Justine Tyerman remembers when and where her love affair with rosé began

"A chardonnay with concentrated aromas of golden peach, sweet pineapple and creamy toasted hazelnut? A pinot gris with nuances of pear, orange blossom and marzipan? Or a rosé perfumed with white lily and raspberry essence peut-être?" asks Paul Tietjen cradling three bottles of the finest TW Wines and a couple of glasses.

"Hmmm . . . I think I'll have the rosé thanks, in memory of that gorgeous, pale pink number I drank right here yonks ago," I reply, sifting through 20 years of slightly hazy memories, in search of the origin of my love of rosé.

Suddenly crystal clear, I recall I happened to be wearing pink on that occasion so Geordie Witters awarded me a bottle of TW Lilly Rosé and a sticker saying I'd been 'licked by Lilly' — I still have the sticker somewhere.

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Those were the good old days of the Gisborne Wine & Food Festival when we bused around multiple vineyards, sipping the latest vintages while reclining in the shade of the vines, studying the terroir, letting a handful of dirt run through our fingers and learning from the winemaker how the qualities in that soil determine such distinctive flavours in the wine.

And here I am two decades later, sampling the wines ahead of the 21st festival, this year known as the First Light Wine & Food event, on Sunday, October 21.

"Well, it's not Lilly . . . but I guarantee you'll love it as much, if not more than Lilly," says Paul who co-owns TW Wines with his good mate Geordie. "And yes, your old friend Lilly will be starring again at this year's event."

The much-loved October festival in Gisborne has seen many incarnations since its inception in 1997 – bussing around multiple vineyards, single venues and a mixture of both. But this year, "the good old days" are back thanks to a trio of local wine producers who have combined forces to recreate a little of the original wine and food festival vibe.

Gourmet cuisine is a feature at all venues on the First Light Wine & Food circuit. Photo / Strike Photography
Gourmet cuisine is a feature at all venues on the First Light Wine & Food circuit. Photo / Strike Photography

Matawhero Wines, TW Wines and Bridge Estate have organised buses to transport people around the three vineyards departing from the Gisborne i-Site from 11.30am on Sunday for a noon start. It's a unique opportunity to not only taste the wines, but also meet the people and personalities behind the wine labels, as well as see the vineyards where the grapes are grown.

The TW Wines crew have come up with some madcap ideas during the two decades they've been involved in the festival. A few of the quirky hats they have produced over the years will be dusted off along with some classic fake tattoos.

They have Flagship Eatery lined up to delight the foodies with tasty lunch items including their famous bagels, bao buns and sharing platters, and up-and-coming bands The Shambles from Auckland and The Search from Hawke's Bay are coming to entertain the revellers. And to celebrate their 20th vintage, TW are releasing a limited edition wine.

Paul is not prepared to divulge any information about the wine.

"You'll just have to wait and see," he says.

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The First Light Wine & Food team at Bridge Estate. Photo / Strike Photography
The First Light Wine & Food team at Bridge Estate. Photo / Strike Photography

Matawhero Wines have been getting into the swing of spring by releasing a special magnum called First Sun which is sure to a hit with rosé lovers and those who enjoy a long lunch with a group of friends.

"We're very excited to be sharing our beautiful rosé wine with visitors at the First Light Wine & Food event," says co-owner Kirsten Searle.

"Gisborne is renowned for its fresh produce and beautiful wines, and this event will showcase some excellent examples of that. Smokehouse Cuisine will be stationed at Matawhero serving a selection of smoked meats and seafood in sandwiches, flatbreads and salads as well as fritters and dessert items," says Kirsten.

First Light Wine & Food co-ordinator Georgina Kemp is delighted to have the Bridge Estate on board this year after Rob and Tracy Fergus and Daryl and Mattie Fergus recently purchased the Riverpoint Road property.

"The Fergus family are thrilled to be joining Matawhero and TW wines in co-hosting First Light Wine & Food 2018," says Rob.

Fun in the sun at the First Light Wine & Food event. Photo / Strike Photography
Fun in the sun at the First Light Wine & Food event. Photo / Strike Photography

"We are offering a fantastic variety of wine labels and locally-brewed craft beer through our cellar door over Labour Weekend.

"Music will be provided by Ariana Henare followed by local favourites The Motus, and we've organised delicious food from Reka Cuisine who will serve a selection of meat, seafood and vegetarian dishes with assorted sides and sauces.

"Festivals with wine, food and music are great for three things - the soul,
laughter and romance. Just catch the bus to First Light Wine & Food and you will find them in abundance."

Ticket sales are already well ahead of the 800 sold last year, says Georgina.

Lilly Rosé and colleagues at TW vineyards. Photo / Strike Photography
Lilly Rosé and colleagues at TW vineyards. Photo / Strike Photography

Matawhero Wines, TW Wines and Bridge Estate are open from 12 noon to 7.30pm on Sunday, October 21.

Entry to the three venues and bus transfer is $45 for the day, or $30 for a sober driver ticket for those who opt to drive rather than take the bus service which is included in the general admission ticket.

The bus transfer service will depart from the transport hub at the Gisborne i-Site from 11.30am until 1.30pm and continue between the venues throughout the day, returning to the hub from 5pm onwards.

A feast of activities

The First Light Wine & Food event is one of a veritable feast of activities in Gisborne over Labour Weekend, October 20-22, 2018.

Millton Vineyard & Winery will present the new releases of flagship wines on Friday evening from 5-7pm and will host their ever-popular annual long lunch at the Manutuke winery on Sunday afternoon. On Saturday, the cellar door will be open for tastings and food from 10am to 6pm.

Hihi Wines are planning a fun, family-friendly event entitled 'Wacky Races - Not the Gisborne Wine and Food Festival 2018', at the Makaraka Racecourse on Sunday. There will be live music, a brunch and lunch menu from 11am, sangria, juices, bubbles and new-release Hihi wines.

Wrights Vineyard & Winery on Wharerata Road are holding a 'Gisborne Comedy Gala' on Saturday from 2-5pm with stand-up comedy over a few glasses of award-winning Wrights organic wines.

Matawhero Wines at Riverpoint Road are holding a Rosé Garden Party at 12pm on Saturday. Tickets include a picnic box, a glass of Matawhero rosé and live music on the lawn.

The Labour Weekend Fiesta, Street Food Festival from 3.30pm-7.30pm on Sunday, on a closed-off portion of Grey Street in the Gisborne CBD is an event for the whole family. The popular free fiesta, organised by Heart of Gisborne, is licensed and offers food stalls, live music, arts, culture and dance.

Labour Weekend is an ideal time to experience this wonderful part of the country so gather up some mates, book your tickets and grab a flight to Gizzy with Air New Zealand.

• For more information on the First Light Wine & Food event, go to www.firstlightwineandfood.co.nz

• To get tickets for the Millton Vineyard & Winery event, go to www.millton.co.nz/labourweekend or phone 06 862 8680.

• For other events, go to Facebook and check out the pages for Heart of Gisborne, Wrights Vineyard & Winery and Hihi Wines.

• Dial a Driver (DAD) services will be available all day. Contact DAD on 0800 494 273