Sitting, waiting, chilled and tempting… a glass of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. I take my first sip and my mind is instantly transported back to the vines growing in neat parallel rows, splinters of sunlight filtering through the green haze, waltzing and twirling in-between. I’m back in the heart of New Zealand’s wine country.
Marlborough is a wine destination, a must-see place for wine lovers. In this region, there are more than 30 cellar doors to visit, each different and brimming with flavours to savour. They are all within a ten-minute drive from each other. Blenheim Airport is nearby and minutes after touching down, you can soon find yourself tasting award-winning wines. The cellar doors await with glasses grouped together and bottles lined up ready for sharing and sampling. A Chardonnay rubbing shoulders with a Pinot Gris, a Sauvignon to its right and a Pinot Noir keeping its distance. With each sip details flow from exuberant winemakers. And as glasses are delicately refilled, their unique character is explained with passion, knowledge and experience. The vocabulary colourful and descriptive – zingy acidity, elegant, bright, effusive, adding personality to each variety.
One of the most pleasurable occasions during my travels was a relaxed lunch in the restaurant belonging to Bancroft Estate. As I indulged in organic dishes from a creative menu, I was treated with views you often see on advertising billboards. I was enfolded by an expansive carpet of bottle green stretching far into the distance to touch the horizon. It looked like a blanket made of green corduroy, its weave in one direction for the perfect effect of one shade. An orderly maze, a perfectionist’s dream, all neat, symmetrical and disciplined save for the birds floating above. I remember the stillness, the serenity and the peace. Another time I visited the Cloudy Bay winery. Here it was a tasting in a garden party setting complete with plush white seats, swings and squashy loungers, a haven in white. Cloudy Bay was one of the first five wineries in Marlborough.
If you don’t fancy driving between tastings, there are many organised wine tours to various wineries. For those more athletic, pedalling by bike will work up a thirst and appetite.
It was in the 1980s when Marlborough put New Zealand on the international wine stage with its Sauvignon Blanc. In fact, over 20,000ha of vines (around 2/3 of the national total) are under the care of local wine producers. It’s the equation of low rainfall and free-draining, moderately fertile soil and its cool yet high sunshine climate that results in its successful and popular wines.
This was my first visit to the other side of the world. My itinerary was packed to the brim. I flew into Queenstown on the South Island. The town sits on the edge of Lake Wakatipu surrounded by the Southern Alps and the Remarkables, a saw-toothed range of mountains. It’s a place full of outdoor adventurers, understandably, as it was here that the first commercial Bungy operation started in 1988 at the historic Kawarau Bridge.
New Zealand has a history of gold mining and Arrowtown is a shining example with a quaint main street dotted with European and Chinese styled buildings from the old pioneering days. Just under 20 km from Queenstown, the town was built on the banks of the Arrow River where gold was found in 1862.
As I take another sip, I think back to horse trekking in this area one early morning. Time rested while New Zealand’s landscape exhaled a calmness as I gazed onto uninterrupted scenery as far as my eyes could see, to the front, back and each side. Utter stillness, except for the thud of hooves from a rather slow horse carrying me across open fields, plodding up a steep mountainside then splashing through clear rippling streams.
By my third sip, I have removed my tourist status and joined the fun of a local rural agricultural show in Wanaka. Sheep shearing, woodcarving, chainsaw sculptures, you name it – it was all taking place. There was a grand parade, a Pipe Band, equestrian show and livestock proudly wearing brightly coloured winning ribbons. Oh, and a Jack Russell Race which I watched with amusement amidst a display of the latest farm equipment, luxury cars, surrounded by the friendliest of people.
From glaciers to lakes, hiking and cruising the Marlborough Sounds this country has much to offer visitors but the Marlborough wine region has always been the wine destination I had been yearning to visit. It is New Zealand’s largest winegrowing region and suitably paired with the scenery of stunning landscapes with its valleys of vines leading to sheltered waters and open stretches of rolling countryside.
So, I raise my glass to toast this country, its wine tourism and in particular to its very own Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. Cheers!
For more information on visiting Marlborough, see www.marlboroughnz.com.