Moving on from the northern part of the Wairarapa region, head into the rather picturesque town of Martinborough. For the sheer number of wineries packed into one area, this place is hard to beat. You could literally walk from one to another – or cycling is a popular method of getting around. The small town is centred on a green square, and spreads outwards in blocks until you hit the outskirts (in reality less than a few hundred metres away!) The centre has a boutique hotel, numerous cafes and restaurants, and a fabulous wine shop, befitting its location! Turning farmland into vineyards has worked pretty well in Martinborough – in fact it’s still happening out on Te Muna Road as Craggy Range double their holdings out on the Terrace.
The first Cellar Door you’ll be dropping into as you drive into town on SH53 is one of the ‘classic’ Wairarapa labels – Palliser Estate (they did the first harvest in 1989). They are open all year round, and have just re-opened their restaurant. Winter hours are 11am to 4pm staying open an hour later in summer until 5pm – 7 days a week. Currently, ‘Egmont at Palliser’ – an offshoot of one of Wellington’s favourite places the Egmont Street Eatery – is open Thursday to Monday with bistro-style lunches and grazing plates. You can check out the full range of wines at www.palliser.co.nz
Palliser are one of the members of ‘Family of Twelve’ – a group of excellent NZ family wineries. I can report that the 2019 Estate wines are excellent.
Whilst the Pinot Noir is classic Wairarapa and worthy of ageing up to ten years, it’s the whites that really caught my eye here – the Chardonnay is textural, mineral and rich; the Sauvignon Blanc manages to balance ripe, tropical flavours with vibrant acidity and is a complex style that’s a step removed from your ‘average Savvy’. They now produce a couple of Single Vineyard wines as well, that would be well worth a taste of at the Cellar Door whilst you’re here. At 76 Kitchener Street in Martinborough – Phone 06 306 9019.
Kitchener Street is a busy avenue for wineries, and at no.52 is Tiwaiwaka wines. Run by Morton and Elise Anderson, it’s a classic boutique operation, with the platters on offer at the Cellar Door being homemade with local produce. As well as the wines, you should try a glass of the homemade lemonade that’s been on the menu since the early days. Opening hours are Weds to Friday 10.30am to 3.3pm, and Saturdays until 5.30pm (closed other days). I haven’t managed to visit the property, but they have a Chardonnay and a Semillon listed amongst the wines on their website – www.tiwaiwakawines.co.nz, so I’d be keen to try those.
Next door, on the way into the town, at 50 Kitchener Street is Alana Wines. Another family-run estate, and one that has caught my eye on social media recently, when they have been offering personalised labels – you can get a bottle with your name on them, or a message – see “Your Wine Labels” on their website www.alana.co.nz. The Cellar Door is open Friday & Saturday 11am to 5pm, and until 4pm on Sundays.
In their Estate range there is a Riesling, Pinot Gris, Sauvignon Blanc and, of course, a Pinot Noir. The best grapes from select areas of the Pinot Noir vineyard go to a few barrels separately, and are made into a ‘Limited Release’ Pinot Noir. Look for this at the Cellar Door, or there are still vintages going back to 2011 for sale online.
Also at 50 Kitchener Street is the Cellar Door for Grava, a label founded in 2014 by Alistair Gardner, a local winemaker with a Spanish connection, having worked over ten years in Spain. The Cellar door is open 11-5 Friday to Sunday, but longer in summer – currently also open Thursday and Monday. Platters are available to enjoy alongside the wine tasting. Their range includes a Rosé, Riesling and a Sauvignon Blanc alongside the ubiquitous Martinborough Pinot Noir.
Still on Kitchener Street, head over to no.47 where you’ll find Porters – one of the longest established vineyards in town, dating from 1992. I met John at the recent Winetopia expo in Auckland, and the Pinot Noir is excellent – after nearly 30 years, they are clearly experts at the product they’re producing! Open by appointment – Phone 06 306 9013.
Backing onto Porters if you’re looking at the map, is Ashwell Vineyards, on 23 Dublin Street West, along past the TOP 10 holiday park. At around 5 acres, this a definitive boutique vineyard. The vines are, of course, mostly Pinot Noir at around 30 years old, but there’s also small parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon amongst others – a rarity in Martinborough. Their website is www.ashwellvineyards.co.nz.
