co.nz
• Ten Twenty Four 1024 Pakowhai Rd, Hastings, Ph: (06) 870 6440
• Mister D 47 Tennyson St, Napier, Ph: (06) 835 5022, misterd.co.nz
• Masonic Hotel Corner of Tennyson St and Marine Parade, Napier, Ph: (06) 835 8689 masonic.co.nz
• John's House 58 Miller Rd, Hastings, Ph: (06) 877 7494 johnshouse.co.nz
• In case you didn't guess, Catherine Smith was a guest of Hawkes Bay Tourism