Toast Martinborough continues to deliver wine, food and fun among the vines – but with a more classy vibe in 2018.

After 27 years, the popularity of Toast Martinborough is undeniable – every year a sell-out event; every year 80 percent of festival goers are Toast returnees. So what makes New Zealand’s premier wine, food and music festival so special? And what will be on the menu this November 18 when gates open and busloads of keen wine and food lovers flood into Martinborough? We catch up with three of the nine wineries taking part, with a behind-the-scenes peek.

START THE DAY WITH BUBBLES AT PALLISER

It’s hard to imagine a better start to a sunny Sunday morning in late spring than a glass of award-winning bubbles and a mouthful of plump, fresh strawberries. That’s exactly what Toast Martinborough festival-goers can expect from the folks at Palliser Estate, with the launch of their new dedicated bubbles and rosé bar and their mission to target the morning crowd.

After a two-year hiatus, Palliser Estate is returning to Toast Martinborough with a new approach they’re calling “more relaxed, more intimate – and altogether more sophisticated”.

Palliser’s chief executive Pip Goodwin explains: “It’s exciting to be back. It means a lot to Palliser, of course, with our founder [the late] Richard Riddiford the original driving force behind Toast.

“I’m looking forward to an exciting day. We’ve got a new site, a different layout centred around our cellar door and buildings. We’ve done a lot of landscaping, so people can gather and relax on bean bags with their glass of bubbles – a glass of The Griffin or The Rose – or a glass of our new rosé.

“Or if they’re after one of our main wines, they can head to the main wine marquee, where every varietal’s an award-winner. And right throughout the day, we’re pairing our wines with food from Michelin-starred chef Adam Newell of Martinborough’s newest restaurant, Union Square.

“We’ve also put a new spin on our music, with an acoustic trio playing soul, gospel and blues in the morning. In the afternoon, we’ll crank it up a gear with a brilliant covers band to get the crowds dancing.

“My tip for the day? I’d recommend treating your tastebuds to something new – Toast is the perfect place to discover wine you don’t usually drink and sample some interesting wine and food matches.”

DRY RIVER FOR PINOT AND PIZZA AT LUNCHTIME

Competition for the morning crowd will be tough, so check out Dry River for their wine and pizza pairing at lunchtime, says Sarah Bartlett of Dry River, now in its sixth year at Toast Martinborough.

“Our partners from Capitol restaurant in Wellington are putting on freshly-shucked oysters paired with our dry riesling in the morning. It’s a fantastic match and pretty hard to pass up. Then there’s our annual golf hole-in-one competition, which also runs first thing.

“But what I think will really excite the crowds is our wine and pizza match. We’re serving Capitol’s funghi pizza and, at the same time, pouring a brand new wine, The Twelve Spies. It’s an exciting new blend for Dry River, made from pinot noir, syrah and tempranillo, and never before shown at Toast.”

Sarah says Toast Martinborough rates highly on Dry River’s event calendar.

“We’re a members-only winery, so this is our chance to meet the public and present our wines to people who’ve not had the opportunity to sample Dry River wines.”

“I think what makes Toast Martinborough a special event is that festival-goers get to experience a good variety – every winery is different. We each partner up with different food makers and aim to create a slightly different vibe.

“This year, for example, we’ve freed-up winemaker Wilco Lam from the role of duty manager so he can roam around a bit, talking to people about the wine and what we do here.”

Sarah’s top tip for the day? “Use the Toast app! It’ll give festival-goers handy updates throughout the day on what is happening at each site, as well as maps, menus, competitions and loads more.”

ART & MUSIC AT LUNA ESTATE

Luna Estate’s Rick Lindsay says this year’s Toast Martinborough is the winery’s opportunity to catch people up on where it’s at after a couple of years of rebranding and consolidation.

But mostly it’s about having a busy, fun day full of great wine and amazing food in an outstanding setting, he says.

On the menu will be Luna Estate and Single Vineyard wines, as well as the Pinot Meunier Rosé paired with delicacies from Wellington’s Artisan Dining House at the Bolton Hotel.

Music at Toast

“There’ll be a photographer on site having fun with Instagram, a container we’ve skinned up with some bright, vivid street art – and we’re definitely going to make the most of the site’s natural outdoor amphitheatre with our music line-up,” says Rick.

Able to house a crowd of around 3,000, Luna Estate will be redesigned for Toast Martinborough, using landscaping, staging and a marquee to create a warm, intimate atmosphere, he says.

“This year we get to show people what Luna’s all about. It’s also the year to put Martinborough wine front and centre too. Toast is our time in the spotlight; it’s our opportunity to show that Martinborough wine, much like the festival itself, continues to evolve, improve and adapt to outside trends.

“I think people will come away from this year’s festival clearly seeing the Wairarapa as a wine region that really knows who it is and what it stands for – amazing wine, paired with outstanding food, set in beautiful surroundings.”

Tips on getting the best from your day from Toast’s general manager Anna Nielson:
  1. Pick your favourite group of people to hang out with.
  2. Sort your accommodation and transport early to maximise your time at the event.
  3. Don’t try to do more than four or five vineyards and do choose your vineyards before you arrive.
  4. If your group gets split up, organise a meeting spot in the Square and time of day to have one last boogie together.
  5. Relax and enjoy.

Check out toastmartinborough.co.nz for more information.

Story by Jacqui Gibson