We’re in Marlborough towards the end of Summer. As you fly into Blenheim airport, one glance out of the window confirms you’re in wine country here. I’d heard that a huge amount of suitable land has been turned over to growing grapes, but it’s still a surprise to see it. About two thirds of all our wine comes from Marlborough, and that rises to 85% when you consider our ‘national drink’ – Sauvignon Blanc. With over 30 Cellar Doors, it’s a wonder where to start – let us guide you.
Awatere Valley – a beautiful drive through the Wither Hills will take you to the ‘other’ valley, away from Blenheim, and if you kept driving, you’d be on the East Coast heading towards Kaikoura. This is the Awatere, and it is vineyard central. Take a left turn at Seddon and you will be heading towards the Estate that Yealands has planted with row upon row of Sauvignon Blanc.
Grapes as far as the eye can see. It’s quite something. You know you’re in wine country out here. To someone who’s really into wine like me, this is quite intoxicating stuff. I love seeing rows of vines – I love the symmetry and order of them, the lines as they snake up a hill. The lush canopy and the stony ground. It’s a beautiful kind of farming, and this is on a grand scale.
Yealands is awesome. Anyone visiting Marlborough should come here. You can drive ‘the White road’ on a self-drive vineyard tour. This takes you right out to the coast with spectacular views at ‘Lookout Point’, past a butterfly-filled secret valley, lakes, super-friendly chickens and the eponymous Baby Doll sheep. The vineyard is full of sustainable initiatives, and has the largest solar panel installation in New Zealand glinting on the Winery roof.
The wine tasting is complimentary and the Cellar Door is a lovely place to spend an hour. You can pick up a gift or some cheese for a picnic amongst the vines. Wines run from the expressionate range of single vineyard like Gruner Veltliner and Pinot through to the Trophy award-winning Baby Doll Rosé.
Heading back through Riverland towards Blenheim, take a right turn into Malthouse Rd, to the family-owned Mount Riley Wines. This is a great Cellar Door, right next to the winery and nestled amongst vines. The Estate range here is one that over-delivers for price; and the ’17 Valleys’ label, made in the best years, is a stand-out example of Marlborough wine – fruit forward and great examples of the varieties. A lovely spot with outdoor seating and a fireplace. Tasting is complimentary. See the WineFolio Top 10 tasting: Mount Riley Estate Pinot Gris.
A winery I can’t recommend highly enough is Lawsons’ Dry Hills. A tasting in 2019 of the range, was a revelation. I’d say a speciality is aromatics, but all of ‘The Pioneer’ range was just exceptional – the Pinot Noir was one of the best wines I tasted last year. The Cellar Door here is another great little spot – complimentary tastings of the days offerings, and there’s a covered courtyard area as well as the Tasting Room. This is another place to move beyond the usual ‘Marlborough sav’ and try their Reserve Chardonnay for example?
A little further along the road is one the big Cellar Doors – and we are talking palatial! You’ll find as you tour New Zealand’s wine regions that a great many of the locations are spectacular, and grand. But for sheer number of opulent, eye-popping Tasting Rooms in one place, Marlborough really lays it on. The Wither Hills Winery and Restaurant is one of these. An absolute Temple of wine, you’ll find it fills a fair few slots in your ‘selfie-with-wine’ category on Instagram, and it’s pretty easy to settle in here and just relax. Treat yourself to one of their tastings with a yummy platter out in the garden. Then take a few more photos..
Villa Maria are obviously a big player in NZ wine, and their Cellar Door in Marlborough is on the corner of New Renwick and Paynter Roads. You can do a regular or a ‘Premium’ tasting – some of the company’s most prestigious wines are from Marlborough single vineyards such as Taylors Pass or Seddon, so you’ll be tasting local wine that’s big on the international stage.
Another pioneering vineyard is Brancott Estate – the first Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc was planted here in 1979, paving the way for the success of the 1980s and the rest is history. The current Cellar Door and Restaurant with its sweeping views, is a recent addition, at 180 Brancott Road. Watch out for the collosal 8-metre high ‘Under/Standing’ artwork at the entrance. Some limited edition wines are only available at the Cellar Door, and being a supporter of the Marlborough Falcon trust, there’s the option for a ‘Falcon Encounter’ at the vineyard if you book online.
Highfield TerraVin is another place with a fantastic restaurant and distinctive Cellar Door building. A range of local wines, from Chardonnay to Pinot Noir are available at 27 Brookby Road.
A label that has been growing in acclaim and popularity since inception in 2004, is Dog Point, and their property at 797 New Renwick Road is open for Tours and Tastings by appointment.
They host a hugely popular vineyard picnic once a year in late summer. One of the original organic farming innovators, it’s now the biggest Biogro-certified vineyard in the country. They concentrate on a short range of varieties and do them super-well. Their aged Sav ‘Section 94’ is a standout but also try their Chardonnay – recommended.
At this point you have visited a few places along the southern end of Blenheim, and it’s tempting to head into the heart of the wine country and into Renwick; but I’d champion the idea of driving just a little further out – you’ll be on the main road for a few minutes which is a change of pace, but then turn left towards the Spy Valley winery. They have a wide range including some excellent aromatics.
You can get a platter, and it’s a relaxing place for a sit and try the selections on offer. The Pinot Noirs are great, and anything from the Envoy range is top notch!
Your final couple of stops before turning back to Renwick could be Clos Henri – run by the Bourgeois family, and making NZ wine inspired by their French history. Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from a range of terroir showcased in different styles. Also a venue for events such as Bastille Day, or outdoor cinema showings.