I Like Big Trucks And I Cannot Lie

I Like Big Trucks And I Cannot Lie

The Christchurch re-build over the past decade wouldn’t have been so efficient without two imports from Asia – Filipino tradies and Ford Ranger utes. Paul Taggart takes a look at the latter.


Whether it is my advancing years, or the tragic decline in the quality of journalism, I’m not sure, but more and more often when I read the New Zealand mainstream media I end up muttering under my breath: This is utter ####.

It applies to motoring writing as much as anything else. A wee while back I read a piece written by a hack who twittered on about how he didn’t understand why the Ford Ranger was the biggest selling vehicle in the country, as it had a big turning circle.

He threw out a few implausible suggestions then concluded he still had no idea why the Ranger was so popular. I put the paper in the wood basket and mutterer, “What about tax, you moron”.

To a journalist living in Auckland or Wellington, who collects a monthly salary, the realities of running a company are probably a mystery, so the reasons why many small business owners buy a ute are clearly equally unfathomable.

The fact is that fringe benefit tax is a pain in the backside and if your small business owns or runs a car, then there is a lot of paperwork to log the miles travelled on work time, as opposed to personal use. Different accountants may have varying interpretations here, but generally if you have a ute the assumption is that it is totally for work. The tax department assumes that you’ll have a proper car at home to take the missus to the movies or run the kids to football.

What cements the ute as a work tool is if you have a sign writer paint on the door “Bob’s Woolscourers Ltd”.

Now that’s the theory, but with utes like the Ranger they are nice to drive these days and I wouldn’t be surprised if they make the odd trip to the netball courts to pick up the kids or down to the shops for a takeaway, unbeknown to the tax man.

It does make me wonder when you see “Betty’s hairdressing salon” painted on the side of a ute. The vehicle could be used fulltime for collecting rollers and boxes of dye, but you have to wonder.

That said, I think most of us would be happier to see the tax people chasing Google and Facebook for a few million in contributions, rather than harassing Betty the hairdresser for a couple of dollars of fringe benefit tax.

Another way to benefit from having a ute is by leasing. A lot of new Rangers are leased by businesses, as the payments are tax deductible as an operating expense. So, if you’re a decent sized company, making a reasonable profit, leasing can be the way to go.

The large number of vehicles that are leased results in a strong flow of good second-hand utes coming back to dealers (who often own the leasing companies). These can then be picked up by smaller businesses which can buy an as-new vehicle with low Ks on the clock, for a decent discount on the new price. Everyone’s a winner. So, for the benefit of the motoring journalism community, a vehicle’s turning circle isn’t the main consideration when business owners buy a light commercial.

That said, people have to drive these vehicles, and in small companies it is often the business owner – so they can’t just be a 3.2-litre tax dodge.

Having got my hands on a Ranger I totally understand why they are leader of the pack – a position that was held for many years by the Toyota Hi-Lux, which is now the country’s second best selling vehicle.

Last year almost ten thousand Rangers were produced in Thailand shipped to New Zealand then driven off dealers’ yards.

For every woman who buys a ute, eight are bought by men. Is that a surprise? I would say it is, to be perfectly honest. From my casual observation, as many women as men appear to drive SUVs – Jaguar F-Paces, BMW X7s and Range Rovers – so why not utes?

Whatever the statistics say about these vehicles being bought by Aucklanders for “lifestyle” purposes, a heck of a lot of them actually do real work. Anyone who lives in Christchurch will remember when someone in their street was having their earthquake repairs done, a swarm of utes and tradies appeared at 7 every morning and the hammering began.

These vehicles really do drive (almost) like cars and they’re so much better at many tasks than SUVs. If you’ve ever thrown a couple of bales of pea vine hay in the back of an Audi Q5 or a Hyundai Santa Fe, you’ll know what I mean. It takes months to clear the last few bits out of the back.  With a ute, which has four seats and four doors, as well as a deck, it is no drama. The hay is kept separate from the upholstery.

And the gismos and gadgets, especially on the Wildtrak version, are top notch. There’s even self-parking which means you can slot the big truck into quite tight spaces without needing to use the steering wheel. I don’t know how much use it would get from the average ute bloke, but it’s a nice novelty to be able to park with your arms folded.

The Wildtrak is the pick for me. Below it are the more utalitarian XL and XLT versions, perfect for doing serious work, while above it is the Raptor, released in New Zealand in 2018 as a tarted-up macho model with big wheel arches. Weirdly the Raptor has a two-litre bi-turbo-diesel engine, whereas the XL and the Wildtrak have traditionally had a 3.2-litre five-cylinder diesel motor. However, the more efficient smaller engine has recently been made available for other models and the big motor may be phased out.

I’m not sure who would buy the Raptor – maybe older surfers keen to continue looking cool after the abs have sagged?

