Tuesday, 07 August 2018 09:27

Wine sport events

Written by  Joelle Thomson
Running through vineyards is one of the highlights of the Saint Clair annual half marathon. Running through vineyards is one of the highlights of the Saint Clair annual half marathon.

First, there was the Forrest GrapeRide, then there was the Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon and the Martinborough Round the Vines Run (every March). Now there is the Pegasus Bay Vine Run, launched in late January this year. 

Talk about a sea change in the way wine lovers enjoy a little of what they fancy on location.

The days of standing around in a field drinking wine have not entirely disappeared, only they are less of a focus and sporting events are more of one, thanks to a growing list of wine and sports focussed activities, many of which attract serious cyclists and runners.

The growth in sports events in wine regions and at wineries can encourage a healthier attitude towards alcohol than a winery can otherwise promote purely by selling drinks and food in a field for no apparent reason.

Take the annual Forrest Estate GrapeRide, for example.

This Marlborough event began 14 years ago after a chat between a cycling policeman and a budding Olympian and it has since grown into a large-scale South Island sports event, which attracts thousands of people. 

Forrest Estate owners and founders, Dr John Forrest and Dr Brigid Forrest both regularly ride in the event as well as coordinate wine, beer, food and cycling clothing and accessories for the relaxed after-ride afternoon at their winery.

The first GrapeRide in 2005 attracted 698 riders and the event is now capped at 2500. It began when budding Olympian Robin Reid and police sergeant Pete Halligan both talked about a possible cycling event in Blenheim in the mid 2000s. 

The pair promoted the event in collaboration with the Coast to Coast athlete, Steve Gurney, and gathered together the brains trust, which included Reid as well as local cyclist, coach and businessman Chris Ginders, multisport athlete Andrea Koorey and cyclist Duncan Mackenzie. 

The Saint Clair Vineyard Half Marathon began in 2007 when winery owners Neal and Judy Ibbotson promoted it with the mantra that “you can do anything you put your mind to”.

This year’s event was to be held in May and at the time of writing there were an expected 4000 competitors estimated to take part. 

“The course is challenging but the picturesque scenery along the way makes it enjoyable and the event is overall about relaxing, having fun and taking on a challenge,” says Julie Ibbotson, of Saint Clair Winery.

“It’s a real family affair as we have all participated, from my parents to my sister Sarina and I, and our brother Tony,” says Julie, who adds that while the event does attract serious runners, it is first and foremost about relaxing, having fun and taking on a challenge.

“Last but not least of all it’s about the bottle of Saint Clair wine at the finish line.”

The same incentive appeals to runners who took part in the first Pegasus Bay Vine Run; the inaugural event took place in January this year and was inspired by the Martinborough Round the Vines fun walk/run and the Saint Clair Half Marathon. Runners can choose two options; both modest compared to Saint Clair’s run, but it’s early days, and all runners receive a bottle of wine after the race. 

Vine Run co-founder and coordinator Di Donaldson says the run was inspired by a combination of encouraging exercise, raising money for the Brain Research Institute (BRI) and promoting the winery and its North Canterbury region. It’s the first of what she and co-organiser, Mike Donaldson, hope will be many Pegasus Bay Vine Runs.

The Donaldson duo encouraged participants to dress up and pack a picnic to enjoy on the expansive lawns of the winery, following the run. The Pegasus Bay Vine Run included two options - a 6 kilometre and a 10 kilometre run – and they are considering whether the event could grow into a half marathon in future years. 

The run wound its way through Pegasus Bay Winery’s vineyard and landscaped gardens, which are planted extensively in flowers and natives, around a lake and a vegetable garden. 

“We want to make it a great experience for everyone involved and to raise money for the BRI and then we can build it up over time, in a similar way to how Saint Clair winery in Marlborough has built up their annual half marathon.”

The fundraiser aspect is another key component of the run, which is important to the family because winery co-founder Ivan Donaldson has had an extensive career as an associate professor and consultant neurologist.

Like the GrapeRide, wine was available for purchase following the inaugural Pegasus Bay Vine Run, with participants able to purchase wine to take home with them.

Best of all, for wine lovers taking part in these events, is the opportunity to enjoy wine after working for the privilege… and to enjoy tasting lesser known wines that are only available at cellar doors of these wineries. Some examples include Forrest Estate’s incredibly refreshing Chenin Blanc, decadently delicious Petit Manseng and Beth Forrest’s new wave Sauvignon. It feels almost virtuous drinking a glass or two early afternoon after the GrapeRide because you’ve pretty much earned it.

Instead of singing for your supper, you’re cycling for your beer and wine. 

Winemaker John Forrest also makes a little wine at the event each year, with the help of grape “virgins” who all climb into a small vat of Pinot Noir grapes to crush them by foot. The wine made as a result is a Rosé and the finished wine is then given to category winners in the following year’s GrapeRide. 


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