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Auckland, North Island, New Zealand
Wine tour operator, wine writer and lapsed physiotherapist. "Nature abhors a vacuum. I personally hate dusting."


Tuesday, April 12, 2011


Okay. I have met some interesting people over the last ten years while running my fabulous World Famous Auckland Wine Tours.

(Ahem) rated the “No. 1 best activity to do in Auckland City, New Zealand” by TripAdvisor.

Most people, in fact the vast majority, are wine enthusiasts who get the general idea of a wine tour. I.e. go to some wineries, sample some selected wines (sniff, savour, evaluate, spit or tip), move on to the next winery. However, some folk have their own concept of what constitutes an ‘wine tour’ and tend to go off on tangential trajectories much to the surprise and general fear and loathing of other passengers - and yours truly. Bear in mind, that most Cellar Door tasting rooms in NZ have a good line-up of wines – often up to ten available to sample, plus they are very generous with sample amounts. And they usually do not charge a tasting fee.

For the sake of brevity and the cheap opportunity to demean and humiliate others from afar, I have categorised them thus:

GULPERS – When the cellar door staff say ‘Now, where would you like to start?’ they say ‘At the top!’ and proceed to gulp down as many free samples as they can from Sauvignon Blanc, to reds to dessert wines. They really don’t give a toss what they drink – they just want to get plastered for free. Some even con extras by asking for another: ‘Oh, can I try that one again – I can’t quite make my mind up.’ These people never buy a bottle.

COLOURISTS – Now fair enough, some people just can’t handle a particular variety of wine so they avoid reds because of tannins, or they avoid whites because they think they are wimpy. But I do get some clients who have a preconceived idea of what New Zealand wines should taste like, and announce almost as soon on the tour, “We only drink reds.” or “We only drink whites.” I don’t have a major problem with that, but I find that if you can persuade them, often they will be surprised by the complexity and pure varietal flavours of all our wines, red and white. Among this group lurks the subset of ABC people– “Anything but Chardonnay!” These are poor deluded folk who had a bad Chardonnay experience circa 1982 when the wines were bright yellow, over-oaked shockers that tasted like a school desk soaked in methylated spirits. They prove one of the most intransigent groups – they refuse point blank to even sniff a lightly wooded fruit driven Chardy.

SWEETIES – Novice wine drinkers do tend to start with sweet wines. This is no crime and they are on the first steps of a wine journey, so it’s mean to be critical. However, the fact is that many wineries produce very little - or no sweet wines at all. This does make for a very short wine tour when you total tasting palette is four dessert wines. Occasionally I can encourage them to try off-dry to medium styles like Gew├╝rztraminer, Pinot Gris or Riesling but on most occasions the reaction is the screwed up sucked-a-lemon face of the sugary wine fan.

COCKTAIL SIPPERS - These folk are generally gregarious, and don’t really know much about wine, but they love talking. So instead of the standard Sight, Swirl, Sniff, Savour, Spit routine – are more interested in chatting - with anecdotes about their vacation and general Life Story, all the while taking tiny sips of wine and talking and sipping and talking and sipping ….

WANDERERS – They generally do like the wines, but especially after a few they go into a sort of Wine Zen state and wander off to the gardens and cellar door surrounds, wine in hand, eyes glazed, to soak up the winery atmos. They return much later for another sample – and then wander off again from the main group.

GRUMPY OLD PEOPLE – These folk are almost exclusively from cruise ships where there is a culture of expecting to be both disappointed and ripped-off. These folk make an art of complaining and demanding: Can we have more air in the back? I can’t hear anything, speak louder! Where are the washrooms? How many native birds do you have? Are we going to see any kangaroos today? I think I left my eye glasses at the last winery! The crackers are too salty!  Stop the van - I feel nauseous!!

GROUPS - There is a certain critical mass with numbers of people on the tour.  My minibus seats a max of seven and that's about as large as I want.  Small numbers mean interaction and good company.  For me, that's why I enjoy running the tours - I meet people from all over the world and have the pleasure of introducing them to a wide range of our fantastic wines. Now groups are another matter. Numbers can vary from ten up 60.   Group tours have to be scheduled with the wineries and the lunch venue.  Generally - the more people, the more it becomes crisis management. Within the group will be all of the above - Gulpers, Sippers, Wanderers, Grumpy etc.
Not only do I personally provide tasting notes, witty informative commentary, answer dumb questions, and wrangle the cheese board, but I also have to try to keep to time.   The tours invariably run late and I have a migraine by the end of the day.  One of the worst was a two-bus, cruise ship group of 60 - where one bus got lost and we were an hour late for lunch. The Maitre D' had a hissy fit, ran away and never talked to me again.  At the end of the tour the bus drivers got all the tips.

BUT …. 99.9% of wine tour clients are nice, funny, intelligent, informed, genial folk who just love wine. God bless ‘em.

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