You’d expect Napier – nestled as it is in the heart of Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand’s oldest and second-most abundant wine region – to be bursting with good wine bars where people who are passionate about wine can help visitors and locals alike to taste and buy the region’s world-class wine in relaxed, classy surroundings. But not so, according to James Beck, owner and chef at Bistronomy, one of the town’s finest restaurants. Well, that has just changed with the opening of Vinotech, a wine bar and tasting room housed within Bistronomy, making clever use of the restaurant space that lies quiet during the day.

With more than 400 bottles of wine available – 50% from the local region, 25% from the rest of New Zealand and 25% international wines – Vinotech is a boutique wine shop and bar giving customers the opportunity to taste wine from more than 40 wineries all in one room. “I don’t know of any other wine shop in the country where you can try every wine before you buy,” says James.

It’s a place where locals can drop in for tailor-made tasting flights or a glass of fine wine with simple, but good, tapas-style food. But let’s not forget the overseas visitors (when they return) many of whom are decanted off cruise ships – 3000 passengers at a time – to spend three hours in town. It’s a market previously untapped by the restaurant, with many visitors spending their time being bussed to just one or two vineyards for tastings. At Vinotech the best of the entire region can be sampled in one place.

It’s not the only change at Bistronomy, as James reopened after lockdown with a new ‘comfort’ menu.

“It’s comfort food but modernised with fine-dining techniques. That’s what people really need just now – simpler food to share and not think too hard about. I’ve really thought about what locals want in a restaurant, whereas maybe in the past I was cooking what I wanted to cook. The new menu has simple dishes with good strong flavours that are recognisable to people; in the past I might have been a bit more esoteric.”

What hasn’t changed though are the core values that anchor the business. James says, “It’s been an interesting learning curve about what’s important to me as a business owner – finding balance for staff, being a living-wage employer, not working 50 hours a week, creating new revenue streams and having a focus on sustainability.”

James has snagged a clutch of newcomers to refresh his team including award-winning bar tender Andrea Marseglia (formerly of Madame George in Auckland).

At FAWC 2020 in November there are several opportunities to see the Bistronomy team in action, including a cocktail dégustation where Andrea will be creating a five-piece cocktail menu based on botanicals foraged locally, matched with specially designed tapas. Cocktails and snacks – what could be better? TRACY WHITMEY

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