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Blending the wine world with te ao Māori
On a soon-to-be-launched Māori natural wine label, Cadbury rights past wrongs and a petite star-shaped snack.
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter. Written by me, Charlotte Muru-Lanning. It’s lovely to have you here!
Tāwhiti translates to being distant, far away, remote or widely separated in space or time.
It’s a term that’s been lingering on the mind of Matua Murupaenga (Ngāti Kuri, Ngāti Kahu) for a while now. Murupaenga is a chef, DJ, almost-nurse, sometimes-hot-dog-maker, and food-obsessed. In short, he’s a person of eclectic endeavours. More recently, he’s delved into another field: wine making. Alongside his partner Imogen Weir (Ngāi Tahu) he’s created Tawhiti, a Māori natural wine label.
A week ago, we caught up at the recently-relocated restaurant Forest on Auckland’s Dominion Road – just a few blocks from Ooh-Fah, the pizza and natural wine restaurant he’s working at in the evenings and not far for him to cycle to his next appointment in town – helping to translate posters into te reo Māori for a local fashion brand.
They’re using certified organic grapes sourced from Te-Matau-a-Māui (Hawke’s Bay) and the focus, Murupaenga says, is on small batch (just 600 bottles), minimal intervention, experimental wines that showcase the region's best vineyards and grape varieties. Their first wine, a chardonnay pet nat, will be launched at the end of September. In October they’ll press and bottle their second variety.
“Obviously it’s quite a trendy style of wine at the moment, but what I like about the pet nat is that if you think about it, it's kind of like the tūpuna method of sparkling wine making,” Murupaenga says. “I was always interested in going back and revisiting older styles in a contemporary way.”
While working as a chef at Pici (the central Auckland pasta restaurant he worked at until recently), Murupaenga first began to delve into the wine world – as part of the staff wine training run by “wine guy” James Pain. When the country went into lockdown in 2020, the in-person staff wine tastings transformed into Zoom sessions with winemakers – essentially putting faces to the wines they were used to pouring. Through those conversations, Murupaenga’s interest in all things wine was cemented.
Early in 2022, an old friend who had been making wine in Austria for years reached out and asked Murupaenga whether he’d be keen to join him for the year’s vintage in Central Otago. “I went down there for six weeks, and literally had two days off the whole time and then by the end of it I said ‘I think I’m gonna have to do this myself’,” says Murupaenga.
It was through a chance meeting with Amy Hopkinson-Styles from wine label Halcyon Days that the idea of making his own wine shifted from something in the distance to something tangible and very much in the present. While the conversation began with the idea that Tawhiti would become a sub-label of Halcyon Days, it’s since developed into its own separate identity, supported by the skills and knowledge offered by Hopkinson-Styles.
More than just a personal interest in wine making, Tawhiti is the product of a desire for change. “A lot of the reasoning behind doing this was because I was moaning about all these wines with Māori names on the labels where nothing else about it is Māori,” Murupaenga says. “You can only moan about something for so long and then you've got to do something about it.”
Right from Tawhiti’s beginning, they’ve worked to “incorporate as much Māoritanga as possible”, along with having Māori people in every aspect of the production. That extends beyond just the contents of the bottle to the bottle itself. Visual artist Raukura Turei (Ngāitai ki Tāmaki, Ngā Rauru Kītahi) has made paintings from blue clay, black sand and ochre brought back from the whenua during harvest in Hawke’s Bay which will envelop the two wine bottles.
Because of the uneasy relationship between Māori and alcohol, and the limited number of tangata whenua winemakers in the industry, working through the knots that come with approaching wine in a Māori way has been a constant part of the process. “It's something we've been super mindful of because obviously alcohol has been a big problem for our people and we don't want to be contributing to the problem,” he says.
That contentiousness has given rise to philosophical discussions between the pair around tikanga and kawa. Along the way, they’ve asked questions like whether or not it would be OK to print whakatauki on the bottle, or to shoot images of their wine on the pā. What does it even mean to be a Māori wine label? Because it's largely uncharted territory, bringing together the two worlds highlights the way that these practices and traditions, rather than being immovable monoliths, are up for negotiation, debate and evolution.
