A few years ago a cruise liner, the MS Oosterdam, parked up in Picton for the first time because, according to the local mayor, the captain on board was fond of a tipple of Marlborough’s Sauvignon Blanc. Such is the reputation of the area. The captain didn’t just drop anchor and leap overboard to quaff some bottles, he had lobbied hard to include Picton as a stop on their itinerary, so he could wheel a few cases back on board if he wanted to.
The region has been growing grapes for over 100 years, ever since a Scottish farmer, David Herd, (no doubt also wanting a fine drop) saw the sunshine, lack of frosts, good draining fertile soil and minimum rainfall as a great opportunity. Dave was way ahead of his time. With 150 wineries, 35 cellar doors, an excellent international reputation, and a flat region with clement weather, Marlborough’s a popular place to do a wine tour on a bicycle.
Two Swiss immigrants, Hans and Therese Herzog, set up their vineyard and it’s grown into a place with lots to taste, see and feast on. Everyone says ‘world-class’ (yawn) but the Herzog restaurant is actually a delicious gourmet experience, or there’s the garden bistro. The cellar door’s stylish, and the accommodation’s fittingly charming, if that’s what you like. They have a Coravin wine system which lets you pour a glass from any bottle but it protects the wine from oxidation by leaving the cork in place (don’t ask us how) so rare wines can be opened and tasted, which is not something usually on offer. Their organic 2013 Riesling is one to try.
There are two good reasons to visit Spy Valley. First, it’s a family run business so they get what families are all about and encourage kids to visit too (not obviously to drink the wine but there’s entertainment for them). Plus they were the first vineyard to flick the switch to solar, so they’re super smart for spying that opportunity. Oh and the third bonus reason is that they are reasonably priced so you can sample some of the aromatic varieties Marlborough’s famous for, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Sauvignon Blanc and not drop a truckload of cash. Make sure you try their 2016 Pinot Gris if you can.
Peter Yealands should be given a medal for his service to the wine industry and the land. Oh wait, he’s already been given wheelbarrow’s full of medals! Yealands Estate is the first carbonNZero certified winery and they have implemented ideas and energy efficient solutions that have turned the heads of lots of other winemakers all over the world. They were pioneers in sustainable innovation, including having baby doll sheep graze the vines to minimize spraying and lawn mowing (genius), solar power to harness that Marlborough sun and produced the world’s first vine pruning boiler, which sounds efficient and highly dangerous. Take a picnic and enjoy it on their coastal property in the Awatere Valley with beautiful views to Cook Strait. You can take yourself on a guided tour of the vineyard and if you’re lucky you’ll see Peter about. The wine is very reasonably priced making it accessible for many. Try the 2014 Reserve Awatere Valley Marlborough Pinot Noir.
You only need to know two words when it comes to this vineyard. Henri Bourgeois! That’s the name of a wine-growing family from the famous Loire Valley in France who wanted to expand their winemaking skills somewhere equally exotic and settled, after a lengthy 12-year search (which sounds like lots of fun), on an organic vineyard in Marlborough. The terroir reminded them of their site, Sancerre, in France. They have 10 generations of knowledge behind them and know how to craft exceptional wines from the three different soil types on the Clos Henry site. The tasting room’s in an old chapel and of course there are French cheeses and deli platters on offer. After tasting and enjoying this place you’ll feel a little bourgeois yourself.
The wine industry often attracts movie makes and celebs (Frances Coppola in Napa Valley, Sam Neill in Central Otago, Drew Barrymore in Italy). Seresin was established by the kiwi born cinematographer based in London, Michael Seresin. He’s made some cracking films, Sleeping Dogs, Planet of the Apes, Harry Potter And The Prisoner Of Azkaban and ‘80s cult classic, Angel Heart plus he’s also made some cracking wine. As the son of a Wellington hospo man, Michael learned from his father about pleasing the palate, and Tuscany, where he now lives taught about him how to make wine. His estate is organic and the grapes are grown biodynamically and hand picked. Private tastings are on offer but you must book in advance. Try the 2016 Pinot Gris.
