Having successfully avoided management roles in hospitality after more than twenty years in the industry, last month I accidentally opened a bar. This time it just seemed right. Exchange Christchurch (XCHC) is a community arts space that supports people in the experimental stages of their creative development, what better place to trial out my ideas of what a wine bar might look like if I decide to open one of my own someday.
This is the time of year when I would normally throw away all clothing items except sarongs and bikinis, and head off to the tropics. But this year I had to go and open a bar. Instead of packing my dive gear, I’m spending my days tasting through wines and beers, and looking at quesadilla analytics in my till system. Tough life, I know, but still I’m feeling a bit nostalgic for my dive life in Mexico! So here’s a piece I wrote about lionfish safaris, spear-fishing with my huntress friends to rid the reefs of this invasive species.
I’ve always had a tenuous grasp on reality, I trust my imagination more than my senses. Before I started my sommelier training I used to think that they were mutually exclusive. In the past I’d go to wine tastings and wait for the host to tell me what I was experiencing. I was too afraid of getting it wrong to contribute to the conversation. Forest floor? Oyster shells? Wet rock minerality? I’ve been to enough forests, oceans, and rivers to let my imagination fill the gaps for my senses. I’m familiar with the taste of raspberries, mushrooms and plums; and the smell of violets, leather and tobacco smoke. I just never trusted those sensory notes in the wine unless someone told me they were there.
The best city for tourists is the one that puts locals first. Any good holiday should be part escape and part experience, but too many places in the tourism-dependent Yucatan peninsula focus so much on the former that there’s no chance of the latter. Mérida’s charm is that it caters to the locals, and as a tourist you feel welcomed into the city.
I’ve been doing a lot of research on mezcal lately. I’m not enrolled in any course, it’s just self-study. You can laugh, it’s ok, you wouldn’t be the only one.
My sister Lauren picks me up at Los Angeles Union Station and makes fun of me when I stress about where to pay for the airport shuttle. “People here just don’t care,” she says. “This is the frontier. We’re the easternmost city in Asia and the northernmost city in Latin America. This is your soft entry to Mexico.”
Having just come from New Zealand winter, it’s not just the warmth of the temperature that’s shocking but also the overt warmth of the people. Complete strangers will give you advice about which juice to get while you’re in line at Jugo Azteca, or discuss which model has the nicest butt at the Mapplethorpe exhibit at LACMA. In NZ you’re seen as slightly crazy if you talk to strangers, in LA you’re seen as crazy if you don’t.
This is the best of the best, the top five things to do on Waiheke Island. Thanks to the lovely Carmel / George Sand Studio for helping me out with all that eating and drinking, I relied heavily on her expertise when I put this piece together. Carmel and I met at a restaurant where she was Maitre ‘D and I was bartending. Before we reconnected on Waiheke, a mutual friend asked if Carmel was ‘still the same, like some magical creature?’ I can answer definitively, yes, she is still a magical creature.
Cellar Belly. Winery staff often succumb to this dreaded malady when they are overly familiar with their own wine to the exclusion of all others. For just over a year I’d been working at Black Estate in Waipara Valley when I realised I was afflicted. Luckily, there is a cure to this condition. Familiarise yourself with as much wine as you can, from as many different places. With this remedy in mind I headed to Waiheke, New Zealand’s island of wine.
A mere half hour ride from Auckland’s city centre, Waiheke Island is New Zealand’s never never land – it’s hard to tell who actually lives there and what they do. Known for beaches and wine, the island attracts a combination of the super rich and eccentric hippies and is largely supported by travellers on working holiday visas. Evidenced by my friend Cat’s first comments when she picked me up at the ferry terminal. “Oh yes, I’m working barefoot here,” she said when she saw me staring at her muddy feet. She is a vineyard hand at the Italian owned Poderi Crisci on the island’s remote east side. “I need to show you the pictures of our staff party last week. It was on a super yacht, unlimited champagne.”