Linda Meads takes a look at what makes Toast Martinborough tick.
Martinborough's big day out sticks to a simple formula done well: take one of New Zealand's most picturesque winegrowing areas, add add top-notch food, wine tasting, excellent entertainment and 8000 well-dressed happy punters and you've got all the ingredients for a world-class festival that keeps people coming back year after year for more.
The pretty Wairarapa wine village, home to a population of just under 1700, takes the annual influx of largely Wellingtonian wine enthusiasts in its stride when the Toast Martinborough festival rolls around each November. It's about to celebrate its 28th year.
All the wineries that take part are within walking distance of Martinborough central. If you don't want to walk (several streets are blocked to traffic so it's pretty safe, but you do need to have your wits about you), there is a shuttle bus system that runs in two circuits to the northwest and southwest of Union Square.
Guests are given a sturdy plastic wine tumbler in a clever lanyard and a wristband which you load up at "Festival Bank" kiosks with "Festival Francs" to buy food and wine. No cash or card is accepted by the vendors except at the banks.
So, what's an 8000 people-strong food and wine food festival in the Wairarapa actually like? Herewith the T to er, T of Toast.
T is for Tasty
As in the delicious food and wine. Last year's nine participating wineries included Palliser Estate, Ata Rangi, Dry River and Escarpment, and there was absolutely terrific food from the likes of Martin Bosley and Ruth Pretty. We dined on everything from Asian-inspired organic food from the kitchen at Greytown's The White Swan to plenty of freshly shucked raw oysters and West Coast whitebait fritters, and it was all superb.
O is for Outfits
People love a dress-up in this part of New Zealand and there is always some serious consideration of what to get about in on the day. One group at Toast 2018 were dressed as British explorers from the 19th century, while another bunch of lads were nattily clad in bow ties, braces and crisp white shirts, with their hair slicked back. As well as group themes, people wear anything from pretty frocks and heels to jandals and shorts. Last year saw the launch of the "Fashion Finds in the Vines" competition, where six festival-goers were singled out by Kelly Coe of fashion label Augustine and Kate Jarrett of Loxy's Hair Boutique to win prizes and star on Toast's social media platforms.
A is for Awesome Set-Ups
Each vineyard has its own unique vibe with different seating and bar configurations — we loved the hay bales dotted about at several venues and the black beanbags on the lawn at gorgeous Palliser Estate. Staff outside each venue's entry point hold signs that read either "Pumpin'" or "Chillin'" to indicate how busy each winery is so you can choose what kind of vibe you're after.
S is for Sloshed
Yes, people get merry — the enjoyment of the grape is kind of the point. But there is a decent police presence (including breath-testing stops on the way out of town) and a huge contingent of security guards everywhere. Bags are searched and wristband entry strictly enforced. The worst thing we saw from over-indulgence was the massive queue at the portaloos.
S is also for Sunshine — it may be extra lovely in the Wairarapa when the sun is booting down, but a bit of cloud cover is much more conducive to longevity in the field when it comes to the consumption and enjoyment of the delicious drops on offer.
T is for Terrific Tunes
The music was seriously impressive at every stop, from iconic Kiwi band The Warratahs at Escarpment to Wellingtonian five-piece The Hustle back at Martinborough's Union Square for the last two hours of the day's entertainment. We particularly enjoyed acoustic trio A Small Victory's renditions of Chris Isaak and Amy Winehouse classics at Palliser Estate and the alt-country tunes from Laura Collins and the Back Porch Blues Band, also at Escarpment. As the day wore on, more and more people were up dancing, which was almost as entertaining as the entertainment itself.
T is also for take a load off — Martinborough lies just over an hour's drive from Wellington via State Highways 2 and 53 and there are many charming places to stay in the area if you fancy making a weekend of it. Or if you just want to go for the day, relax and leave the car at home — there are bus services from Wellington, Palmerston North and around Wairarapa, or train and bus services to and from Featherston.
DETAILS : Toast Martinborough 2019 takes place on November 17. Tickets go on sale from September 17.