Winemaking in Wairarapa started in 1897 when the French wife of an early settler, William Beetham produced the region’s first Pinot Noir. However, prohibition in the early 1900s meant that no more wines were produced until the late 1970s. Whilst the best known sub-region of Wairarapa is undoubtedly the town of Martinborough, there is so much to be seen in the countryside north, that we are devoting this guide to…I’m assuming that you have arrived from the north – Hawke’s Bay borders Wairarapa, but it’s just as likely that you’ve come on a trip from Wellington. Either way, there’s almost too much to see and do here in one day, that it probably deserves a couple of days on its own, aside from the attractions of Martinborough.
The first vintage of Pinot Noir in 1897 – Beetham family
Le Gra is a boutique family-run winery run by the Geary family, that has a Cellar Door at 42 Loopline Road just north of Masterton. It’s open Tuesday to Sunday from 11am to 5pm but they are often available for appointments on Mondays too. There’s a BnB style accommodation, and a range of wines, from Pinot Gris to Rose and Pinot Noir. They have plans for a venue on-site doing platters to go with the wine tasting experience. Website is www.legra.co.nz. I’m hoping to get a couple of wines to review and I’ll link those posts back to here once done.
A bigger operation is just down the road, at Matahiwi Estate. It sits in the heart of the Wairarapa, and has a few tiers of wines in their portfolio. From the ‘ME by Matahiwi Estate’ range that show a drink-young vitality, and great value; to the Estate wines, and up to the ‘Holly’ set of wines that are named after the owner’s daughter. When someone names a wine after their child, you can expect it to be pretty good!
Try their Holly Pinot Noir – reviewed here > https://winefolio.co.nz/?p=2714, or the rose from the ME range – also reviewed > www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=2667. Lots of awards won, and now branching out into a series of single-clone expressions like the ‘Wild Holly’ this is definitely a label to look out for. They don’t have a Cellar door, but have a look at www.matahiwi.co.nz and check out the range on offer, then buy it wherever you see it (or direct from them).
Moving down to the area known as ‘Gladstone’ – it’s 15mins to both Masterton and Carterton, you’ll find yourself in rural idyllicness – bucolic country roads, with views over rivers to hills beyond – just a beautiful region.
Your first stop on Dakins Road, at no.140 is Urlar. This is a biodynamic winery, now owned by Nishi Brewing from Japan, with a certain amount of the wines heading directly overseas to the Japanese market. It’s a 30 hectare vineyard and the winemaker, Jannine Rickards is a bit of a legend, who also makes her own limited edition label ‘Huntress’. The wines, unsurprisingly, have great character and one of them was late entry (Christmas Eve to be exact) to be one of my Wines of the Year.
I don’t give many wines 97/100 points, but the ‘Gladstone Pinot Noir’ – it is a barrel-selection at a RRP of $65, was the best Pinot I tasted in 2020 – www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=2650. Look out for a rather sumptuous rose (again, reviewed here – www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=2807) and a great Sauvignon Blanc too. As if that wasn’t enough, their ‘Late Harvest Riesling’ won the Sweet wine category at the Easter Show last year. Open by appointment only – Phone: 06 370 1935 or email email@example.com
A little further along, at no. 290 Dakins Road is Cottier Estate, another family-run place making wine by the Ruamahanga River. The Cellar door is open on the weekends from 11am to 5pm, from Labour weekend to Easter. There’s also a B&B accommodation with views over the vineyard. They’re best known for their ‘Emily’ Chardonnay – I love Wairarapa Chardonnay – and also produce Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and a rose.
Down the end of the same road, at 359 Dakins Road is a winery that does have a Cellar Door to visit – I did, in December 2020, and it is well recommended. It is Johner Estate Winery, founded by Karl Johner, originally from the Alsace winemaking region in Germany, but with winemaking styles that also draw from a love of Burgundy. The Gold medal-winning ‘Gladstone Pinot Noir’ is excellent – smooth and balanced.
I also loved the Chardonnay – it’s a rich, tropical-fruited, complex style that showcases just how good this varietal is from Wairarapa – www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=2766. One thing you don’t want to miss out on, when visiting this Cellar Door is the opportunity to try three different dessert wines. They make one from Riesling – fair enough, that’s standard; but Syrah!? And then one from Sauvignon Blanc. Taste them side by side – going from around 110 grams per litre of residual sugar up to around 150. Delicious, a real treat. Cellar Door is open Monday to Friday 1-4.30pm, and 11am to 4.30pm on Saturdays.
Gladstone Vineyard at 340 Gladstone Road is another winery situated on the Ruamahanga River. The Cellar Door is open Thursday to Sunday 11am to 4pm. Alas, I didn’t quite have time to get in on the flying visit to the region in December, but we’ll be back and I’ve heard it’s a great spot to have a tasting (and popular as a venue too).On their website – www.gladstonevineyard.co.nz they list a couple of single vineyard Pinot Noirs (at $80 and $100, wow) and an intriguing ‘340 Blanc’ of barrel fermented Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris and Riesling.
If you are heading further on, towards Martinborough – I’ll be producing a separate guide to that famous wine village – then you should definitely find time to visit Greytown as well. Not only is it one of the most beautiful small town around, with a plethora of lovely cafes, two great country hotels, and a buzzing high street with boutique shops; but it now has an ‘urban winery’ courtesy of Jane and Lesley from the Alexia wine label. The Cellar Door is open over summer for tastings and sales, from 11am to 4pm on Friday and the weekend.
Their ‘Happy Wife’ Chardonnay was a revelation at our Top 10 Tasting last year and worth a 5-star 95/100 rating from me > www.winefolio.co.nz/?p=2729. As well as the Alexia label, there’s also the Tangent range of wines from Wairarapa – Chenin Blanc, Cabernet Franc and Gamay.