Anna & Jason Flowerday, the owners and winemakers of Te Whare Ra eat sustainable ideas for breakfast. Their small winery, planted with 7 different varieties, uses a combo of biodynamic and organic practices. They produce a low yield where the grapes are hand picked and hand-sorted (hence the low yield as you can’t do vats and vats of wine by hand) which is made in small batches in their boutique winery. The couple and their vineyard are authentic and a visit here is a wonderful contrast to the big wigs of the region – make sure you ask to see their compost patch. It’s mostly a white world at Te Whare Ra as they produce Gewürztraminer, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah and an aromatic blend that’s very quaffable called Toru.
Cloudy Bay is quite the rock star of Marlborough, in the heart of the Wairau Valley. People always appreciate a drop of Cloudy Bay if you’re taking a bottle to somebody’s house. But when you’re in their house, or cellar door, the scenery matches the stellar wine. On arrival, you’re greeted with an ’85 Land Rover that’s fully restored then led into tasting room with floor-to-ceiling windows looking both across the valley (for terroir spotting) or into the barrel hall. After testing yourself on aromas and tasting yourself silly you can move outside and grab a tree chair for a swing or meander over to the Japanese-inspired restaurant, Jack’s Raw Bar. Or, if you want rock star treatment you can book a gastronomic experience at their ‘shack’ (which is no shack) or a private jaunt on their 54-foot yacht. There are private vineyard tours too. Cloudy Bay are founding members of Sustainable Winegrowing in New Zealand so you’re in good hands. Try their 2016 Sauvignon Blanc or 2014 Pinot Noir.
The cellar door and café at Rock Ferry is housed in the old home of the owners, Tom and Fiona, so it feels like you’re slipping into a comfy place. Putting your feet up wouldn’t be frowned upon. And the food matches the homely feel and is inspired by seasonal produce. They say ‘down to earth’ a lot at Rock Ferry, and we’re guessing they spend quite a bit of time in the earth. But they also understand what the earth needs and look after their soil – no nasties are used in the making of Rock Ferry organic wines. If you’re here for lunch you must try the organic steak sandwich with their legendary tempranillo. Bookings are recommended for dining.
One of the original wineries in the region, Hunter’s is a treasure in terms of their aromatic white wine and good story. Founded in the early ‘80s by Ernie Hunter, an Irishman with a dream to get a fledgling winery off the ground, Hunter was starting to get some acclaim when tragedy struck. Ernie was killed in a motor accident. In came Jane, Ernie’s wife, who took over and is now regarded as the one of the godmothers of the wine industry. Jane worked hard, learned everything she could and went on to deliver world class wines, cementing Hunter’s on international lips for the next 30 years. She’s a leading vintner and pioneer of Sauvignon Blanc’s success with plenty of awards under her belt including the prestigious Women in Wine Award and an OBE. The setting at Hunter’s is tranquil and is a good place to sip wine and soak up stories. Be sure to try their champagne, Sauvignon Blanc and Hunter’s Marlborough Riesling 2016.
Finally, the last but certainly not the least is a visit to the grandfather of Méthode Traditionelle in New Zealand, Daniel Le Brun. It’s a glitzy place to have some bubbles and wallow around in French charm and elegance. The Le Brun family have been making wine in the Champagne district of France since 1750, where the young Daniel learned. But you can’t call it champagne if you decide to leave home, travel to the others side of the world and grow your grapes in Marlborough in New Zealand. Hence the birth of Méthode Traditionelle, in Aotearoa, using all the techniques from the great masters. The vineyard lies on the river bed of the Wairau River, full of sandy loams and gravels, which is exactly what’s needed for growing the traditional clones of champagne: pinot noir, pinot meuniere and chardonnay. Drinking bubbles at the source is a brilliant way to learn how to make them too and the staff know a lot. If you’re up for a treat, grab a bottle of the No 1 Cuveé or Rosé to take away and enjoy later. If you’re looking for a memento, then Adele Le Brun carefully selects well-priced gifts including candles and jewellery to take away.