Dog at the back of a Pick-up Truck

I’ve been in the market for a new vehicle, and went to a Ford dealer to take a look at a Mustang. While nice, it was a bit bling for my liking and, being a two-door, not the most practical of vehicles. Throwing the dog in to the back every day would become a hassle. So I made a huge change of direction in my thinking and took a Wildtrak for a test drive and I was mightely impressed. A spin around parts of Banks Peninsula showed me that it genuinely does off road, with no dramas switching between two and four-wheel drive – unlike in the Land Rovers of my youth. A trip to my local supermarket erased any doubts about city use.

To be fair, it is a big beast and if I lived in Auckland or Wellington and needed to use inner-city parking buildings then the Ranger wouldn’t be my pick for daily commuting. But for those in Hawke’s Bay, Wairarapa or Te Wai Pounamu, it’s the bee’s knees. When I was passing through Napier airport carpark recently I saw a big, red ute emblazoned with the face of the local Labour MP. I wonder how that vehicle goes down with his greenie colleagues in Wellington.

Being diesel, having plenty of weight and a decent-sized motor, the Wildtrak can be a thirsty beast, but driving a Nissan Leaf around the vineyard with rolls of nets and a schnauzer in the back just isn’t practical. The day of the electric vehicle will probably come, but not for me, not just yet, despite recent social engineering from the government. Their latest attempt to force their will on country people is to crank up the tax on utes, used by builders, farmers, shearers and other productive folk, so townies can buy cheaper electric vehicles. Politicians should ask themselves: who creates the wealth for this country?

These clowns can fly to London at taxpayers’ expense, on jets burning 50,000 gallons of fuel per flight, to play parliamentary cricket and netball against other countries’ snouts-in-the-trough politicians, then come back here and decide to tax utes, under the guise of saving the planet. Unbelievable.

This article was published before Covid-19 and associated travel restrictions.

The nonsense of regionality

The nonsense of regionality

Pinot noir regionality has been pumped up by many in the New Zealand wine industry in recent years, but after PAUL TAGGART took a look at the subject he had to burst the bubble.

As the world’s pinotphiles returned to San Francisco, Chicago, London and Stockholm after the recent big pinot noir junket in New Zealand, they began tweeting and posting, as they were expected to do as payment for the junket.

Among their memories was how beautiful New Zealand is and how appalling Wellington’s weather can be. Presumably, sponsors required the event to be held in the capital, as it is a weird place for a wine gathering.
But what did the great and the good of wine blogging learn about our pinot noir from their time here? That it is produced in some beautiful vineyards and a lot of it tastes pretty good. There were also brainy sessions about wild ferments and the development of the wine industry in Arizona (weird, but true), lots of talk about star signs and wine folks’ sense of place, but there was nothing particularly Kiwi or pinot about much of that stuff.

What was lacking, in my humble opinion, was some sort of metric, a wee bit of a benchmark; a comparison with what’s happening elsewhere in the world, and some questioning around whether quality has improved in the years since the last big pinot event four years earlier.
In the words of the great Jancis Robinson, who was the event’s star attraction — and whose presence was the reason I flew to Wellington to sit in on a few sessions — the gathering was “a Kiwi love fest”. And, I guess, that was the purpose of it: to showcase New Zealand pinot noir, let people see where it is produced, in the hope of selling a few more pallets in overseas markets.

The extensive tasting sessions weren’t intended to find the best wine in the world, or even in the New World. However, while the wines which were singled out for praise by the bloggers will get some publicity, no one has any real idea as to their worth, as they would if they had been pitted against their Oregon or French equivalents in a blind tasting, for example.

Which brings me to the first of two points I want to make — praise for blind tastings.
I know they can be a bit stuffy, a bit serious, and wine is about people, terroir, good company, food matching as well as taste — but taste is the cornerstone. Blind tastings, with professional judges, can be expensive and complex to run well, but they deliver honest results.

As an illustration of how blind tastings are inherently reliable and honest and take the nonsense out of wine commentary, let’s consider my second point — regionality.
A number of the visiting commentators at the pinot gathering tweeted video comment after the event, others blogged their “findings”. A few made the observation — sometimes in remarkably similar words — that one of their main lessons from visiting New Zealand was how they could “really tell the difference between the New Zealand regions — where the wine comes from, particularly Central Otago”.

I don’t know if this was an intentional theme pushed by the event organisers to the visiting Twitterati, or if it was simply a message that was rammed home by various winemakers or wine region PR people as the visitors toured the country.
Or perhaps they were following the lead of Jancis Robinson who, in a radio interview during the conference, said New Zealand pinot was getting more and more regional. However, she did add that it would be a while before she could come up with a thumbnail sketch of each region’s specific features.

When pushed, she said that Otago pinots had bright fruit and were more obviously sweet, while North Canterbury wines were earthier, more Burgundian with more grunt.
Far be it from me to contradict the doyen of British wine writing, but I think she may have been better to stop after her comment that it was too early to say what the differences are.

