Q&A with journalist, author & tour guide Kirsten Rødsgaard-Mathiesen

I love receiving feedback from our readers and when a particularly kind email from Kirsten turned up in my inbox recently I couldn’t believe that our paths haven’t crossed earlier.

The New Zealand wine industry is such a close-knit and friendly community. I particularly love meeting other expats that help spread the love for this country and its wine industry in their home countries.

Danish born Kirsten Rødsgaard-Mathiesen is someone like that. She is a journalist, published author, tour guide and lover of food & wine and most things Kiwi.

I caught up with her to find out more about her life in New Zealand, professional endeavours and hot spots in Nelson.

Hi Kirsten, thanks a lot for your time. When and why did you decide to move to New Zealand?
I am from Denmark and came to these shores the first time in 2001 as a freelance journalist writing for Danish media. I was invited by Tourism New Zealand.

In Marlborough I stayed at a lovely boutique hotel and whilst interviewing the owners over dinner they offered me a job!

12 months later I took them up on their offer and for a year I co-managed the hotel and its gourmet restaurant with them. Fun, hard and very educational!

By then I was hooked on New Zealand and just wanted to stay. I knew I could make it work! Since 2005 I have lived in Nelson and worked freelance as a journalist, tour guide, author etc.

Tell us a bit about Mad Frog Productions
My life is all about communication. Mad Frog Productions is my one-woman company which I established in Copenhagen in 1996 (woo hoo celebrating 20 years this year!) when I left my job as a news reporter for Danish TV3.

I focus on journalism for print media and TV, and since 2005 also tour guiding – be it specific wine tours, 2-3 week tours throughout New Zealand or tours overseas.

I am the author of Denmark’s bestselling guide book to New Zealand and thanks to my extensive knowledge of New Zealand as a tourist destination, as well as my insight into the workings of the country’s thriving wine industry – I also plan, book and organise (wine) tours for overseas visitors.

Passion Pinot & Savvy

You wrote a book called “Passion, Pinot & Savvy”. What is it about?
Passion, Pinot & Savvy is the name of the book on New Zealand wine that I researched, wrote and published in 2013/14. Through the eyes of 16 women winemakers in New Zealand I portray the wine industry and pay tribute to the women in it.

Let’s face it, most of the top people in the wine industry worldwide are men. Yet, in the last two decades women have stepped up and now they have quite a presence, including at the very top, which is great.

Alongside very good reviews, my book won in its category (Women in Wine) at the 2015 GOURMAND awards. In fact, a few food and wine books from New Zealand were awarded last year.

When and how did you fall in love with wine?
I have imbibed wine since I was in my 20s but it wasn’t till I moved to New Zealand that I became keen to actually learn about wine. Pre 2002 I drank primarily European, American and South American wine but it was just “a most enjoyable beverage” and not something I paid a lot of attention to. Back then, winemaker dinners, sommeliers and wine tasting events weren’t a big thing in Denmark. Today they are.

When I moved to New Zealand in 2002 I met many of Marlborough’s leading winemakers who would dine at the hotel, and through them – as well as the job itself – I began learning about and appreciating the wines here.

Since resuming my freelance lifestyle in 2004 I have written a lot of articles about the New Zealand wine industry and its people, visited lots of wineries, attended many tastings etc. And continue to do so. I guess you could say wine has become more than a hobby… I thoroughly enjoy learning about wine (as well as drinking it!) and I love sharing my knowledge.

At one of Kirsten’s recent wine tasting events in Copenhagen, other than New Zealand wine the 80 participants enjoyed a funky-looking Pavlova prepared by the company’s chef.

During my annual visits to Denmark promoting New Zealand as a tourist destination, I now also offer New Zealand wine tastings/talks to private wine clubs. That is partly on the back of publishing Passion, Pinot & Savvy, and I’m proud to say that it’s become quite a success combining tasting great wine with storytelling about the wines, the industry, the winemakers and New Zealand.

What’s so special about the New Zealand wine industry?

  • The fact that the modern wine industry has accomplished so much in such a short period of time.
  • The success story of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. Just fascinating!
  • The large number of successful women in the industry.
  • The widespread focus on quality, sustainability and organic practices.
  • The fact that people in general help each other regardless that they work for different wineries.
  • The fact that the majority of the wineries are small and produce under 200,000 litres a year.
  • As Nick Stock from Australia Gourmet Traveller puts it: “The attention given to New Zealand Pinot Noir is well above what’s deserved in terms of the amount made, but factor in their quality across a range of styles and it’s easy to justify the hype.”

If you were a wine, which one would you be?
Given I am from the old world and have successfully moved to the new world, and recently become a citizen here, I would tongue-in-cheek say that Pinot Noir sums me up.

As NZ Winegrowers describes it: “Intense, expressive, fruit-driven. Old World structure and elegance meets New World power and intensity… notoriously fickle (it is world-class only in cool-climate regions), the Pinot Noir grape has found in New Zealand a home away from home.”

Kirsten Rødsgaard-Mathiesen 2

Wine & dine, what’s your favourite match?
I love good food and wine but will leave the serious pairing up to others. I actually find it difficult, but having said that, a soft blue cheese paired with an aged sticky like a noble riesling… Heaven.  And good bubbles seem to go with most things…

Share a fact about yourself that only a few know
If I were 30 years younger I would become a winemaker.

What’s your go-to New Zealand wine at the moment?
Syrah. Checking out some of those gems being made here.

Hidden gems and favourite spots in Nelson
In Nelson we are blessed with a plethora of amazing scenery, fresh produce, good eateries and lovely boutique wineries.

On a sunny day, not much else beats lunch on the deck of Mahana Estates surrounded by stunning views of vineyards and mountains. The waterfront in Mapua also has a lot to offer visitors – a wine bar, a brewery, several restaurants, art galleries, design shops and great fish & chips.

If you want pizza, Stephano’s above the State Cinema in the heart of Nelson makes the best, and for simple yet very delicious Italian food try the funky, slightly chaotic Babagatto restaurant.

For fine dining I find Hopgood’s and The Boat Shed to be two of my favourites, and for breakfast and lunch I really enjoy the family-owned Deville and the new place The Kitchen serving delicious wholefood. The Red Gallery is cute and let’s you enjoy art and cool design whilst sipping your coffee.

If you are into beer we have several micro breweries and great pubs, and if cycling is your thing then Tasman’s Great Taste Trail is a fabulous way to explore this region.

We are also lucky to have three national parks within an hour’s drive from the city, great beaches and lots of sunshine. The region is home to many wonderful artists some of whom sell their work at one of the country’s best weekend markets, the Nelson Market. And throughout the year Nelson plays host to several music-, theatre- and art festivals and events. I could go on… I love living here.

Dead or alive, who would you like to share a glass of vino with?
My husband Chris. Always. That said, during my career as a journalist and tour guide I have met – and continue to meet – amazing people, and I often enjoy wine with them.

In the “dead category” I am sure it would have been fascinating to meet Kate Sheppard, Georgia O’Keeffe, Frida Kahlo, Marilyn Monroe, Martin Luther King, Picasso, Salvador Dalí, Leonardo da Vinci and Einstein to name a few.

Thanks Kirsten, I’d love to jump on a plane to Nelson right now!

Find out more about Kirsten and Mad Frog Productions on her website and connect with her via LinkedIn | Twitter & Facebook.


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