Looking into the distance again, Murupaenga has found himself nerding out about amphora: massive clay vessels used to ferment wine. The practice that originated in what is now Georgia around 6,000 years ago tends to be associated with ancient winemaking, but the technique has grown in popularity around the world over the past few years. “Some winemakers I've met in the Hawke’s Bay have imported amphoras from places that make them in France and I've been picking up the difference in the characteristics you get from a wine fermented in them, it's pretty cool,” he says. As beautiful as they are, they also come with a huge price tag, not to mention the carbon footprint and tangle of logistics to get them to Aotearoa. “So it’s not really the one, to be honest,” he says. “We've got uku [traditional pottery] here anyway, so I’ve been talking to one of my mates who’s been doing uku work lately – amphoras, that's what I want to do next year.”
As he’s forged more connections within the wine world, conversations have been sparked around how Māori ways of doing things can be better heeded within the industry. “It’s about how wine producers and vineyards are interacting with the taiao, the whenua, the rākau – everything has a level of mauri.”
For Murupaenga, these values are already at the core of Tawhiti wines. “One of the things I did at the start of harvest this year was figure out the local maramataka and use that, not to dictate what we were doing, but as an extra tool and way to incorporate more mauri into what we’re doing,” he says. “Basically, we're gonna keep this Māori as.”
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Major supermarkets have scant fans in Aotearoa at the moment. Last Friday, the government released the details of its new grocery code of conduct. It marks the latest measure put in place to reform the grocery sector after a set of recommendations from a Commerce Commission market study, which found competition was suppressed in the industry and consumers were getting an unfair deal at the checkout as a result. The recently appointed grocery commissioner Pierre Van Heerden has said the changes will lead to more innovation, variety and fairer prices for shoppers and suppliers. This explainer on RNZ spells out who the new rules will apply to, what rules the new code of conduct sets out and what penalties for breaking the new rules will look like.
After a week of judging, a twist on a street snack from a Wellington chef’s home region has won the top prize at this year’s annual Burger Wellington competition. This year’s theme was “Breaking the Mould”, and has seen the festival challenge the definition of the burger – with some entries even reimagining the burger in pizza or liquid form. The winner, titled Goan Chicken Ros Pao, was created by chef Chetan Pangam of One80 Restaurant, who looked toward popular street food ros omelette from his home region Goa for inspiration. Importantly, it was also the top-ranked on The Spinoff contributor Jahnhavi Gosavi’s reviews of the seven Indian-inspired burgers of this year’s competition. And there’s good news for anyone yet to try the burger – it’s set to remain on the menu.
Who doesn’t have a favourite among the foil-wrapped options with a Cadbury Roses chocolate box? For those of us with an inclination toward the Strawberry Crème, Orange Crème or Peppermint Crème options, a dark shadow is cast over the year 2018, when the company decided to give the three flavours the boot as part of their (disastrous) “reinvention” of the box. Finally, half a decade later, they’ve made their heroic return. And while many of us have questions about why they were tossed from the selection in the first place, for now, I think we should give thanks, not just for their welcome return, but also for this beautiful moment of television the piece of news inspired this week. Thank you very very very much.
Despite kūmara prices at my local supermarket reaching a mind-boggling $19.99 per kg, hordes of the root vegetable go to waste due to minor imperfections like being the wrong size or colour. Island Gelato Co patisserie engineer Hannah Clark explains why they’re making gelato from kūmara that would otherwise be destined for landfill.
The weekly snack
Chick Bits savoury biscuits, $1.40 from Serandib: There’s a specific time of the day when the suburbs of a town or city smell better than any other. It’s around 6pm when garlic, onion and spices meet hot oil, ghee or butter – the beginnings of dinner – in the kitchens of every second home on the block. A walk around these fragrant streets is magical – but if you’ve encountered the aroma on an empty stomach, you’re probably going to make some kind of spontaneous snack purchase if you come across a place selling food. Enter: Chick Bits, which I ended up with while ducking into Auckland Sri Lankan store Serandib for things I actually needed. At this point I’d walked past a few too many curries and pasta sauces in the making and I was ravenous. They come in this sweet 80g bag or a larger tin (which I’ll be buying next time) and they’re shaped like stars, which is a wildly sweet form for a cracker to have. The more I chowed down on these, the more I was reminded of Shapes. Though these might have been physically smaller than those equivalents, their deep pepperiness and quite sophisticated faux-chicken flavour exuded a more imposing experience than their cutesy appearance might have suggested. A great little snack for an immensely hungry walk home. 8/10
Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte