With an impressive portfolio of vineyards, the beloved and luxurious lodge Wharekauhau Country Estate and the successful development of a gin that started in the back of an old apple packing shed, it’s clear that Texan billionaire businessman Bill Foley knows how to showcase the best of New Zealand food, drink and hospitality. His latest venture is The Runholder, a Martinborough venue that presents not only an exciting one-stop shop for food-and-drink lovers to taste some of his award-winning beverage brands in a spectacular rural setting, but also provides an inspiring boost to the local economy.

As I headed toward Martinborough for my first look at The Runholder, I wondered about local perception and support for this new $8m building perched on the edge of the famed Martinborough Terrace. I was heartened to hear great positivity reflected by local transport operators, hospitality, accommodation and retail business owners who all indicated that this ambitious project is a destination well worth seeking out when visiting the Wairarapa and a valuable drawcard for travellers interested in a taste of the local food-and-drink story.

Stepping through the doors of what had initially struck me as a large, dark, modern – albeit grand – shed, I was met with a spacious, sun-speckled tasting room that opens out onto a spectacular terrace and frames a custom-built German still – the pride and joy of in-house distiller Rachel Hall. If you are lucky, when you visit you may even catch her crafting the next delicious batch of Lighthouse Gin right before your eyes.

The Runholder is home to Te Kairanga and Martinborough Vineyard, two of Martinborough’s pioneering wineries, and I’m told that Martinborough Vineyard was responsible for the planting of the very first pinot noir vines in the Wairarapa in 1980. The inspiration for those vines was finding a small rain shadow that provided the perfect location to produce high-quality pinot noir grapes and today winemaker Paul Mason continues that pursuit of perfection across the Home Block and Te Tera range.

The Te Kairanga vines were planted in 1984 on land originally farmed and owned by township founder John Martin. Now fast forward to winemaker John Kavanagh forging a strong blend of history and innovation as he crafts pinot noir, chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, pinot gris and riesling. In the tasting room you can sip away while also discovering some mighty impressive new release and library wines that you may struggle to find elsewhere. You can also work your way through the Lighthouse Barrel Aged, Navy Strength or Original gins, but the activities don’t end there.

Venue manager Jonathan Hobden escorts me down the short path, through the centre of the tasting room into the restaurant space, the domain of head chef Tim Smith, former executive chef at Wharekauhau Country Estate and a guiding hand in setting up Ijen, Indonesia’s first zero-waste restaurant. Here I can choose either to gaze out at the vines and enjoy a selection of antipasti, sharing plates and wood-fired pizzas or tuck myself away in the comfy Martin Lounge for a more serious look at Tim’s menu offering. I bet you can guess my decision.

The open-plan kitchen provides the team with the means to produce everything from scratch and as I sat down in the lounge I could see Claire Edwards, co-owner of catch-to-order sustainable seafood provider Tora Collective, deep in discussion with the chefs over a box of her premium kaimoana, freshly harvested on the East Coast – a testament to Tim’s dedication to showcasing the very best of the region.

During my visit I was taken by the leisurely pace of the à la carte offering, dividing my time between watching the chefs’ pass where the plates were evolving before my eyes, alternating bites from the plates in front of me and sipping my gin, which I’ve discovered is surprisingly versatile with food. Standouts on the menu were the raw Palliser Bay snapper in a yoghurt whey with cucumber, green apple, fennel and seaweed; venison tartare with eggplant, dotted with oyster mayo, drizzled with smoked olive oil from nearby Olivo estate and sporting a jaunty squid- ink cracker; and a spectacular plate of wood-fired lamb ribs on a bed of farro tabbouleh with a ewe’s milk labneh – pure joy to see the cooking juices not put to waste and used to elevate this dish. It’s the good stuff because it’s been given thought and care.

Plans were almost finished for a private room overlooking the stunning green hills and fields studded with an abundance of wild elderflower – a perfect spot for a meeting or intimate event. therunholder.co.nz