Because, here’s the thing — even experts, who make, sell, live and breathe New Zealand pinot, can’t tell the main regions’ pinot noirs apart in blind tastings. No ifs, no buts. 
They can’t do it.

I’ve organised and watched too many tastings to feel intimidated on this subject, even by the world’s number one wine commentator.
Judges can easily pick good pinots from less than good, but the idea that each New Zealand region has distinct qualities, is nonsense.

I think we would all like there to be amazing regional distinctions — Central Otago as the bright, brash upstart producing wine that reflects schist, snow and lanolin from merino wool.

In some tastings pinot flights are arranged by region, and it is then much easier for judges to “identify” special regional characteristics they have been told exist.
However, if judges are not aware of the regions the wines are from, then the regional characteristics mysteriously disappear from their notes. 

It may seem a pedantic point, and I could be accused of trying to remove some of the romance, but that’s not the case. Having wine “influencers” taste wines knowing full well which region they’re from (and often which winery they are from too) is pointless from a professional assessment point of view. Sure, it can work for wineries as the “experts”, paid or otherwise, domestic or foreign, can say something nice about the wines, thereby providing quotes that can be used on websites and in promotional literature.

Sometimes these comments are bought with free airline tickets, lovely dinners, or the schmoozing of a silver-tongued celebrity wine company advisor.

However, appraisal of a wine has real gravitas if it is the result of a blind tasting, conducted by professionals under controlled conditions.

The truth should be in the glass, not the PR hype. 
There is no doubt in my mind that the WineNZ magazine tasting judges are good; we have two winemakers who have worked, and judged, all over the world, and a Master of Wine who has lived and breathed wine in Europe, North America and New Zealand. All three are currently full-time professionals in the wine industry in New Zealand and have judged to the highest level in both New Zealand and elsewhere.

They are consistent with their scores and comments and are part of the reason why WineNZ tastings are going from strength to strength.
And yet, the three amigos aren’t great at picking pinot noir regionality. Why? Because it is a myth.

At the start of a recent pinot noir tasting, I called for a volunteer who would, in addition to his regular tasting scribbles, note which region the wines were from, when he had a particularly strong hunch as to where it might be. Barry Riwai kindly agreed.
Barry is no judging dummy. He has judged at New Zealand and Australia’s largest shows, has worked for some top wineries and was recruited for the
WineNZ team because of his impeccable reputation.

To give a wee insight into Barry’s ability, let’s jump to the pinot gris tasting, held the same day.
As far as the judges were concerned it was a lineup of 60-plus Kiwi wines, and they worked their way through them in their usual methodical fashion.
However, with the growth of the WineNZ tastings, we are now getting interest from a number of importers and, unbeknown to the judges, in this line-up there were a couple of foreigners.

When I gathered up the notes and began to check them through, there next to wine number seven in the first flight in Barry’s notes was “Is this Alsace?” 
The answer was yes.

Now, how difficult that feat is for a wine judge, I’m not sure, but it impressed me. 
If you look on the Winegrowers’ website — the industry body for New Zealand wine — it says “New Zealand Pinot Gris is more akin to Alsace in style than the drier Pinot Grigio”
So our pinot gris is like Alsace, but Barry can pick the Alsatian from the Huntaways in a lineup, without even knowing it was there. Respect.

And yet, when it comes to pinot noir regionality, Barry’s performance wasn’t great.
He was confident to note the region for about a quarter of the entries in the large line-up of wines, picking out Waipara, Central Otago, Marlborough and Wairarapa, as well as a few he thought were from overseas.

And despite being spot on with some of his Marlborough and Central Otago choices, he picked as many as being Central Otago that were actually Marlborough, as he picked Central Otago or Marlborough correctly.

I showed Barry’s efforts to a government statistician with a mathematics degree from Victoria University, who does this stuff for a living (imagine!), and she said the result was statistically slightly better than a blindfolded person throwing darts at numbers on a board, but possibly slightly worse than my schnauzer could do.

And to show it wasn’t just Barry having an off day, I opened it up to the trio of tasters when we were down to re-tasting the four five-star wines to find the best wine of the day.

While there were a few successes with their regional picks, with all three getting at least one right, the results were not statistically significant. Again, the schnauzer would have been in the running for top taster.

Here’s the thing — there’s good pinot in most regions and there’s bad pinot in all regions, and while Barry, Ant and Simon can, without a shadow of a doubt, pick good from bad, they can’t pick Central Otago from Marlborough, or Waipara from Martinborough, or at least they can’t do it with any degree of consistency.

But back to the pinot gathering in Wellington. It was a great event, and shone a light on what’s happening in this country with one of the world’s most prestigious varieties. 
The lack of benchmarking in the event, however, presents magazines such as WineNZ with a great opportunity to provide rigour to balance the PR flimflam.


This article was published before Covid-19 and associated travel restrictions.