Mike Weersing searched for years for the right place to lay down roots-- vine roots. When you take his perch atop the hill from which his vineyards spill forth, a vast landscape opens up before you... swaths of sandy-colored grass undulate like lapping waves, the fields seem to dance in front of your eyes, and row after row of clouds meander lazily across the endless sky as if they are on a pilgrimage to Antarctica but must slow down to first drink in the sight below, to behold this valley, this vineyard, this family. And maybe it's the air in New Zealand, or the proximity to the sun, or the different spectrum of light that makes its way through the weaker ozone layer here, but there is something other-wordly about this small part of the planet. You feel as if you have come to the end of a fairytale-- that part when the sun shines on the kingdom and everyone lives happily ever after. The equally enchanted vineyards of Bell Hill are literally next door-- they were drawn here, too.
Mike takes the six of us up on this hill, and we stand silent, transfixed. Suddenly we got it. We got why he was here, we got what he was doing. We didn't even need to hear the story. We had to take a minute and face our own demons. Majestic landscape like this forces you to evaluate your existence, and a dark thread ran through all our minds... What am I doing with my life that I don't have a hill like this to sit on? Whatever cycles I'm in, whatever daily routines... it's not bringing me closer to this, so why am I doing it? Then we accepted the present and realized that we were here. That our jobs have, in a way, taken us here. And at once the world seemed infinite and limitless.
We started dropping into the feathery grass, each of us taking in the humbling panorama and falling into the folds of our own imaginations as the wind made us drunk with whispered inspirations. I laid back and sunk into the soil, I felt it give a little, like a sponge, and the membrane between reality and possibility seemed to waver the way that heat off a pavement warps the horizon. I experienced a moment without need-- a brush with enlightenment. I could have been contentedly swallowed up by the hillside and for a brief second, I imagined becoming a part of this land.
It strengthens the soul.
I looked right. Gabrielle stared into the distance, encased in a meditation as impenetrable as the limestone of which she dreamt. Helena stood tall with her hands on her hips. She took in the beauty standing up, with a knowing smile. She is relentless, and nothing-- not even a magical hillside-- can make her bend. The sun owed her one sunset each day, and damn, if it wasn't going to give her its best one today. We three are a different breed of woman. We have had our share of 80 hour work weeks, and we have more resolve than is good for us. We've never met Exhaustion; he's not allowed to catch up to us. But we use our reserves to fight for our beliefs, and we can see the soldier in each other. I sat, proud to be in the company of these fierce statues.
Andrew sat farther back, and he hummed electric; buzzing with the possibilities of the future and strengthening his resolve to quit his job. To the left, Chuck simply basked, staring wide-eyed into the sun. He sees the world in Van Gough-- in bright splotches of swirling color, and this was a starry, starry day. His polar opposite, Kenn, is a numbers guy to the core-- but here in this grass temple, the digits computed faster. His eyes darted back and forth, recording the landscape; then he closed them and turned his face to the sun, the computations in his mind ran together in streams of quantum equations that proofed themselves. The laws of the micro-universe and the laws of the macro-universe run together in correlation, and what seems to defy reality is paradoxically our own reality. Our existence, the existence of all this, is tenuous and inexplicable.
When Mike named his vineyards he asked his wife, Claudia, what the first thing she thought of when she pictured each vineyard. Without hesitation, she replied, "Weeds!" and so was born a nomenclature that now defines their estate bottles. The home vineyards Earth Smoke, Angel Flower, Field of Fire, and Lions Tooth are all age-old nicknames for the various weeds that dominate each plot.
"You've got to meet Claudia," Mike says of his wife. "She's off to feed the animals, but she'll be back soon," and he made half a gesture in the direction of some animals that needed feeding. I looked and saw her marching off into a sun-drenched thicket with about twenty ducks at her feet-- they followed her in a misshapen "V" pattern. Her hair whipped behind her, just like the grasses on the hills. She seemed free and fearless.
They also work with fruit from other vineyards, and produce these as a line called Growers Collection. We tasted through a few:
-A 2010 sparkling riesling that smelled like wild honey called "The Body Electric." It had accidentally re-fermented in the bottle to delightful results.
-A luscious, happy 2010 riesling from Riverbrook vineyard in Marlborough that tasted like perfectly ripe persimmon.
-A 2011 pinot blanc from the Kerner vineyard that smelled like vanilla-peach poundcake.
-A 2007 savory and tart semillon from the Brancott Valley that was like biting into a fresh capsicum.
-A 2010 Cowley Family pinot noir from Marlborough with aromas of almond puree, lardon, and fresh-baked bread
-A 2009 Howell Family cabernet franc from Hawke's Bay
....it was like a kaleidoscope journey through some of New Zealand's vineyard gems.
A few years ago, though, during the main infestation, he'd hop on top of the truck to hunt them while Claudia drove around the fields to flush them from their hiding places. I imagined the two of them driving around like crazy kids, teaching those rabbits a lesson.
It was no coincidence that later that evening, we had rabbit for dinner.