Lunch at Mount Difficulty

Kirsty Newton writes of her visit to Mt. Difficulty, one of
New Zealand’s best known vineyards and restaurants.

Cruising through the golds and greens of Central Otago we headed for the Mt Difficulty winery above Cromwell to have lunch and interview the executive chef Werner Hecht-Wendt.

The restaurant and cellar door at Mt Difficulty is up a stone track above the offices and boasts a beautiful view across the hills where evidence of former gold mining is being covered with grape vines, and over the valley to the Clutha River. The outdoor tables are framed with native grasses, cabbage trees, corokia and flax with a water pool featuring the Mt Difficulty logo. Sitting comfortably under the awning it would be easy to sit and while away the afternoon here with a bottle or two of excellent Mt Difficulty wine.

Lunch at Mount Difficulty

As we were a bit early for our booking we sat outside with a glass of sparkling water and then made our way to the tasting room. We were well looked after there, starting with a tasting of two quite passable Roaring Meg Pinot Noir varieties and then two Mt Difficulty pinots not normally included in the tasting experience – the Bendigo, 2015 Chinaman’s Terrace and Lowburn Valley, 2015 Packspur. Both of these were excellent though, true to its label, the Packspur’s “subtle perfume”, complexity on the mouth and long finish especially appealed. Needless to say we bought two bottles of the Packspur to take home.

When our table came up we settled in for lunch. We ordered Provenance lamb (of course). It was a  rump served with yellow beans, heirloom tomatoes, pickled kohlrabi, fennel puree and a light lamb glaze. We chose the themed wine match. I had a glass of the 2017 Roaring Meg pinot rose while my dining companion got stuck into the 2014 Roaring Meg.

The generous serving of lamb was flavoursome and tender. Not as strong as the usual New Zealand fare, it would would be misleading to describe this lamb as ‘mild’. However described, matching it with the earthy flavours of the pureed fennel and lamb glaze subtly highlighted this lovely offering. The pickled kohlrabi (which was new for me) was crispy and fresh tasting, renewing the palate for the next mouthful of layered tastes from the plate.

Lunch at Mount Difficulty

Next I got to interview Werner in a noisy restaurant full of lunching people enjoying a glass of wine, some excellent food and viewing the valley below through a veil of fine rain. He was an easy person to talk to, not pretentious at all, loves working with local produce and living in the area with his wife and two daughters.

Werner has personally chosen Provenance lamb because it is “flavoursome, holds its shape when cooked and doesn’t bleed out when rested”. He likes the variety of cuts on offer from Provenance so he can change the lamb choice on the menu, cooking with seasonal flavours depending on what vegetables and herbs are available.

Werner enjoys the added challenge of wine matching with each dish. As the wine changes with each vintage he finds this makes the matching complex and exciting.

Lunch at Mount Difficulty

With many years of cooking behind him in a variety of locations including South Africa, London, France, Germany and Austria he is enjoying living in Clyde with his family and working at Mt Difficulty. He cites his culinary heroes as Marco Pierre White, who he refers to as his “godfather”, and Steven Terry. Werner credits Marco with pulling Britain out of pub fare and into food that embraces the seasons, fresh produce and variety.

Werner’s favourite culinary regions are Italy and the Mediterranean but he has recently become interested in American cities where people are growing food on the roofs of buildings and then selling it in markets.

All these influences can be seen in Werner’s work and make for his own quite different interpretation of garden to table. Werner is proud to present fresh, seasonal and local produce to showcase Otago’s bounty. Provenance lamb fits into his philosophy of food – wholesome, naturally tasty and enjoyable.