On a dark, dreary night with much of Cork under water and the wind tossing umbrellas into the Lee like paper airplanes, one might have been forgiven for opting to stay in by the fire instead of traipsing through the waterlogged streets to a wine tasting. But the allure of a candlelight supper in the atmospheric English Market, which very rarely extends its opening hours to the public after 6pm, was too enticing for words.
Destination: the homely but classy Farmgate Café for the fourth event in the “Bringing the Wine Geese Home” series, this time in association with Classic Drinks. The series spans the globe and this edition invited Nelson-based Kiwi, Anna Seifried of Seifried Wines, home to rekindle her Irish connections as part of The Gathering 2013. As Sales and Marketing Manager, Anna is an integral part of the family-run winery, and with her auburn hair and freckles, she certainly fit the bill as Seifried’s Irish “Wine Geese” representative.
After the fantastic Lynch-Bages tasting with Jean-Charles Cazes in Ballymaloe earlier in the month, Anna had a tough act to follow, but she and her wines met, and surpassed, all expectations. On arrival in the gallery in the English Market, home to the lovely Farmgate Café, we were ushered onto the balcony where we were served market canapés and a glass of Seifried Pinot Gris – the first of the four wines in the tasting, and a fantastic start to the evening – full, fragrant and exotic, brimming with tropical fruits, lime and a touch of pepper and the faintest suggestion of sweetness. It had me on the first sniff!
There was quite a buzz on the balcony –a packed house in spite of the storm howling outside. After some mingling and light-hearted banter about the inclement weather, we were directed to our tables. I love the communal seating arrangements at these events as it always makes for lively dinner conversation and gives ample opportunity to compare tasting notes.
First up, Castletownbere Crab Crumble – creamy, delicate and delicious, followed by a beautifully fresh Pea and Mint Soup. Both courses found their perfect partner in the second wine: Aotea Sauvignon Blanc. Bursting with aromas of passion-fruit and grapefruit backed up by lively acidity, this wine cut through the creaminess of the crumble and drew out the fresh green flavours in the soup. “Herbaceous, but in a positive way” was the general consensus at our table. A show of hands revealed that this was a big hit amongst our fellow diners too.
The clinking of glasses prompted a hush as Steve Dwyer of Classic Drinks thanked everyone for coming and welcomed Anna to Cork. He told us that Seifried’s wines held a special place for him, as they were one of the very first wines to be imported by Classic Drinks. It was then over to Anna to bring us on a short journey of her family history.
In her engaging, relaxed style, Anna informed us that her family has been making wines since the early ‘70s when her father, Austrian-born Hermann moved to New Zealand, married Agnes – Anna’s mother – and together put their dream in motion to set up a vineyard in New Zealand’s sunshine capital, Nelson. Hermann had studied winemaking in Germany and worked for the KWV in South Africa for a while before heading to New Zealand to make fruit wine for the Apple and Pear Marketing Board. Recognising the potential that Nelson had to produce great wines, they started on their wine-making mission to put Nelson on the map and their efforts can largely be accredited with pioneering the South Island’s wine industry.
From humble beginnings her parents worked night and day, often struggling to put food on the table, to build the now world-famous Seifried Estate, with the first plantings in 1973 and the first harvest in 1976. Their first vintage performed extremely well at a national wine competition in Waitangi. Since then the company has attracted a lot of interest amongst major drinks corporations who are keen to acquire it. But the family has held firm and Seifried remains to this day a family-run business in its truest form. Anna’s two siblings lead the Seifried winemaking team, with her brother Chris running the day-to-day cellar operations as chief winemaker and her sister Heidi splitting her time between a dental practice and working as assistant winemaker to Chris. As Anna says, growing up amongst the vines could only have one possible outcome.
Nelson wines are less-well known than their South Island counterparts from Marlborough, yet they consistently win more awards than any other region in New Zealand. It’s located at the top of the South Island, west of Marlborough and sees an average of 2,700 hours of sunshine a year – by far the sunniest area in New Zealand. Aromatic varieties fare particularly well here: Riesling, Pinot Gris and Gewürztraminer. There’s an artisan approach to winemaking in Nelson that shows in its wines. This was certainly evident in the third wine of the evening: a beautifully-crafted Pinot Noir with savoury notes reminiscent of a good Burgundy. Unlike the more commercial Pinot’s from New Zealand, the fruit was soft and delicate – not at all jammy – with subtle spicy characters and a barely detectable oak influence. The Farmgate team had cleverly paired it with Slow Roasted Pork from the Market, which just melted in the mouth – together the two waltzed gracefully over the taste buds. This is what the Farmgate does so well: sourcing the best local ingredients and cooking them expertly but simply, letting the ingredients speak for themselves. Hats off to Susie at Classic Drinks for selecting such a great venue to match these excellent Irish-Kiwi wines!
So, back to why we were all gathered in the Farmgate on a miserable Thursday evening. As you know, the aim of this Gathering initiative is to bring winemakers with Irish connections home from abroad. The name Seifried doesn’t evoke images of emigrants leaving Ireland for pastures new, but Anna informed us there is a connection on both her mother’s and father’s side of the family: her maternal great grandfather, Thomas McCartney, was born in Donegal in 1857. In 1877, at the age of 20 he boarded the ‘Marlbourough’ leaving Ireland for New Zealand. Settling in the North Island he began farming, carried on by his children and grandchildren. Anna’s father, although very much Austrian in his ways, also has some Irish blood running through his veins, linking him back to Kilkenny.
The evening drew to a close in style with a Munster Cheese Board consisting of Hegarty’s Mature Cheddar and Cashel Blue followed by a Carrigeen Moss Pudding with Poached Rhubarb – seasonal and sublime! Both of these local delights called out for something special to match their rich flavours. There was only one wine for the job: award-winning “Sweet Agnes” Riesling. Named after Anna’s mother, “Sweet Agnes” is like an ice-wine, but controversially the late-harvested grapes are frozen artificially, not naturally, and then pressed to yield a concentrated juice, producing an intense, powerful, sweet and vibrant wine, with rich apricot flavours and a delicious spiciness. Naughty, but extremely nice! It’s so delicious, what does it matter how it’s made? What a finish!
And so, sadly the evening came to an end. Anna thanked everyone for coming and invited us all to visit Nelson – she is certainly a worthy ambassador for her region. Was it worth sacrificing a cosy night in by the fire for? Absolutely! The food, the service, the wine and the winemaker were all straight out of the top drawer. And as for the atmosphere – let’s just say, there was a little magic in the air that night!
We’d like to thank Kay, Rebecca, Mirco and all the team at Farmgate Café for organizing a really fantastic night – the food and service were second to none. Thanks to Susie and Steve of Classic Drinks for securing such a great venue and for coaxing Anna to our neck of the woods. Finally, a massive thank you to Anna for coming all this way to be part of The Gathering and for sharing her wonderful wines and family history with us! We hope you will come back to visit us again soon Anna!
All wines tasted available from Classic Drinks as well as others in the Seifried range.