Turning onto Princess Street, you will quickly arrive at On Giants’ Shoulders, at no.31. I drove past the site a couple of times when I was in town – again, sorry to not have the time in my flying schedule to visit – the vineyard and property look stunning. Open by reservation only, you’ll be hosted by the owners, Braden and Gabrielle, and spend an hour tasting and hearing the story of this (fairly new) label and their place in Martinborough, which was the McCreanor vineyard, planted in 1986. The 4ha vineyard was acquired by the current owners in 2015, and produces Chardonnay and Pinot Gris, alongside Pinot Noir that’s made into Rosé and a couple of Pinot Noirs. Call 022 382 2606, and check out their website at www.ongiantsshoulders.co.nz.
If you hang a left at the next intersection, you ‘ll be onto New York Street West, and a couple of places are down this side road – first up is Nga Waka, at no.41. At the time that the home block was purchased, Martinborough was a different place from the town ringed with vineyards we see today – there were just four producing wineries. The temporary Cellar Door here is here, on that Home Block vineyard – check the website www.ngawaka.co.nz for details of opening hours on any given week. From 17ha of vineyards around the town, they make mostly Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, with small amounts of Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. Phone 06 306 9832.
If you carry on to the end of the road and bear right, you’ll arrive at one of the premier accommodation options in town – Peppers Parehua Martinborough. A gorgeous place to stay – see www.peppers.co.nz/parehua; it is also currently the home of the Cellar Door for Escarpment Vineyard. They offer a tasting flight where canapes from the Pavilion restaurant are paired with four of the Escarpment premium wines – for example, you might be served ‘braised duck with port wine jelly en croute’ to accompany the Escarpment Pinot Noir.
This unique experience is available Weds to Sunday 11am to 5pm. Email email@example.com or phone 06 306 8405 for a booking. Of course, the restaurant is open for lunch (and dinner) and offers the full range of Escarpment wines as well – both for consumption and for sale.
Escarpment are one of the legends of New Zealand Pinot Noir, and Larry McKenna has been the winemaker since the label started in 1999. 5kms out from the town, their 25 hectares of vineyards sit on classic alluvial soils on the banks of the Huangarua River on Te Muna Road. The range of Pinots is, of course, well worth your investigation. The ‘Insight’ range of ‘Kupe’, ‘Kiwa’ and ‘Te Rehua’ are sensational single vineyard expressions sitting at the top tier of this varietal in New Zealand. Don’t forget to look into their other varietals – a Chardonnay, Riesling sit in the ‘Escarpment’ series – but also check out something like ‘Noir Natural’ – an organic ‘natural’ wine made in clay amphora, not just for hipsters!
Back along the road is Martinborough Vineyard – established in 1980, it’s a pioneer of the region – the first to plant Pinot Noir here, and therefore home to the oldest vines in Martinborough. Now part of the Foley Wine family, two main tiers of wine are produced – including the ‘Te Tera” series, a companion brand to ‘Martinborough Vineyard Estate’ wines.
This label does however make one of New Zealand’s iconic wines – the ‘Marie Zelie Reserve Pinot Noir’. Made in exceptional years only and probably not a wine you will drink very often. For sale, as I write, is a magnum of the 2010 vintage on the www.foleywineclub.co.nz website – for NZ$750. Their Cellar Door now operates from Te Kairanga as a combined operation, open Friday, Saturday and Sundays from 11am to 4pm. Visit at 89 Martins Road – call 06 306 9122.
Margrain Vineyard at 5 Huangarua Road is also the home of The Vineyard Café – possibly a welcome stop on your journey around the vineyards! It’s set amongst the vineyards and is a complement to the Cellar Door which is also open 7 days a week – check the website for current opening hours – www.margrainvineyard.co.nz. Developed since 1992 by the Margrain family and including the original Chifney vineyard and buildings, it’s a complete package venue – as they also offer accommodation (think vineyard villas..yes) and winery tours. Again, I didn’t have the time to visit everywhere in town, but I do know their wines, and can recommend the ‘old vine’ Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay. Neither hold back on flavour, character or plushness. Distinctly old school. They also have three labels of Pinot – take your pick.