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Farewell to a year that will long live in infamy

The tumultuous 2020 year certainly ended in this region with an exclamation mark in the form of an extreme hail storm in Motueka and surrounding areas on Boxing Day.

My heart goes out to all those hard-working horticulturists who managed their way the Covid-19 restrictions to help put food and drink on our tables only to be rewarded with the total devastation of their crops at the end of the year. They must be wondering what they have done wrong to deserve this – and I say absolutely nothing, in fact the horticulture sector has been a hero in the last 12 months.

The pandemic reminded us just how important our local producers are, we don’t need to rely on imported products because we have simply outstanding producers of a wide range of fruit, vegetables, hops, grapes and other products right on our doorstep.

The impact of the hail storm for many growers and businesses will linger for some time so it’s really important that, as a community, we remember to buy local at every opportunity, every cent we spend with local growers and producers will help them get through these challenging times that could well last for another year or more.

There have been some great things happening in the region this year and I have tried to tell you about many of them, including restaurants setting up take home menus to keep their businesses afloat during Covid-19 level three restrictions and you buying those meals to support them. We have seen businesses restructure to focus on domestic consumers rather than international visitors with surprising successfulness.

Many people have told me that while international visitors are fantastic they aren’t able to actually buy a lot because of travel weight restrictions but domestic travelers are spending up large on the premium products grown and made in this region.

One of the most remarkable things for me is how the pandemic brought everyone together, we are still all in the same position so we are aware of the struggles others are having and we are supporting those people and businesses in any way we can.

Many businesses have also realised how important their local community is and they are buying locally made products too. Many of these businesses took the time of level four lockdown to have a rest, something that doesn’t happen very often when you own a small business. This downtime gave owners the opportunity to think about their business and changes they could make – they had time to work on their business not just in the business.

Hopgood’s & Co’s Kevin Hopgood

A case in point that I wrote about earlier is Kevin Hopgood taking the opportunity to refurbish the kitchen at Hopgood’s & Co, he said “if we were going to do this during a normal year we would have to close the restaurant for three weeks and no restaurant could afford to do that, but because we were forced to close level three gave us the ideal opportunity to a major refit that was planned during level four”.

I am certainly very grateful to the many people who have given me their time and been open about the challenges they are having, but these people have, without exception, been positive about the future and have been unbelievably willing to help their community while they have been struggling.

Again, I am hugely grateful to Aaron Ballantyne, the head chef at Hopgood’s & Co, and Kevin Hopgood who supplied me with a recipe to share with you every week during lockdown. I have had many people tell me they enjoyed cooking the recipes they shared. It’s this sort of community attitude that got us through the worst of the pandemic.

I have so many stories about 2020, from the stunning 2020 grape harvest to how people managed losing loved ones during level four and couldn’t get together with family and friends to grieve, but still had great support from the community.

I recently said to someone that I’m looking forward to the end of 2020 with a little trepidation because the apocalyptic Mad Max was set in 2021, they fired back that in the movie Back to the Future Michael J Fox’s character said to bypass 2020 when he was back in the 1950’s.

Maybe the producers knew something we didn’t, but I am certain we won’t be looking at an apocalyptic Mad Max 2021, our community spirit will see us through anything as long as we all remember to stay safe and ensure managed isolation will keep the worldwide resurgence of Covid-19 out of our delightful, and safe, island nation.

Thanks for reading my thoughts during the last twelve months, have a wonderful 2021, celebrate the end of 2020 with some fantastic Nelson wine and remember to buy local, be kind and be safe.

Published in the Nelson Mail 30.12.20

I have been writing a regular wine column for The Nelson Mail newspaper since 2000.

Unfortunately the column space is not big enough to include my thoughts on all of the many wines I taste. Hopefully this blog will fix that. It also gives me somewhere to archive the many columns I write. I will also include some favourite recipes from my dearly beloved who loves cooking and of course because wine and food simply go together. I will also point you in the direction of upcoming events and websites I think are great. Enjoy, Neil

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