In writing this review, I’m aware that I’m predisposed to liking ‘The Vintner’s Table’, as Pegasus Bay was my ‘Winery of the Year’ for 2013. That award is based primarily on the quality of the wines and how they related to me, the consumer, their peers and the wine industry as a whole. However much of that comes from understanding the nature and philosophies of the people behind the wines. This book is all about that, and more, being sub-titled “Stories, wine and recipes from Pegasus Bay Winery’.
A hardback with over 335 pages, the content is in two parts, the first, making approximately a third of the book, is the story of the family and the Pegasus Bay winery, and is called “It Takes a Family”. The second part of the book is called “Recipes from the Pegasus Bay Kitchen” and consists of recipes separated into the four seasons. The book isn’t all text by a long shot, and it is lavishly illustrated with photographs of the vineyard, people and, of course food.
Professionally, it is the first section that most interested me. ‘The Pegasus Bay Story’ is told, describing Ivan and Chris Donaldson’s vision and motivation, stemming from their travels around European wine regions, and their beginnings of their foray into growing wine, starting with an experimental vineyard established with friends and colleagues in Halswell. This was followed by their commitment in doing it themselves, as one of the pioneers in the Waipara Valley, establishing their own vineyard and building a winery.
Also described is the start and growth of their very successful restaurant on site. This is done with some depth, as the material here leads on to the second part of the book with the recipes. The book profiles the successive chefs at the restaurant and the important suppliers of produce for the restaurant. There are also chapters on the beautiful gardens, established by Chris, and on the wines, which explains their style and winemaker Matt Donaldson’s philosophy behind them. Each of the wines he makes is described, according to their grape variety. The first part of the book finishes with a look to the future, as the second generation are now fully running the business.
Throughout this first part of the book, each of the family members is quoted as they recount various episodes of the trials and tribulations and progress of the business, and this is done with humour and honesty. In doing so, the reader gains insights into the family dynamic, and this is summarised in a chapter which has profiles of each of the members of the family. While much of the text is their dialogue, it’s the writing of Adrienne Rewi that connects it all together in a presentable format. She allows the family members’ personalities to come through, as if they’re talking to you face to face. It’s all easy and friendly stuff and while there’s just enough personal insight that is revealed, you know that it’s more the ‘public face’ that is presented here. There’s an impression that it’s a bit of a PR job, but this is what the book is in reality!
The second part of the book features 82 recipes for each of the seasons of the year. Within each season, there are starters, entrees, mains and sweets, and the recipes are attributed to the chefs who designed them. As can be expected, some are relatively easy to follow, others are more involved. They are dishes that are proven successes and all look and sound delicious, each of them having a Pegasus Bay wine recommendation as a match.
The appeal of the dishes and indeed the whole book is enhanced by the photography of Aaron McLean who has much of his work in Cuisine and Dish magazines. There is a major flaw with the layout of the photographs, especially of the food. Most of them are spread over two pages, and the middle seam of the book cuts each image in half, essentially ruining it.
I’m sure that by condensing the layout of the food section so that the photos were reduced a little in size and placed on one page, and the recipes on the other page facing, would have resulted in a better format to showcase the food. It would have reduced the number of pages of the book, and possibly lowered the price.
This is a book that nicely tells the story of the successful Pegasus Bay winery in the words of the people at it its heart. It’s is done pleasingly, and satisfyingly. But like the Pegasus Bay wines, you know there’s a lot more detail, interest and complexity below the surface. For those who have a food bent, there are a good number of recipes to try out, and you know they will be successful and enjoyable, again, very much like the wines.
The Vintner’s Table, By The Donaldson Family
Random House New Zealand, Auckland, 2014 ISBN 978-1-77553-7212