I know what you are thinking. Nothing says adventure travel more than plunging your nose into a wine glass to sniff out the intricacies of the juice’s aroma. Some people choose to swing from vines, my version of adventure includes “exploring” the (grape) vines. This couldn’t be any truer as we were planning our trip to New Zealand. When deciding where and how we would spend our time in this adventure lover’s paradise, one thing was clear – we were going to make a pit stop in Marlborough.
Located at the northern tip of the South Island, Marlborough is the largest wine growing region of New Zealand and home to my favorite grape varietal – Sauvignon Blanc. Contrary to what you may believe, Marlborough does offer more than just wine. The region itself is quite vast and is divided into four main areas:
• Picton – If you are travelling to/from the North Island via the Interislander Ferry, then you will make your way through Picton. This port town serves as a great base to explore the Marlborough Sounds or tackle the Queen Charlotte Track.
• Havelock – If you like getting out on the water, then Havelock is a great option for you. Hire a paddle kayak or book a tour to explore the surrounding Pelorus and Kenepuru Sounds.
• Blenheim – Blenheim is the main town in Marlborough. It also happens to be one of the sunniest cities in New Zealand and is a short driving distance to over 30 different wineries in Marlborough.
• Renwick – As we were interested in the wine, we made a beeline for this quaint town. Renwick is said to produce 85% of New Zealand’s Sauvignon Blanc! It’s full of restaurants, traditional B&Bs and plenty of wineries that are easily accessible by bike.
Having been on the road so long, we looked for a nice cottage on AirBnB. With this option, we could unpack our bags and do simple things like cook for ourselves and do our own laundry. Our cottage is no longer available for booking online, but sits on the same grounds as the super cute Olde Mill House. We have fond memories of sitting in the amazing garden as we did our daily rounds of email catch ups and Instagram updates.
In addition to running the B&B, the owners also operate Bike2Wine on the property. Having enjoyed our vineyard cycling day out in Hawkes Bay (Destination // Hawkes Bay), we were quite keen to do it again while in Marlborough. There are over 20 cellar doors within a 5-kilometer radius from the BnB. That means plenty to choose from without having to go too far. If you are planning to make your way from Blenheim and don’t have a designated driver, they can provide you with their pick-up/drop-off service. As we were staying on the property not only did we not have to worry about drinking & driving, but we also had the bikes included in our stay. #Winning
Helmets on and wine trail map in hand we were ready to go explore. We did a bit of digging around the vineyard lists to find those that interested us, mapped out our route and away we went.
Here’s a look at some of the stops we made along the way.
We kicked off our day of tasting at Framingham Estate. People often say that first impressions are the ones that last the longest. This couldn’t be more true for our time at Framingham. The courtyard was filled with beautiful roses, the Richmond Mountain range was looming in the background and the team at Framingham were some of the nicest we encountered on our day out.
We blitzed through their Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling range and even got the opportunity to taste some of their F-Series wine. These vintage specific wines offer twists on their existing range and are often only produced once. It felt kind of naughty cracking into wines with such a limited offering, but was great tasting them with the staff that also were trying them for the first time.
If you find yourself here be sure to pop down to the cellar to see their super old vintages they keep stored on the property.
When we arrived at the cellar door at Bladen we were quite surprised. Where most wineries we’ve been to have been massive, the Bladen cellar is more the size of a posh fruit and veggie stand. Super cool. To top it all off – we had the whole place to ourselves.
Bladen is another one of the wineries that is a true family run business. The owners are often there onsite walking customers through their wine tastings. They were not around when we were there, but we had the brother John facilitating our tasting. As we were making our way through the menu, John gave us background of the family and the winery.
Some fun facts about Bladen. The name was created by using parts of the children’s names BLAir and DEni. The family planted their first grapes here by hand in 1989. They were one of only 8 vineyards in the area at the time. They originally produced grapes for others, after which they created their own lovely wine under the Bladen name. An extra added plus for me – they don’t use any oak when producing their white wines. Yummy.
We got super excited when we saw that there was a winery in the region that focused on organic wines. Eating healthy tends to be something we all talk about. We are either concerned about looking good at the beach or the chemicals used in the production of our food. You rarely hear people discussing what’s in their wine. Unlike traditionally made wines, Organic wines aren’t full of chemicals such as residual pesticides or preservatives.
Heading to Seresin gave us the opportunity to taste a wide selection of organic wines in one go. To be completely honest, I didn’t notice a difference in the taste. I suppose the result by choosing organic is that you feel better about what you are putting into your body and there will be some sort of longer term benefit.
If you are a film buff then you may recognize the name Seresin. Michael Seresin, the owner, has had his hand in the creation of many blockbuster films over the years. Titles that you may be familiar with include Dawn of the Planet of The Apes, Midnight Express and Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban. Some people buy cars and big houses when they have money lying around. While a lot of work, buying a winery sounds like an even better way invest that money. IF you don’t drink all your product before it has the chance to hit the shelves.
If someone put you on the spot and asked you to name one New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc – I’m 99.9% sure you would spit out Cloudy Bay. It’s quite reasonable considering these guys have been around since the mid-80’s as one of the first 5 wine makers to make Marlborough their home. They are also in pretty much every petrol station and grocery store around the world.
The Cloudy Bay grounds are massive. The cellar door is the biggest that we went to over the course of our time in Marlborough and its clear these guys are mass market producers. While the wine here is good, I tend to dislike making stops in these types of vineyards. The experience is always less intimate and you feel like you are just another person in a wine-tasting assembly line. I don’t even think we got a hello or a smile the whole time. Cloudy Bay is also the only vineyard that we stopped at on our day out that charged a tasting fee. Why charge when most of the surrounding vineyards don’t? Because they can.
We skipped popping into Cloudy Bay’s onsite restaurant Jack’s Raw Bar and opted for a picnic on the grounds instead. There really is no better place in the area to relax and soak of the Marlborough vibes.
//No1 FAMILY ESTATE
Our last stop in Marlborough was finished off with some bubbles. It doesn’t matter if it’s Champagne, Sparkling Wine, Cava or Prosecco – we love bubbles. We made sure to carve out some time in our tasting to pop over to the No1 Family Estate.
These guys are the only winery in New Zealand committed exclusively to producing premium Méthode Traditionelle wine. That’s a fancy way of saying that the techniques they use to produce the bubbles is the same as those in Champagne France. These practices are quite labor intensive and complex so I will spare you all the details. What you do need to know however is that this approach means two major things for you. The first is that the quality will be top notch. The second is that these methods tend to leave you headache free. Who doesn’t want to enjoy great bubbly and avoid a hangover?
The cellar door experience itself was a bit basic but the bubbles were nice. It was a perfect way to wake up the taste buds and end our time in Marlborough.
Our time in the Marlborough region allowed us to slow things down a bit and enjoy the gorgeous surroundings (and by surroundings, I mean plenty of Sauvignon Blanc). I could have easily spent more time in the surrounding towns and look forward to doing so upon my return.