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New Zealand has no shortage of vineyards across its beautiful country. Different regions being famed for Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir to name a few. But one region which is a must visit if you find yourself in New Zealand’s south island, is Marlborough. Along the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail which features over 100 cellar doors, you will find wineries you know and love from your home supermarkets to small family run vineyards waiting to be discovered. Here are some top tips for making the most out of your time in this beautiful region.
Most cellar doors tend to open around 10/11am and close around 3/4pm, so it is best to know where you want to head in advance and plan a route (as wine drinking is serious business). Along with this, although having a glass of wine pre-midday might seem a little keen, I would advise you to start as early as you can. Once the hours start ticking by, wineries get busier and you are less likely to get a more personal service from the staff working. Beating the crowds means you have more time to decide what you would like to try, ask questions about the wine, and have an overall more relaxed experience.
There are a number of ways you can explore Marlborough, and with so many vineyards to chose from in close proximity you can tailor your day exactly how you’d like. For those on the budget tour, one way you can get around is simply from walking between the vineyards. Ultimately probably the safest way if you are planning on making the most of the wine tastings on offer, but does require a lot of walking. I opted for this method when I took a visit and still managed to squeeze in 5 vineyards, plus lunch and I really felt like I earned that Sauvignon. If you chose to walk, plan to stay in an area, or start in an area with the most concentrated amount of cellar doors. For instance the Renwick area has around 20 wineries within a 5km radius and in some cases a simple stroll across the road brings you to the next wine experience.
Undoubtedly one of the most recommended, and still cost effective ways to explore Marlborough is by bike. Expect to pay between $30-$50 for a half or full day ‘self-guided tour’. This means you can still chose your route and which cellar doors you would like to visit, but you will get there quicker, can travel further afield and fit more in by cycling between them, (albeit on slightly wobbly handlebars). Alternatively if you would like to sit back and let someone else do the organising, you can pay a bit more and hop on a guided cycling or mini-bus tour, where your route is planned and all you have to do is sit back and enjoy the wine.
If you want to last the day in Marlborough, I suggest you make sure your stomach is well-lined. Luckily, most cellar-doors have fantastic restaurants attached or at least offer a classic cheese board to accompany your perfect pinot-noir.
Head to Wairau River Cellar Door and Restaurant for the best chicken burger you will ever have. It is the perfect spot to stop for lunch, enjoy the beautiful views of the vineyard and fuel up for an afternoon of wine-tasting. Make sure to book in advance to ensure you get a nice table outside - or a table at all for that matter!
For fine-dining with panoramic views of the vineyards and mountains, book a table at Brancott Estate. Seasonal dishes made with fresh local ingredients as the star provide a wonderful experience, as well as wine pairing suggestions with every course.
No day at the wineries is complete without a cheese platter. Think artisan cheeses, local honey, olives, salads, fresh bread and cold cut meats. For some of the best in Marlborough visit Giesen. Their sharing platters come highly recommended and are the perfect pairing to a glass of wine on a summer’s day. Giesen's cellar door has an extensive list of wines ranging from their most standard up to their premium ranges. For $5 you can take your pick of 5 different wines to choose and this fee is waved upon a purchase of a bottle or lunch.
Most vineyards you will visit in the area will charge between $5 and $15 for wine tastings. Some have a set menu of what they would like you to try, and others will let you choose your own depending on what you like. Here are few recommendations where cellar doors provide good value for money or good service.
One of the larger and more famous vineyards, Villa Maria is a great cellar door to stop by if you are on a budget. They offer up to 9 wine tastings, all complimentary, with no pressure to make a purchase.
In a beautiful setting, Forrest Wines offer 2 complementary tastings. However, for $10 you can get a sharing board of 7 different wines to sample, and a complimentary taster of their bubbles.
One of the oldest small vineyard in Marlborough, this husband-wife team provide an excellent and personal service. Similar to Villa Maria, they offer a large selection of tastings, all for free. Bonus if you are on the organic wine hype - they produce biodynamic wines using natural and organic methods.
Top tip: Most vineyards will wave the tasting fee upon a purchase of a bottle, and most a very reasonably priced.
For a truly personal experience, supporting a small family run business make a stop at Bladen Vineyard and Cellar Door. In a small shed in amongst the vines, you can taste what Bladen has to offer guided by the owners and their family. You not only get to try a their delicious wines, but you also get to learn about them in an unpretentious and judgment free way whilst getting a full personal insight into the family themselves.
We hope these tips help you make the most of your time throughout the vineyards. May your stomach be lined with the finest artisan cheeses and your wine glass always be full with Marlborough’s delicious offerings.