Swinging Gate

With more than thirty two vineyards along the Tamar Valley Wine Route to choose from, it was a difficult task to narrow down those to visit within our limited time frame. Looking for something a bit different, we headed to Swinging Gate at Sidmouth. The vines were originally planted in 1985 and, then known as Buchanan Vineyard, the fruit was sold to various Tasmanian wineries but never had an identity of its own. Fifteen years later, the plot was sold and abandoned until horticulturalist Doug Cox and his wife Corrie purchased the vineyard in 2014 and set about resurrecting it. The name is in reference to the gates swinging open again for the first time in many years.

The old machinery shed has been converted to a quirky cellar door and adjoining day spa.

Wine dog, Nellie, is happy to receive attention from visitors, although I think a little too much of the good life has ended her modelling career.

The rustic interior was instantly welcoming, with mismatched tables and chairs offering the perfect setting for an informal tasting experience.

As it was only 10.30am, we had Doug’s undivided attention as he led us through the myriad wines on offer while sharing the background of Swinging Gate. With a 30 year career in horticulture under his belt, after purchasing the vineyard Doug taught himself the winemaking process. The first year was spent rejuvenating the vines and in 2015, they produced 5,000 bottles to celebrate the 30th vintage of the vines. It appeared as though the adjoining barrel room was furnished for a tipple and quiet contemplation at the end of the day.

Swinging Gate is not just a winery. In 2019 the first geodesic dome appeared amongst the vines, and there are now three dotting the landscape.

Offering the ultimate glamping experience, each 6 metre dome is furnished with a king-size bed and, as well as private ensuites, two of the domes have outdoor bathtubs. I have just added an item to our bucket list.

Natale Italiano

We haven’t really celebrated Christmas for quite a few years, not since our spontaneous sojourn to Cradle Mountain in 2016. To say our yuletide decorations at home are minimalist would be an understatement.

This year, we invited some new found friends to share lunch and, not being a fan of the traditional turkey, Christmas pudding and mince pies, I chose an Italian menu instead. Preparation began on Christmas Eve with the creation of soft garlic breadsticks, fava bean & goats cheese dip and one of my favourites, Torta della Nonna.

The table was set and a few sprigs from our holly tree created a colourful adornment by the front door.

I had a few special tree ornaments, mostly handmade by a friend and my mum, that have been hidden in a box in the cupboard for millenia. Michael did a fine job of decorating the Japanese Black Pine by the pond,

a spectacle to be enjoyed from the dining table.

Glasses were charged with a superb G.H. Mumm champagne to accompany the antipasto platter featuring the usual suspects: prosciutto, chorizo salami, capocollo, pecorino pepato, gorgonzola, mozzarella and anchovy stuffed olives along with the aforementioned dip & breadsticks.

The opening of a bottle of Torresella Pinot Grigio heralded the serving of pumpkin & ricotta ravioli with brown butter sage sauce.

A stroll around the garden in the sunshine made room for main course of Prune & Olive Chicken, roasted onions, potatoes & carrots and a Wreath Caprese Salad, complemented by a bottle of Balliamo Pinot Grigio.

The Torta della Nonna was worth waiting for (if I do say so myself)

and, of course, there was still enough space in the ‘sweet stomach’ for chocolates and coffee. It’s not all about the food, this Christmas will be one of the most memorable thanks to the wonderful company and the weather gods delivering perfection.

Pitigliano

After our relaxing lunch in Saturnia, we detoured on the way home to explore Pitigliano. You might think we’d seen enough gorgeous medieval hilltop towns perched on tufa rock but it’s not something I could ever tire of.

The town is also known as Piccola Gerusalemme or Little Jerusalem, as it became a haven for the Jews escaping from the ghettos of the cities in the 16th century. They lived happily here until 1622 when the residents were confined to the Jewish Quarter and remained so until the Jews were emancipated in the mid 19th century. Many of them moved to the cities and by World War II none were left. Houses seemed to emerge from the rock

as we made our way into town.

We didn’t get far before our attention was diverted by La Dispensa del Conte (The Count’s Pantry), a wonderland brimming with local produce.

With a few purchases in our bags, we wandered to the edge of town

and discovered a spectacular structure with two large arches and thirteen smaller ones incorporated into the walls of the town. The Medici aqueduct was built between 1636 and 1639 to bring running water to the village and the Lorraines added the series of small arches in the 18th century.

From there we had a great view of the road into town and the stunning arched bridge over which we would soon be driving.

Adjacent to the aqueduct, the 14th century Palazzo Orsini is now a museum. The twenty one rooms are filled with antique furniture, jewellery and wooden sculptures as well as sacred art and precious fabrics.

As we drove out of town, there seemed to be one gourmet paradise after another.

It would have been wonderful to spend more time in Pitigliano, there was so much more to see.

Mr. Pickles

After a wonderful morning meandering our way around Hamilton Gardens, we were ready for a spot of lunch. We asked the lovely ladies in the gift shop if they could recommend somewhere, preferably by the river. Without hesitation they suggested Mr. Pickles, a new establishment they hadn’t actually tried but had heard excellent reviews. Despite their detailed directions, we had to ask a couple of locals before finally finding it tucked away off the main thoroughfare.

The interior was light and airy

but on this beautiful day we dined alfresco

overlooking the Waikato River.

The tapas style meal was incredible and we complemented it with a glass of 2018 Seresin Pinot Gris from the Marlborough region.

The first dish, tantalisingly named Saucy Boys, combined fried squid with spring onion, peanuts & house made xo sauce.

Next came baked potato dumplings with crispy bacon, brown butter & chives and beef cheek croquettes with habanero mustard.

Grilled scotch fillet with roast capsicum & zucchini salsa and spiced sticky eggplant with sesame & ginger followed.

With little regard for our cholesterol levels, we couldn’t resist the duck fat crushed potato with parmesan & truffle salt.

Once sated, we wandered along the riverside

for a different perspective of Mr. Pickles

and the magnificent Waikato River.

Volcanic Hills Winery

We are always eager to visit anywhere with the word ‘winery’ or ‘vineyard’ attached to the name and so, after a few hours absorbing the sulphurous splendour of Whakarewarewa, we sought the more mellow tones of Volcanic Hills Winery. While the wine making facility is located at ground level, the tasting room, high on the side of Mount Ngongotaha, can only be reached by a 900 metre ride on the Skyline Gondola.

The Skyline complex offers cafes and restaurants as well as luge, ziplines and mountain bike tracks for the thrill-seekers. We prefer our thrills on the more sedate side. Volcanic Hills was established in 2009 with the tasting room opening three years later.

There are no grapes grown in Rotorua, instead the best grapes are sourced from various wine regions in New Zealand and the finished product is only available at cellar door and hand chosen outlets, restaurants and hotels. We enjoyed a five wine tasting, guided through by a very knowledgeable Larissa, wife of winemaker Brent Park. The gondola continued its circuits on one side of the window

while magnificent views across the town and lake filled the rest.

Lake Rotorua was formed around 200,000 years ago following the eruption of a volcano and is the second largest lake in the North Island. The resulting caldera is about 16km wide, although with an average depth of only 10 metres.

Mokoia Island is a rhyolite lava dome in the centre of the lake, created when magma was pushed through a crack in the caldera. It is now a bird sanctuary and home to several rare species.

We wandered around the complex but, tempting though the restaurant was

we stashed our bottles of 2019 Hawkes Bay Rose and 2019 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc and made our way back to Matamata as the sun descended on another wonderful day.