Twice every year, Graeme and Megan Wheeler back the huge 1960s Chevrolet Impala out of their garage in Auckland and head off on the five-hour road trip south to Hawke’s Bay. They’re heading to F.A.W.C! – the Bay’s twice-yearly celebration of the region’s food, wine, chefs, winemakers and artisan producers, and its restaurants, cafés and bars. They’ve done it for years, stretching back before F.A.W.C! – which stands for Food and Wine Classic and is pronounced the same way as the utensil – began six years ago.
“My wife and I are in our 50s and, like most people, we enjoy good-quality food and nice wine and good company, and look to enjoy that wherever there’s the opportunity,” Graeme says. “We have been going down to Hawke’s Bay for many years, originally for the Mission Vineyard concerts, then winery tours.”
When Hawke’s Bay Tourism created the Summer F.A.W.C! festival, the couple targeted events that appealed to them and took a three-day weekend break in the Bay. And when the winter series was offered… well, you can guess the rest.
“We’ve had many experiences and enjoyed them all,” Graeme says. “Not a bad one amongst them, I’m pleased to say.” Pushed for his best memory, Graeme struggles because there are so many. Gary Grootelaar’s truffle hunt and struggle themed-meal comes to mind; Black Barn events in the underground cellar, long Italian table dining, a Lisbon-inspired barbecue with Fat Freddy’s Drop playing."
“We’ve had similar, awe-inspiring lunches and brunches at Millar Road with James Beck of Bistronomy. That would be one of our favourites in the Bay – we always do the nine-course degustation. He’s a real artist with food. Craggy Range would be high up on our list, too.”
“We’ve eaten all over the country and around the world. We’ve found some of the best dining experiences in the Bay. The chefs are very talented men and women and the hospitality pairing of the F.A.W.C! event with the wineries and the restaurants is second to none.”
But it goes beyond eating and drinking. “We’ve found that the shared table concept of most of the F.A.W.C! events is great – you have a wonderful evening meeting new people, sharing interesting stories, and we have made new friends of people who are now ‘Old F.A.W.C!ers’ like us.”
Words (abridged) by Ewan MacDonald
Originally published by MiNDFOOD Magazine