A RECENT bike ride with two friends around the wineries in Marlborough, NZ, brought my day job into unwanted complementarity with my wine hobby.
At the National Road Transport Association there is a large focus on improving road safety. One of the best ways to ensure the safety of cyclists is to separate them from other traffic: bike paths rule.
And when is a bicycle not a bicycle? When it turns into a winery. Which we did a lot of, responsibly, sadly spitting out a lot of the wine once tasted. True, officer! Anyway, unfortunately, the bike lane on most of the wine trails in Marlborough is an extended road shoulder with no separation from other traffic.
On the first day we did some bush walking so only visited two wineries: Forrest Wines and Framingham. Forrest expresses the heart of what Marlborough is famous for: floral sauvignon blancs with terroir-induced acid on the finish. Despite this varietal being the life blood of Kiwi wines, it is not my favourite tipple. In contrast, Forrest had excellent rieslings on taste, with the 2018 lower-alcohol Select being memorable for its crisp, citrusy finish.
The second day was when we were to get serious and visit more wineries and get a feel for the Wairau Valley where the flat valley floor makes the wineries accessible by bike. The plan was to bike to the furthest winery from the accommodation where we stayed (which also supplied the bikes as part of the tariff) and make our way back to the small town of Renwick.
The St Clair winery was 45 minutes’ ride from where we stayed and was the first winery tackled where maybe the hour (11ish) suited coffee more than wine but I just didn’t warm to anything on taste. We then sampled the product of Lake Chalice Wines, Hunters (where there is an artist in residence – big pat on the back) and then to Allan Scott’s for tasting and lunch of an unctuous seafood chowder and a chilled glass of the sparkling Cecilia Vintage Méthode Traditionnelle.
After lunch the wind became strong and we were very slow in biking into its face, heading for Giesen Wines. The traffic had also increased and we were feeling vulnerable to passing trucks and cars, keeping as far to the left as we could.
Not far from the Hans Herzog Estate, a courier van travelling in the opposite direction to us, tried to overtake a tractor pulling a spray rig. There was a misjudgement and the van and the back of the rig collided.
As if in some staged Hollywood movie, the rear tyre of the struck vehicle rose in the air and bounced towards us and then, thankfully, missed all three bikes.
The courier van, out-of-control, had veered worryingly close but settled on the opposite grass verge. Everything slowed and there was debris and pieces of the spray unit all over the road. Traffic stopped. We looked at each other and were incredibly relieved that a near miss had remained just that: I want my cause of death to be too many birthdays, nothing else.
It’s trite that the holiday will be spoken about because of this incident. We have already shared the story with friends and family because you still see everything in slow motion when you shut your eyes. You don’t see the tasting glasses on the counters of the cellar doors rear up before you because that is pleasant and certainly not traumatic.
The incident got me thinking even more empathetically towards those 1200 people who die on our roads every year. So for 2019, an aphorism for both drinking wine and driving:
“Enjoy without injury, live without loss.” – Amit Kalantri