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Lunch with Villa Maria at Boomrock Lodge

By December 7, 2011No Comments

In the one and a half decades Jonny Eastwick has operated Boomrock Lodge as a unique corporate retreat, I’ve never actually made it there to visit until now. It’s ‘shame on me’, especially as everybody I’ve talked to who has been has enjoyed it thoroughly. Situated on Papanui Station in the Oharui Valley, just out of Johnsonville and less than 30 minutes drive from the centre of Wellington city, Boomrock is certainly very accessible, yet a world away. The lodge is perched atop a 250 metre cliff overlooking the Tasman Sea and is surrounded by 1,200 ha of farmland. The views can be spectacular, with Mt Taranaki and the South Island visible. The name Boomrock comes from the sound the waves make as they crash into the cliffs below.

Boomrock bills itself as New Zealand’s most extreme corporate and social retreat. The Lodge can cater for over 100 guests for meals, conferences and weddings. There, Wellington hospitality veteran Justine Mitchell, ex Dockside, presides with great enthusiasm and efficiency, and chef Mark Hartstonge delivers hearty and interesting fare. Features in the activities offered are based on ‘The Track’ where those with a penchant for driving fast cars, can take vehicles, usually Mercedes-Benz variants for ‘hot laps’ around a circuit or over all-terrain areas. ‘The Bunkers’ offers a claybird shooting experience with famous Beretta shotguns. And the ‘Extreme Golf’ is another trademark activity, where there are prizes for holes-in-one, the holes situated 80, 180 and 300 metres away over rugged farmland. Other activities range from quizzes for the more sedate to knife-throwing, archery and helicopter-flying for the adventurous, all fully-supervised or with tuition.

The core business is of course catering to the corporate market as a venue with functions and weddings integral with the operation. Regular open days and Winemaker Lunches have proven popular. There is a long list of dates with some of the best-known winemakers in the country in attendance, so it pays to book early. I attended one where Villa Maria’s head winemaker Alastair Maling MW presented four wines. On this occasion there were around 50 attendees from businesses taking their staff out, visitors from out of town, couples investigating and experiencing the venue before their weddings, a restaurateur and a wine trade representative.

Chef Mark Hartstonge gives good thought to matching his cuisine with the wines to be poured, with complementary and contrasting flavours thus creating a synergy. The first of the canapés was Crab arancini with lemon mayonnaise, served with the new Villa Maria Methode Traditionnelle 2006. The wine is a 50% Chardonnay and 50% Pinot Noir wine spending 3 years on lees. Much tighter and linear than the also-smart first non-vintage release, this has a sense of class and depth which will show more with time. But alas, its small production is normally available only from the cellar door near Auckland airport, and I feel most will be drunk up before it reaches its full potential. The food match was a good one, the crispness cutting through the fried crumb coating, the subtlety of the crab and wine on par, with the lemon twist being a commonality.

The second canapé also matched well. The Twice cooked pork belly with crisp apple and fennel slaw is a no-brainer for comfort food. The wine was the Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard Ihumatao’ Auckland Verdelho 2010. This is wonderfully exotic with spicy florals, citrus flavours and a near-unctuous texture, allied to crisp acidity. Villa Maria and sister company Esk Valley are the only two taking this Madeira Island variety seriously in New Zealand. And the versatility with food was clear here, the acid cutting through the rich textures and pork fat, while the exotic flavours lifting the dish.

The entrée was Tortilla soup, and the heat of the chilli pepper mollified by plenty of vegetables. A hearty soup to counter a cool day for sure. I felt it overwhelmed the Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard Taylors Pass’ Marlborough Chardonnay 2007. The wine itself is a powerful one, the last time I tried it showing great complexing reductive componentry. This time, it seemed far more citrussy in fruit with creamy MLF notes, and the reduction complexity now in the background, supplying another layer of interest. This is a wine I rate extremely well, offering great intrigue with the time it has taken to develop and the continually changing face it presents.

The main course was Hawke’s Bay lamb rack with bell pepper, zucchini, basil, cherry tomatoes and Chilean olives. Perfectly cooked and pink with a trace of juices still there and adding moistness, the vegetables providing fresh relief and sweetness. I suppose the source of the meat – Hawke’s Bay – put the notion it would not match with the Villa Maria ‘Single Vineyard Southern Clays’ Marlborough Pinot Noir 2008, but it did, and extremely well. The Benmorven site of the vineyard for this wine has always provided a deep core of sweet dark berry fruits, and this held up to the lamb weight and texture. The wine is beginning to come into maturity, the tannins beginning to dissolve away, leaving sweetness and richness of fruit. This is a mouthfilling number and shows how well Villa Maria and Marlborough can do with the variety.

Chocolate dipped long-stemmed strawberries with a cup of tea or coffee marked the end of a filling and fun lunch. Through the duration of the lunch, Alastair Maling described the wines, with a wide-ranging perspective, as only a Master of Wine can do, and no doubt all of the attendees, myself included, gained a little more insight into the world of wine.

On The drive back into town, I chided myself for not having visited Boomrock much earlier. It certainly delivers all that it promises to. The farmland setting and the hearty food is the strength and all the extra activities truly make it different. Its accessibility to Wellington is remarkable. For more information and a schedule of costs, visit www.boomrock.co.nz

Disclosure: I attended the Winemaker Lunch as a guest of Villa Maria Estate.

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