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NZ Part 2: The South Island - Marlborough

This is the second in a series of three blog posts on New Zealand. The first post highlighted the North Island’s Kumeu and Hawke’s Bay. This, the second, will review our tour of New Zealand’s flagship wine region, Marlborough
 
Situated at the top of the South Island, Marlborough can be easily reached by air or ferry from Wellington. We chose the scenic three-hour ferry ride on the Interislander. The journey between Wellington on the North Island and Picton on the South is a must-do tourist experience. Cook Strait and the Sounds are spectacular! 
 
The city of Blenheim is at the region’s heart, and is just a short 25-minute drive from the picturesque seaside town of Picton. Most wineries are an easy drive from Blenheim. To do the region justice, you should allow at least two days for your visit. We were there four nights and stayed at the Hotel d'Urville, conveniently located in downtown Blenheim near many restaurants and cafés. 
 
Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine growing region and has earned an international reputation for producing some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world.  It also makes very good Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Riesling. Sauvignon Blanc is the most important in terms of volume (85.8%), but it isn’t the only star to emerge. Pinot Noir production has increased dramatically in recent years, not only for table wine but also for bubblies!
 
For some fun facts and stats see Wine Marlborough New Zealand
 
Blenheim Dining Highlights
“Imaginative menus serving the best local produce, complimented by excellent wines from Marlborough, New Zealand, and around the world.” – our best dinner in Blenheim for service and food! Since our visit they have changed from fine dining to more casual and renamed it de Burgh's Bistro at Hotel d'Urville.
 
“Urban hippy food (if this descriptor even exists), smoking good coffee, retro junk decor, brilliant if under-appreciated Barbie Doll art, really really good looking Baristas, and music you and your grandma, Aunts, Uncles, Cousins and offspring could conceivably listen to and it is better than the sounds in your average everyday elevator.” – enjoyed a couple of flat whites with our breakfast parfaits.
 
 “Freshly sourced local food, highlighting a clean, precise and uncomplicated approach to modern NZ Cuisine. Dishes are constantly evolving, reflecting seasonality, availability and creativity. The restaurant has a casual bar area for pre-dinner drinks, local brews and hand crafted cocktails along with a wine cellar.” 
 
Dodson Street is the only independent craft beer specialist in Marlborough, featuring authentic German cuisine, and a great pizza selection. We went for the pizza and beer as we needed a break from wine for the night.
 
“Raupō Café sits on the banks of the Taylor River in Blenheim. The extensive menu offers a balance of French selections amongst some classic favorites…the wine list makes the most of the beautiful Marlborough region, offering locally sourced wines, with an added French cellar list.”
 
Wineries we visited (11)
Of the 11 wineries we visited all but one (Yealands) were within a 10-20 minute drive of our hotel. 
 
1. Established in 1994, Wither Hills Winery is named after the imposing Wither Hills ranges, which form a dramatic backdrop to their vineyards which enjoy long sunlight hours, cool nights and are nourished by the waters of the Wairau River.
 
Their Cellar Door offers wine tasting in their beautiful courtyard overlooking the Wairau Valley, as well as winery tours, blending sessions and tailor-made experiences. They also have a restaurant where you can enjoy a leisurely lunch paired with a glass of Wither Hills wine. 
 
2. Nautilus Estate Winery is a small, family-run winery with over 25 years’ experience in producing exclusive Marlborough wines for guests to sample and drink. The Estate's imposing winery was inspired by traditional 'Kentucky barn' architecture. The inviting Cellar Door area makes extensive use of the natural curves found in the shape of the Nautilus shell and incorporates an underground cellar for storage of library wines. Personalized tours are available by appointment.  
 
The philosophy of creating food-friendly wines is paramount for winemaker Clive Jones. While the wines can easily be enjoyed on their own, at Nautilus they believe they are even better when paired with delicious food. 
 
3. Wairau River Wines (pronounced why-row) takes its name from the river on whose banks Phil and Chris Rose planted their first vines in 1978. Wairau is the Maori name for ‘many waters’. After supplying grapes for other producers for several years, Phil and Chris decided in 1991 to release a wine under their own label, and the Wairau River label was conceived. Wairau River produces the majority of its wine as Sauvignon Blanc including an excellent Reserve range that has been fermented in four and five year old French oak barrels (and only produced in limited quantities). Current production also includes Chardonnay, Riesling, and a very good Botrytised Riesling. 
 
4. Giesen Wines have been exclusively produced in New Zealand for over 30 years. Today they personally own and manage 700 acres of vineyards in Marlborough. In addition, they have developed long-term partnerships with some of the region’s best growers, allowing them to produce a diverse range of wines.
 
A very welcoming Cellar Door is where the Giesen brothers share their passion for hospitality, and food and wine pairing. Visitors can taste their way through the Giesen range. In addition to Giesen's current releases, wine lovers also have the opportunity to taste back vintages and try some cellar door exclusive wines thanks to their Enomatic wine dispensing system. 
 
Guests can also choose from a selection of platters showcasing some of the region’s bountiful produce and settle in front of the fireplace in the cooler months, or enjoy their picturesque courtyard in summer. 
 
5. Saint Clair Family Estate is owned by Neal and Judy Ibbotson, viticultural pioneers in Marlborough since 1978. Grapes were originally supplied to local wine companies; however, a desire to extend the quality achieved in the vineyard through to the finished wine led to the establishment of Saint Clair Family Estate in 1994. 
 
