New Zealand has several distinct wine regions, but its largest and most famous is Marlborough in the upper South Island. This region put “Middle Earth” firmly onto the international wine stage for its superb sauvignon blanc back in the 1980s and it hasn’t looked back.
Because New Zealand is made up of two main islands, no vineyard is more than 80 miles from the ocean. That means sea breezes cool at night and in Marlborough, gravelly river banks and long sunshine hours allow a long ripening period for the grapes to develop flavour while retaining their acidity. These conditions are what New Zealand wines are renowned for.
With nearly 50,000 acres planted in grapes, you could spend a week in the Marlborough region and still not visit every vineyard. There are 142 wineries, 40 cellar doors and 42 restaurants.
Getting to Marlborough
Some visitors fly to Christchurch from Auckland and drive the 180 miles north through the Canterbury region, taking three or four days to visit the wineries. Others take the ferry from Wellington, at the bottom of the North Island, across to Picton and base themselves in Blenheim, the hub for Marlborough’s wineries.
The region also boasts festivals, farmers markets and the stunning Marlborough sounds for hiking and water activities – in between sampling the local nectar.
There are several large vineyards that are well worth visiting and small, family-run boutique wineries offering limited quantities and exceptional food.
Here are two to get you started:
Marlborough’s first vineyard is Auntsfield, whose Muscat grapes were planted in 1873 and hailed as having great medicinal benefits at the time. But what is so special about this place is the cellar, which was only recently unearthed when the granddaughter of the original winemaker visited a couple of years before her death. (She died in 2008 at age 100). As a young girl she remembered crushing grapes in a cellar under a stand of towering gum trees. Sure enough, after digging they discovered the wine cellar still holding some precious bottles.
Today part of the vineyard is being replanted in the same Muscat grapes which have been held in an historic collection of vines and propagated over the last four years. After much research they will be planted on the same footprint according to historic photographs and plans dating over 140 years. auntsfield.co.nz
Hans Herzog is a family-run winery and acclaimed restaurant where diners can sit indoors on sumptuous furniture beside a roaring fire or outside under a canopy of vines on a sunny Marlborough day.
The Herzog family hails from Switzerland where they have been making wine since 1630. The current owners, Hans and Therese, left their vineyard in Zurich to settle in Marlborough where they found they could create their Bordeaux-style hand-crafted wine.
Therese has re-created her Michelin-starred restaurant which is lauded as one of the best in New Zealand. herzog.co.nz
A self-guided trail
With 42 cellar doors you are spoilt for choice when it comes to wine tasting, but here are a few more worth popping into:
Cloudy Bay – Sit indoors around a roaring fire in winter or outside under the vines in summer to taste one of New Zealand’s most famous wines and enjoy the oyster bar on Sundays. cloudybay.co.nz
Lake Chalice Wines – This locally-owned small vineyard was recently awarded gold for its 2013 pinot gris at the prestigious Air New Zealand Wine Awards. lakechalice.com
Wither Hills – awarded for its superb 2013 sauvignon blanc, it has a tasting room and restaurant and would be on the top of my list to visit. witherhills.co.nz
Yealands Estate – Taste multi award-winning wines, including sauvignon blanc, riesling, pinot gris and pinot noir, located in the Awatere Valley. There’s something for every palate here. yealands.co.nz
How to get around
There are several tour companies who will organise a day-long wine tasting experience for groups and individual parties. If you have a non-taster in your party, then self-driving is easy following a map, or the really energetic can tour via pedal power and rent bicycles.
For more information on Marlborough, visit Love Marlborough.