The wines of Martinborough Vineyard, Martinborough
Part 5 of my series on New Zealand's Martinborough/Wairarapa region


Martinborough Vineyard was one of the pioneers of this region. Back in the late 1970s the New Zealand government commissioned a report prospecting for new vineyard sites. 

Dr Derek Milne, one of the authors of the report, was so impressed by the potential of the Martinborough region that he invested, along with five partners, in the Martinborough Vineyard, which was established in 1980, the same year that Clive Paton began Ata Rangi.  

Pinot Noir on some of the oldest vines in the region

Milne was right. This is a special place for growing wine grapes, and its success—with Pinot Noir the standard bearer for the region—made the world sit up and take notice.

The first varieties planted here were Pinot noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon blanc and Gewürztraminer. The first commercial vintage was 1984, but things really began to take off when Larry McKenna was hired as winemaker in 1986, becoming managing director in 1987.  

Larry stayed until 1999, by which stage the reputation of Martinborough Vineyard for making excellent Pinot Noir was firmly established. He was followed by Claire Mulholland (who left for Amisfield and is now with Burn Cottage), and the current winemaker Paul Mason (since 2004).  

I met with Paul (right), viticulturalist Pete Wilkins (left) and general manager Janine Tulloch to look round the vineyard and taste the wines.    


Martinborough Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand
Very nice aromatics: fresh, with subtly herbal notes. Lovely palate with freshness and a bit of complexity. Restrained with lovely balance. 89/100

Martinborough Vineyard Chardonnay 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand
Fresh, toasty nose with bright citrus fruit and mineral notes. Fruit-focused palate is quite bold with nice texture and good acidity. This comes from the home block. 90/100

Martinborough Vineyard Te Tera Pinot Noir 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand
A second label, this shows lovely focused bright cherry and herb notes with some savoury, meaty characters. Fresh and juicy on the palate with vivid sappiness and a spicy finish. 92/100

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2008 Martinborough, New Zealand
This comes from the oldest vineyards. 1000 case production. Elegant and textured with good fruit and some spiciness. Smooth with pure fruity and nice balance between the richness and structure. Mineral finish. 93/100

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2007 Martinborough, New Zealand
Sweet and rich with some meaty notes and bold plum and raspberry fruit. This was a short year because of frost and cold weather during flowering, but the resulting wine has a lot of concentration. Dense, rich and spicy on the palate with lots of richness and structure. 94/100

Martinborough Vineyard Syrah/Viognier 2006 Martinborough, New Zealand
Beautiful nose: bright and focused with floral peppery fruit. Lively, with hints of meat. The palate is sweetly fruited with cherry and raspberry fruit. Nice texture, with a bit of softness as well as a peppery edge. Beautiful. 94/100

Martinborough Vineyard Jackson Block Riesling 2009 Martinborough, New Zealand
Nicely limey with some mineral notes. Fresh, tight and harmonious with crisp fruit. A nice wine. 87/100

Martinborough Vineyard Manu Riesling 2009 Martinborough, New Zealand
27 g/l residual sugar; this has 10% botrytised grapes. Nice texture and purity here with some spicy notes. Rounded, smooth and quite focused. 88/100

Martinborough Vineyard Bruno Riesling 2009 Martinborough, New Zealand
Spätlese style with 55 g/l residual sugar and 9.5% alcohol. Light and focused with minerality and some spicy notes countering the sweetness and richness of fruit. Good acidity. 89/100

A short film from the visit, in the vineyard:



Part 1,Martinborough Pinot Noir: a remarkable vertical tasting
Part 2, Dry River
Part 3, Ata Rangi
Part 4, Gladstone Vineyard
Part 5, Martinborough Vineyard
Part 6, Cambridge Road
Part 7, Escarpment
Part 8, Palliser Estate

Wines tasted as 02/10  
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Here's an earlier report, from 2001:

The Martinborough region is one of New Zealand's best sites for growing that most enigmatic of grapes, Pinot Noir. It's home to several producers who are Pinot experts, including Ata Rangi, Palliser Estate, Te Kairangi and of course Martinborough Estate. Of the wines on show here, only the Riesling was less than very good—in particular, Martinborough really seem to have cracked Pinot Noir, producing tasty, complex, varietally true wines with a little bit of a New Zealand twist to them. Prices are still relatively sane for these wines, too. The pick of the bunch for me was the 1999 Pinot Noir: although the 1998 Reserve Pinot is a bigger, ambitious wine that may well improve in the bottle for some time, the regular cuvée is delicious now and a tad less expensive.

Martinborough Vineyard Riesling 2000
I've yet to be really convinced by a New Zealand Riesling. This example has quite a bland 'boiled sweets' nose, with rather simple, bright fruit flavours on the palate. Let's hope this one metamorphoses into something interesting with a couple of years in the bottle. Good

Martinborough Vineyard Chardonnay 1999
A classy new world Chardonnay. Elegant nose with savoury oak and toasty, bready notes. Rich, complex fruit on the palate. Full and soft, with well integrated but prominent oak. May develop in interesting ways. Very good+

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1997
Cherry colour with a browning rim. Lively, full nose of sweet, soft, herby fruit. The palate shows attractive herby/cherry fruit. Quite complex; refined and full-on. My preference for the 1999 could be because of vintage differences, or because I prefer this wine earlier in its evolution. Very good+

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 1999
Deep red/purple colour, with a pungent, medicinal edge to the sweet berry fruit on the nose. The palate is lovely, rich and savoury, with quite firm tannins and good complexity. Very good/excellent

Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir Reserve 1998
This is a much 'bigger', more structured wine than the standard Pinot Noir. The nose is quite intense, with complex meaty, medicinal notes, cherry fruit and toasty oak. The lovely complex palate shows ripe fruit, some tannin and very savoury spicy oak notes. Quite intense. Very good/excellent

Tasted May 2001



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