We enjoyed a relaxed, informative tasting and lunch at the Saint Clair Family Estate Vineyard Kitchen. The newly renovated establishment is situated within a unique vineyard setting with views extending past the vines towards the ever changing and dramatic Richmond Range. The sunny courtyard offers outdoor dining with some dining options amongst the vines. The extensive menu features some of the best seasonal produce Marlborough has to offer. 
 
At the wine tasting counter guests can discover the diversity of Saint Clair’s large selection of award winning wines via their new wine preservation system. 
 
6. Dog Point Vineyard The name Dog Point dates back to the earliest European settlement of Marlborough and the introduction of sheep to the district. These were the days where, due to a lack of fences, border riders used dogs to protect the local flocks of sheep. 
 
Shepherds’ dogs occasionally got lost or wandered off, eventually breeding to form a marauding pack that attacked the same flocks they were expected to protect. Eventually settlers were forced to cull the dogs and the area was named Dog Point.
 
Dog Point has been dedicated to producing Marlborough wine since 2002. They insist on low cropped vines and hand-picked fruit while adhering to an organic regime. Their philosophy is to produce regionally distinctive wines that will drink well now and age gracefully for many years. They were in the midst of harvest when we arrived so we were able to see the winery in action prior to tasting through their current releases of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. 
 
Dog Point also has a boutique luxury bed and breakfast, located on the Western hillside of Marlborough’s Dog Point Vineyard. The Bell Tower B&B provides spectacular vistas over Marlborough's Richmond Range and Wairau Plains.
 
7. Highfield is a boutique winery producing premium, food friendly wines. Highfield’s Tuscan inspired winery tower, which visitors are welcome to climb, has commanding views over the Wairau Valley. Guests can also get a look at the inside workings of the winery by taking a walk over the footbridge. At the welcoming Cellar Door they offer tastings of their full Highfield range. 
 
The name Highfield originates from the Walsh family of Ireland. They purchased the 365-acre Marlborough farm in 1935 and named it Highfield after an area near Galway Bay in their homeland.
 
Highfield wines from Marlborough’s Wairau Valley tend to have intense fruit aromatics and fine minerality. The Wairau River that runs alongside their largest vineyard, has a strong influence on the style of their wines.
 
We enjoyed lunch on the patio overlooking the vineyards at Highfield’sTerravin Vineyard Restaurant. They serve delicious Mediterranean style cuisine.
 
8. Since being established in 1988, Grove Mill has been committed to making premium wines with minimal environmental impact.  The Southern Bell Frog, for which they have established a wetland beside their winery, symbolizes their commitment to environmental sustainability and preservation of the land for future generations to enjoy. 
 
The Grove Mill wine range includes both white wine and red wine, specifically Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir.
 
9. In January 1992, after the talking became planning, and the planning then planting, Fromm Winery officially started. A visit to their Cellar Door offers guests the opportunity to taste through their current release wines together with some older vintage library releases. Wines crafted at Fromm will always reveal their distinctive signature of old world winemaking blended with new world innovation.
 
We were fortunate to taste their “most eccentric and misbehaved grape in the vineyard” – the 2015 Malbec, which is the oldest single vineyard Malbec in New Zealand. They make only two to three barrels a year. 
 
10. Spy Valley Wines is based in the Waihopai Valley in Marlborough, up the road from a US government listening post (the Spy base). Owned and operated by the Johnson family, Spy Valley is one of Marlborough’s few remaining 100% Kiwi-family owned wine companies.
 
With over 400 acres of estate vineyards, a modern, fully-integrated winemaking facility and a passion for excellence, Spy Valley consistently produces globally acclaimed, award winning wines. Like most Marlborough wineries, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc are their specialties but they have also set a benchmark for New Zealand aromatic whites including Riesling, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris.
 
The Cellar Door is located in their award-winning architecturally-designed winery. Guests can taste through the current vintage of Spy Valley and Envoy wines inside at the tasting bar or outside on the picnic benches overlooking the vines. We enjoyed our experience outside while taking in the scenic view.
 
If you have time, the famous Spy Station satellite domes are just down the road! 
 
11. Yealands Estate Wines established in 2008 is New Zealand’s premier sustainable winegrower. Led by legendary entrepreneur Peter Yealands, few could grasp the breadth of his vision when he took on the challenge of creating terraced vineyards amongst the vast steeply sloped foothills of Marlborough’s Awatere Valley. While others saw obstacles Yealands saw opportunity. His “can do” spirit, innovative “out of the box” thinking and love of the land has resulted in an extraordinary vineyard where excellence in environmental sustainability has framed every aspect of viticulture and winemaking from the very beginning.
 
The Yealands Estate Winery is one of a handful in the world to achieve carboNZero certification, the largest in New Zealand to do so, and the first to have measured and offset all greenhouse gas emissions since day one.  Their intimate Cellar Door provides a welcome escape where you can discover the Yealands’ Estate story and try their quality portfolio of wines while relaxing in casual comfort. Afterward guests can take in the picturesque views across the sea of vines and Cook Strait on their self-guided vineyard tour. We packed a picnic lunch and enjoyed it cliff-side. This is a must for anyone visiting the region as the setting is truly stunning! Yealands was approximately 30 minutes from our hotel in Blenheim and well worth the easy drive.
 
The Marlborough photo album can be viewed on facebook. Up next the South Island’s Central Otago and Queenstown regions – cheers!