There are wine festivals; food and wine festivals; and food, wine and music festivals up and down the country, but none is quite like Toast Martinborough.
Most outdoor events are held at a vineyard, or maybe two neighbours, or a domain. The joy of the Wairarapa shindig is that it revolves around the pretty little town itself.
The town square is patterned on the Union Jack, and each street leads, within 100 metres, into countryside, vines, genteel homesteads and elegant B&Bs. Most of the vineyards are neighbours, or within a few hundred steps of one another at most. And it’s flat.
Which means that, on festival day, the council shuts down the roads and an all-ticket, strictly limited crowd wanders from one to another of the vineyards involved.
Each has fine or fun-dining food from Wellington and Wairarapa’s leading chefs, and each has several live music acts. Not local pub bands: expect to see and hear the cream of Kiwi entertainers.
For those who prefer to save their energy for the dance party in The Square that ends the day, there are free shuttle buses between the vineyards.
For this year’s festival, on Sunday, November 19, there will be eight sites representing nine wineries, nine restaurants with over 70 items on the menu and 20 music acts.
This is the 26th Toast Martinborough and the organisers have refined the offering over the years, particularly since changes to liquor licensing laws. It has to be admitted that sometimes quite a bit more than sipping and tasting, and not quite enough savouring, took place on a hot early summer’s day, with predictable results.
That’s not the case now. When you arrive, you exchange your ticket for a glass, wristband and programme in The Square. Bags are checked there and at vineyard entrances; you can’t BYO food or alcohol.
Unlike most other festivals, Toast uses a cashless, hands-free wristband payment system.
You load “Festival Francs” onto your wristband from a bank tent in The Square or at the sites. At each point of sale, the server swipes your wristband, deducting from your balance.
Martinborough is a small town (population 1600) and it’s 65km across the Rimutaka Ranges from Wellington, 35km from the nearest big town, Masterton. Its limited accommodation is booked out well before festival weekend each year.
There are trains and coach trips from Wellington (again, book early). If you haven’t booked accommodation and you’re travelling by car, be sure to bring a designated driver.
Toast Martinborough is on Sunday, November 19. Early bird group tickets are on sale (minimum 10 tickets). General admission tickets on sale from 10am, Tuesday, September 19, $85 plus fees. Visit toastmartinborough.co.nz.