Like many English conservatives, I am ambivalent about New Zealand. English manners, English customs, and the old English gentleness still endure, by all accounts, in those endless meadows of a pure English green; the village post office, the Anglican church, the Methodist chapel, the country pub and the cricket field still occupy their wonted place in rural society, and, so far as I know, fox-hunting has not been banned. On the other hand, the New Zealand voice in all the things that matter - sex, marriage, and reproduction; God, apes and angels - is decidedly postmodern.
Reading the literature produced by NZ feminists, animal rights activists and multiculturalists, I decided long ago that I could have no place in the intellectual life of Whare Wananga, as Canterbury will soon be called. Then again, on visiting the website of Canterbury University I discover that the drama society is currently putting on Sophocles' Philoctetes, that the philosophy department is maintaining the great Australasian tradition in the philosophy of science, that all the old subjects are still on offer. Best of all there is no department of women's studies.
Of course, this does not persuade me to visit the place: travel narrows the mind, and the further you go the narrower it gets. There is only one way to visit a place with an open mind, and that is to visit it in the glass. Thanks to Corney & Barrow's Eradus Pinot Noir 2004, I am now enjoying the inner view of vine-wreathed hills and Pacific surf, behind which I hear the murmur of those endless disputes, with which antipodeans uselessly rack their consciences, over who really owns the landscape. All I can say is that the person who plants vines in a place that previously never had them has a title superior to any other, whatever the course of events. If there is one departure from old English orthodoxy for which the New Zealanders deserve unstinting praise, it is their decision not only to plant vines but to study how to make wine as it ought to be made - in other words, as it has been made in France. Their reputation among winos stems largely from their conscientious attempts to match the Sauvignons of the Loire; but they deserve equal praise for their efforts with the Pinot Noir.
The Eradus is clean and smooth, with that gentle fruitiness which, in the great growths of Burgundy, eventually gives way to the forest-floor mustiness that has never been emulated outside the Côte d'Or. At any rate, it has the capacity to develop in that direction, and casts an interesting light of its own on New Zealand.
The postmodern views of the New Zealanders, I explain to Sophie as I drain the bottle, are all the more interesting in that, as you can tell, their habits agree with ours. Her only response is to glance over the rim of her glass and say: "Cheers, mate!"