jamie goode's wine blog: NZ (5) the Marlborough wine region

Sunday, November 11, 2007

NZ (5) the Marlborough wine region

I've mentioned before how I think that visiting wine regions is important: you can taste as much as you like and read as much as you like, but it is only when you see where the wine comes from that it really clicks.

Over the last couple of days in Marlborough, this has certainly happened for me. There's so much to say, I don't really know where to start, but here's a woefully brief account.

Flying into Blenheim, you land right in the middle of the vineyards of the Wairau Valley plain: this is the heart of the wine region, and it's flat, with a sea of vines in all directions and not a lot else.

Five minutes after landed I had picked up my hire car, parked it, and was taken off by Damian Martin of Ara. Ara is an impressive new project: in a subregion of Marlborough some distance inland from Blenheim, Ara have started developing an enormous terrace of 1600 hectares. They've already put 400 hectares or so in, and they are tilting for the top. The vineyards are brilliantly run, with closer spacing than is normal for Marlborough, and a focus on Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. Two wines have so far been released under the brand 'Composite', and more will follow. One to watch.

I spent the afternoon and evening with Damian - he invited me to his home (he has a French wife and three charming bilingual children) where we dined well on green lipped mussels (these are approximately four times larger than normal mussels, and are delicious) and salmon. We drank Ara wines, and finished with a beautiful Te Mata Coleraine 1998.

On Sunday morning I was up early to drive round the Wairau Valley taking pictures, before heading over to Montana's Brancott Winery. The vivid, startlingly intense sunlight was welcome after Saturday's leaden skies and biting wind. Katie Speakman, the Tour and Business Development Manager, drove me round the three main subregions of the district: the Awatare Valley, Wairau Valley and Raupaura. I learned a new word: hoon. Katie is with child, and needs her sleep, yet lives next door to some hoons who kept her awake all Friday night partying. Noise control confiscated their stereo system (again) but they just moved on next door... And I thought Blenheim was a sleepy rural town.

I lunched with Patrick Materman, who is the chief winemaker for Montana and the other brands that are made at the immense Brancott winery. We tried through quite a lot of wines, and had some fun discussions. Did you know that with 3000 tons of Pinot Noir passing through the winery here, this is perhaps the world's largest producer of this noble variety?

I left just before 4 pm, and headed out of town to Picton, some 25 kms away. This is where you catch the ferry to Wellington, and it is at the head of the Marlborough sounds. I took the Queen Charlotte Drive, a winding road through the sounds, with spectacular views all along. It was indescribably beautiful in the late afternoon sun - one of the world's great drives (am I getting carried away?).

After heading back into Blenheim, I wandered into town hoping to find something to eat. I opted for the Whalehaven restaurant, where I dined well, alone. Solitary dining can feel a little lonely, but I had a good book, a glass of Riesling and a couple of glasses of Pinot Noir, and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. I went to bed feeling immensely grateful.

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At 8:26 PM, Blogger Paul Tudor said...

The photo of the sheep is very pertinent.

My family farmed in this area (well actually near Ward in the Awatere) in the mid twentieth century. Much of the agriculture in those days was sheep farming. Perhaps in the main Wairau Valley there was a bit of horticulture, but until fairly recently (when I started visited the wine region in the late eighties), you could see sheep runs quite close to Blenheim township.

That has all changed of course. The area where my grandmother and grandfather had their farm is probably being converted to vines as I type this... They struggled to make a go of their farm - really small runholders could not be as profitable as the big sheep stations - and eventually moved to the Wairarapa (why is it that everywhere my family lived, there are now thriving winegrowing regions?) And when that did not work, granddad moved to Auckland and got a job in a factory, part of the great urban migration that happened shortly after the second world war.

PS - Patrick is not chief winemaker for Montana (that role belongs to Jeff Clarke), though he is the top cat in Marlborough

PPS - Some of the single vineyard Pinots that Montana are making down there are very promising indeed - it is pity that you were not able to fly into Christchurch, hire a car, then drive up to Marlborough visiting the North Canterbury Pinot producers on the way - IMHO this is where the most exciting Pinots (and Chardonnays and Rieslings, for that matter) are coming from

At 10:34 PM, Anonymous Alex Lake said...

A good result at Pompey today. A shame there were no goals, but a good follow-on from the Chelsea thrashing.

At 7:24 AM, Anonymous Keith Prothero said...

Thanks for your notes Jamie. Brought back fond memories for me,of my time spent in NZ. Certainly,a most beautiful country,and it is just a pity it is so far away from the UK.
Mind you ,that is probably why it is still so unspoilt!!

At 10:33 AM, Blogger Peter May - The Pinotage Club said...

with 3000 tons of Pinot Noir passing through the winery here, this is perhaps the world's largest producer of this noble variety - don't the major Champagne houses process more Pinot Noir? (And elevate this capricious variety to its true destiny :)

At 6:43 AM, Anonymous lagramiere said...

Geez, I've always dreamed of visiting NZ and it's wine regions, but I find the picture of endless vineyards in perfect rows somewhat distressing. Talk about intensive agriculture. I guess they're trying to keep up with their Aussie neighbors, but what about bio-diversity? It's not at all how I imagined NZ to be, please tell me that the whole region doesn't look like that!

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Stewart Kenneth Moore (Booda) said...

Can I 'ave your job?


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