Chairman of Te Mata Estate Winery, John Buck, OBE, was honoured as the latest inductee to the New Zealand Wine Hall of Fame at a glittering black tie dinner celebrating the 2012 Royal Easter Show Wine Awards in Auckland last week.
About time, too. Where New Zealand wine would (or wouldn't) be without the tireless pursuit of excellence demonstrated by Buck and his team at Te Mata doesn't bear thinking about.
From developing what is now Hawke's Bay Winegrowers and initiating the Hawke's Bay Charity Wine Auction (which has raised over $2 million for Cranford Hospice), to chairing the New Zealand Wine Institute through the exciting, turbulent early to mid 1990s, Buck has always been going a million miles an hour.
He criss-crosses the globe spreading word about New Zealand wine, while any notions of him slowing down are dispelled when you see him charging up and down the sidelines of the Havelock North Rugby Club on chilly Saturday mornings cheering his grandchildren on.
Though just a puppy compared to the centuries-old brands it competes with internationally, Te Mata Estate, with each passing year since John's first vintage in 1982, is cementing itself as a great winery of the world. I've lost count of how often I've heard its flagship wine, Coleraine, being referred to as New Zealand's greatest red wine and, in all honesty, if I hadn't been introduced to that wine one fateful evening back in 1993, I wouldn't be in this job today.
Over the years, Te Mata wines have been reviewed by the world's most influential wine critics, yet there's one endorsement he's particularly proud of.
At a tasting held in Christchurch recently, Buck revealed he was basking in the glory of having received "the single greatest review we've ever had".
It turns out Te Mata is now the star of a new Mills and Boon bodice-ripper titled Taken By the Pirate Tycoon by prolific kiwi romance writer Daphne Clair. According to Buck, during a steamy seduction scene featuring her heroine, comes the sentence "Te Mata Elston Chardonnay," she noted, "Not a cheap wine". Powerful stuff indeed. You know you've made it when you're mentioned in Mills and Boon.
I can't believe I spent so many years knocking Lindauer. During my 20s when I was desperately trying to look flash in front of my friends. Labels were everything. Expensive meant quality and as far as sparkling wine was concerned, unless it was over $30 a bottle and/or French then it wouldn't cut the custard.
What an idiot I was. All those years cringing at the thought of bringing something more budget to the BYO meant I missed out on what sensational value for money New Zealand's favourite fizz delivered. It was never a quality issue - I'd always enjoyed the taste - but some silly idea I had that because it was cheap with swirly letters on the label it wasn't cool enough.
Yet each year Lindauer continues to leap ahead in the quality stakes, gathering coveted four- and five-star ratings in glossy magazines and filling the trophy cabinet with all manner of medals.
Earlier this month, good old Lindauer Brut NV ($12.99) took home the Champion Sparkling Wine Trophy at the 59th Royal Easter Show Awards. During the judging, the Lindauer Brut NV* and the Lindauer Special Reserve Blanc de Blancs NV ($19.99) were awarded gold medals in the same category.
In recent years I've become a huge fan of the Lindauer range. All the wines have delicious citrusy, nutty notes, delicate minerality and satisfying, mouthfilling texture - and I have no problem serving any of them at even the swankiest of soirees, because the overall quality at every price level is just so good.
In fact, the whole level of quality in New Zealand sparkling wine has lifted this year according to Deputy Chair of Judges, Mike DeGaris, and for the first time in the Royal Easter Show's history six gold medals were awarded to Methode Traditionnelle wines.
"The secret to Lindauer's success is in the wine making," says Jane de Witt, Lindauer's North Island Operations winemaker.
"Our wines are made from traditional champagne grape varieties that are grown in the cool maritime Hawke's Bay and Gisborne climates, and we use an authentic method of bottling wine for its second fermentation.
"We're very proud to make amazing wine that everyone can enjoy at any time," she says.
I'll drink to that.
NV is short for " non-Vintage", which means the wine has been created from selected portions of base wines which were made in different years and kept in the cellar for the purpose of being included in sparkling wine blends.