In the days and weeks before my move to New Zealand, I developed a taste for one of New Zealand’s most well known exports – not lamb, but Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. It’s a beautiful wine known for its refreshing, crisp, and tropical taste. Some of the world’s best Sauvignon Blanc comes from Marlborough – I was determined to spend a day visiting the many wineries in the region.
The Marlborough region is New Zealand’s leading wine producing area. Its weather conditions are perfect for growing the cool-climate Sauvignon Blanc grape – extremely dry, warm and sunny days, complemented by cool nights. Marlborough is tucked away at the northern tip of the South Island amongst the plains of the Wairau River. A beautiful area of New Zealand with vineyards at times stretching as far as the eye can see. Two small communities complement the area – Blenheim (blen – um) and smaller Renwick.
While the weather hasn’t been as ideal as I would have hoped in the previous weeks, yesterday turned out to be the perfect day for a bike tour around the area: clear blue skies, plenty of sun, and a cool breeze. Plenty of companies offer guided van tours of the region – but I opted for a budget friendly way to explore Marlborough.
Armed with a slightly used bike, a water bottle, some panniers for bottles of wine, and a map, I set off to explore the area.
With over 60 wineries, there is no shortage of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, and Gewurztraminer to be tasted. The cellar doors of the wineries run the gamete from small, humble operations to more impressive places offering high-end meals, cheese tastings, and exquisitely decorated tasting rooms. Most tastings are free and include entry level, young Sauv Blans, aged Pinot Gris, and vintage reserves. White wines dominate the region, although the Pinot Noir grape also grows well with Marlborough’s cool climate.
With the dozens of wineries found throughout the region, you’re bound to find a few that stick out as your favorites. I’ve listed three that I feel you can’t miss:
1) Cloudy Bay was my first and most impressive stop. The tasting room is tucked amongst the wineries seemingly endless rows of grapes. A beautiful location is complemented by an impressive tasting room: filled with polished concrete, beautiful Marlborough artwork, and a great wall-sized window viewing dozens of oak barrels. A free, five wine tasting adds to the impressive mix.
2) Huia Vineyards makes the list thanks to the friendly, informative, and unpretentious tasting experience. A transplanted Aussie makes sure you leave Huia with a taste for their wines and an understanding of what goes into the production process.
3) Gibson Bridge Winery is a young, boutique, and family owned vineyard. Gibson Bridge only started their growing operations four years ago. Focusing on Pinot Gris, it’s a great stop if you’ve had enough Sauvignon Blanc for the day. Their motto is, ‘excellence through passion,’ and you can certainly sense Julie Simmonds’ passion as she tells you about their operation.
After a long day riding around Marlborough, you’ll want a nice place to stretch out, relax, and spend the night. Most of the wineries are found within a two or three mile radius of small and charming Renwick. Spend the night at Watson’s Way Backpackers.
Pat and Paul are a charming Kiwi couple who go out of their way to make you feel at home. The hostel features a well-equipped kitchen, a gorgeous garden with fruit trees, hammocks, and a beautiful enclosed patio. While I stayed in my campervan, the rooms appear to be clean, well-kept, and comfortable. As an added bonus, staying at Watson’s Way will allow you to hire bikes at $15/day (much better than Lonely Planet’s recommendation at $55 per person, per day).
Pat sets you up with all the necessities: panniers, maps, a helmet – but most importantly, heaps of advice on where to go to eat, drink, and get the most out of your time in beautiful Marlborough.