Pinot and Ponant

Misha’s update on our recent opportunity to be the “Wine Guys’ on a luxury cruise – December 2023

Le Lapérouse in Milford Sound
Does it get any better than to be invited to join a luxury cruise ship for a week to share your knowledge and passion for New Zealand wines?

Ponant is a name that may not be known to all but they’re a French luxury cruise ship operator who are world leaders in luxury expeditions. The 13 ships in their fleet are small capacity (from 16 cabins to 165) which means they can offer intimate cruises to more unusual locations and little visited ports – more like a luxury private yacht.

What distinguishes a Ponant cruise is the celebration of the French way of life with French naval officers and a crew that speak both French and English. Of course, there’s also focus on French fine dining with all the menus created in partnership with Ducasse Conseil – Alain Ducasse’s high-end catering consultancy. They have had a partnership with Relais & Châteaux for a few years – an association which was established in 1954 and consists of 580 unique hotels and restaurants throughout the world.

Jimmy McIntyre delivering his cooking class
Members are passionate about their craft, protect and promote the wealth and diversity of the world’s culinary and hospitality traditions, and also dedicated to preserving local heritage and the environment. Simply put, Relais & Châteaux celebrates the best of the best!

Each dish from Jimmy & Christian was finished at the table.
In 2023 Relais & Châteaux accepted Le Ponant, as the first sailing yacht in history to be part of this luxury association. In New Zealand, there are only three members of Relais & Châteaux – Otahuna Lodge (Christchurch), Blanket Bay (Glenorchy) and Wharekauhau Country Estate (Featherston). With this renewed relationship between Ponant and Relais & Châteaux, two gastronomic cruises were developed for New Zealand. We were invited to join Ponant on their ‘Ancient Fjords and Unspoiled Islands of Southern New Zealand’ cruise in December 2023, as part of their Gastronomic program, along with Chef Jimmy McIntyre, executive chef at Otahuna Lodge.

Christian Bochsbichler
Jimmy and his Sous Chef for the cruise, Christian Bochsbichler, developed specific New Zealand-influenced meals for the voyage and also presented two special degustation menus which celebrated New Zealand produce as well as being curated around Jimmy’s “potager-to-plate” philosophy. At Otahuna Lodge, Jimmy accesses 140 different varieties of organic fruits, mushrooms, nuts and vegetables that are grown annually in the Otahuna Lodge’s century-old gardens. He brought aboard some of his specialty items to really showcase fine New Zealand cuisine.

Wine Classes in the main dining room
Andy and I presented a couple of sessions of two different wine workshops we developed for the cruise: “Discovering the Flavours of the World’s Southern-most Wine Region – Central Otago” and “New Zealand and the Holy Grail of Wine – Pinot Noir”. We presented a range of our wines for both workshops which included older vintages from our cellar, along with a visual presentation for each workshop. The feedback from guests was fantastic and for some, it really was an exciting discovery that New Zealand is producing such premium wine. We worked with Jimmy to match wines for the two special degustation menus prepared by him and we ensured Ponant had plenty of wines for the dinners. We were delighted to hear that absolutely every bottle was used during the dinners with guests commenting to us that the matches were absolutely perfect.

Misha and Philippa McIntyre enjoying an adventure on a Zodiac
Outside of the gastronomic activities aboard, we had a marvellous time on this eight-day cruise to the fjords – Milford Sound, Doubtful Sound and Dusky Sound, then navigating around Snares Islands – one of New Zealand’s subantarctic archipelagos where we saw hundreds of penguins- then finally heading to Ulva Island, a, a predator-free sanctuary that provides refuge to diverse bird species and rare plants that we explored by land.
A solo penguin in Dusky Sound
At each of our exploration stops, we set out on a fleet of zodiac inflatables with just 8 to a boat along with two staff from Ponant, a naturalist guide and a boat driver. In the three Sounds we visited, we saw Fiordland crested penguins, bottlenose dolphins, seals, plenty of birdlife and of course spectacular waterfalls. Once we reached Snares Islands, there was a delay before we could board the inflatables due to the rougher seas. We had heard on the previous 8 trips to the Snares, on only two occasions could the zodiacs be used – we were fortunate this trip!

Thousands of penguins on a rock face in The Snares – the sub-antarctic island group south of NZ
Having tried for so long to get a great photo of a single penguin we discovered in Dusky Sound, I realised I should have just waited for the Snares as there were literally hundreds of penguins on the cliffs and large groups every so often in the water around our zodiac either making their way to or from the shore! We also saw shearwaters and petrels – in fact the sooty shearwater is the most numerous with a couple of million of them arriving in the spring for the summer breeding season. The Snares group are the closest of New Zealand’s subantarctic islands and it’s the most untouched and pristine areas in New Zealand – hence the rules regarding not being able to go ashore here. However, exploring the steep shores of the Snares by zodiac was just incredible.
A friendly sea-lion on the beach on Ulva Island
For our final stop at Ulva Island, a 3.5 km long island which is part of Stewart Island/Rakiura, we were welcomed by a large sea lion who put on quite a show as he rolled around the sandy beach. It was our first walk on land for several days and it was fun listening for, and spotting, all the different birds whilst enjoying identifying various indigenous plants.

Every meal was a delight!
Everything about our Ponant cruise was 5-star luxury – as you’d expect – and we enjoyed all the onboard activities, the expeditions, the wonderful meals and of course talking to guests about wine! The staff aboard were incredibly friendly and helpful, and it was also great to interact with the entertainers aboard – Gus and Fran.

You may ask were there any issues on the cruise? The only thing we perhaps hadn’t taken into account was that we would be presenting wine workshops whilst cruising the Tasman Sea.

Our wonderful sommelier on board Le Laperouse
It’s a sea with a reputation for being rough and treacherous as a result of the merging currents of the Pacific Ocean and the Southern Ocean. Although the best season for the Tasman are the warmer months from November to March, it’s certainly no guarantee that things will be calm. We didn’t realise that the waters around New Zealand actually claim some of the highest waves in the world. In fact, the tallest wave on record in the Tasman Sea was 42.5m! Fortunately, we didn’t see that sort of wave action however there were reasonable swells for the first couple of days including when we presented our first wine workshop. The most challenging part was walking around the table pouring tasting amounts of wine into everyone’s glass. We perfected a technique involving holding the back of the chair and pouring the wine between swells – and ensured there was a cloth on hand to mop up the occasional drip! Fortunately the guests were all comfortably seated for the workshops and there were no spills to report!

Thanks to Jimmy McIntyre and Otahuna Lodge, for allowing us to partner with them on this Gastronomic themed cruise, and to be able to showcase a selection of New Zealand’s finest food and wine.

To View Ponant Gastronomic Program Click Here