A day in Marlborough
Spending a few days visiting wineries in Marlborough was, as far as ‘work goes’, one of the better weeks I’ve had on the job. I tagged along on a buying trip, which translates to meeting a lot of winemakers, which translates to talking a lot about wine, tasting a lot of wine and exploring vineyards. Dream job? Pretty much.
There are few places more spectacular than Marlborough in which to tour wineries. Actually, that’s not true, this is New Zealand after all – this country is saturated with breathtaking scenery everywhere you look, but if sauvignon blanc is your jam then Marlborough is where it’s at.
It’s not the kind of place you want to rush, but if you need to, there’s plenty you can squeeze into a day. Here’s what we got up to, and as an itinerary it makes for a pretty good intro to some of the region’s best wine experiences.
Rockferry can be found on the outskirts of Blenheim. We stopped here for a quick taste and almost ended up staying for lunch, and we weren’t the only ones tempted by the setting. The old fruit packing shed has been converted into a modern cellar door and every table was booked. The lunch featured dishes like miso-marinated Aoraki salmon served with sticky rice, slaw, edamame beans and avocado topped with ponzu dressing. It’d be easy to settle in for the day and take a nap on the grass, especially after a couple of glasses of their single vineyard pinot gris / pinot blanc blend which was a nice match to the lush garden setting.
12pm: Hans Herzog
Next was a short drive down to the bank of the Wairau river, where we pulled into the carpark of Hans Herzog, another winery we could have very easily spent the entire day at. This place is the antithesis of the Marlborough savvy stereotype, and might just be the highlight of our trip. The wines produced here are truly captivating, as is the story of Hans and his dedication to this vineyard, the wines and his craft. There are 29 different varieties grown in the backyard, most of which you won’t find growing anywhere else in the region.
I couldn’t imagine a better place to eat lunch. Whether you’re going all-in with the degustation menu or mixing up share plates in the courtyard, it’s a memorable experience. I hadn’t planned on drinking a Bordeaux blend in Marlborough, but it felt right, especially paired with a bowl of estate grown olives and fresh baked bread.
2pm: Spy Valley
Spy Valley, nestled in the Waihopai Valley, is a 15 minute drive away from the river and down the same road as the American ‘secure communication facility’ (spy base) after which the winery is named. The base itself is not much to look at, unless you’re into observing two white spheres from a distance, but it’s worth a drive-by. The winery, however, is fascinating. We were handed high-vis vests and escorted onto the roof of the winery which provided a panoramic view of the valley. The Spy Valley range features a few single vineyard wines which are a good insight into what makes this particular site so well suited to sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir.
We had to stop in at Giesen for a taste, it’s such a well-known brand and is synonymous with savvy. Their range is extensive and features some of the best pinot we tasted on the day but it was The Fuder ‘Dillon’s Point’ single vineyard sauvignon blanc that really stood out. From The Fuder range which showcases iconic vineyards in the valley, this one is from the organic vineyard.
The Grovetown Hotel came highly recommended and its reputation for quality Japanese food in a classic country pub setting was well deserved, albeit a little unusual. The place was packed, and it was easy to see why when a tasting platter of authentic Japanese food came out. The wine list wasn’t extensive, but the food was prepared and presented with care and the beers on tap were plentiful.
8pm: Scotch Wine Bar
After a couple of lunches and plenty of wines, we were keen to find somewhere to eat. Again. Everyone we asked recommended two places – Scotch Wine Bar and the Grovetown Hotel. Each offered a completely different experience, so try them both if you’ve got a couple of nights.
Scotch Wine Bar is the place to share both plates and bottles of the region’s finest produce. The walk-in cellar features around 500 bottles from which to choose and the menu is ideal for sharing. Special mention to the bread and butter here, it was perfect for mopping up a bowl of local mussels and soaking up a second bottle of chardonnay.
That’s a lot to do in a day, so if you’ve got time, take it. Marlborough is the kind of place that you could spend weeks in, and still be unearthing local gems. So many lunches, so little time.
Savvy is what the region is famous for – it produces a distinctive style that the world cannot get enough of. The Wairau and Awatere valleys of Marlborough provide both ideal growing conditions and a stunning backdrop to explore. You can fly into Blenheim from cities all over the country and it makes for a good base to explore – most cellar doors are within 20 minutes’ drive.