With so much to offer, Megan Bedford finds a lot to love about Marlborough and the Sounds
With a quickly escalating total that tops 40 wines in one weekend, a novice wine taster might get the impression a recent trip to Marlborough, New Zealand’s sun-drenched savuvignon blanc capital, was spent bathing in the stuff. Rest assured it’s not an immersive new beauty treatment FQ editor Sally-Ann and I have partaken, nor are we zealous wine enthusiasts. However, with over 150 wineries in the area, even if as we did, you only visit a handful in an itinerary that also involves eating, meandering, scenic excursions and cursory exercise, you’ll quickly notch up such a talley, as well as an education.
Wine, dine and shine
Friday 2.30pm. Amid a swathe of vineyards that stretch from the coast to the hazy ranges in the distance, Blenheim is just 20 minutes from Wellington by air. Whisked from the airport to our first stop, we are welcomed by a roaring fire at the cellar door of celebrated winery Cloudy Bay. The oak barrel room, where the label’s pinot noir rests, is where senior winemaker Tim Heath hosts us for a private tasting. My wine knowledge is meager but Tim’s relaxed yet highly-informed approach means he answers my novice questions in detail without pretension, and I gain a new appreciation for the history, vine work, weather and soil qualities that have gone into creating sauvingon’s signature aromas and crisp, fruit-filled notes. Five small glasses later – spitoon for the professional, but we swallow ours – I am claiming expert knowledge. Pretty much. Or is that Cloudy Bay’s delicious Te Koko talking?
Friday 6pm. Crisp temperatures necessitate a warm layer for a pre-dinner drink at buzzing wine bar Scotch, but we are quickly warmed by the generously robust cocktails and locals in a buoyant Friday mood. Gibb’s on Godfrey beyond the outskirts of town is our dinner destination, and though the food is exceptional, it’s the award-winning duo running the place we leave talking about, in so far as we could string a sentence together after a 7-course, wine-matched degustation! Chef Brad Hornby periodically emerges from the kitchen to shyly present several of the courses to our table, briefly highlighting each surprising and delicious element. Brad’s wife Liz Buttimore splits front-of-house with Marlborough Tourism ambassador duties, or so it seems at times, such is her enthusiasm for the abundant local produce and suppliers.
Saturday 8am. It’s continually apparent it won’t just be astonishment about the bluebird June weather (it’s enough to make an Aucklander reach for the local Property Press) we’ll take away from this trip, it’ll also be the charm of the locals that remains. At Ritual cafe for breakfast, hip, mustachioed owner Matt Hellriegel bids us welcome from behind the coffee machine where he is drawing black gold from the beans he roasts himself. The urban-hippie menu wouldn’t be out of place in Wellington or Auckland with its chia pudding and kombucha offerings, but it’s the hearty local salmon and eggs that‘ll ward off any wine wobbles later in the day.
Saturday 10am. Speaking of wobbles, when was the last time you rode a bike? A practice loop is required to remind me you never forget how but it’s still a relief the large tires of the bikes we use on Explore Marlborough’s vineyard cycle tour make navigating gravel access between the vines a cinch. Wide roads and minimal traffic makes conversing with our guide, Lisa, easy. As we cycle between each winery, she expertly prefaces each with a little background. It’s possible to hire your own bikes and DIY, but the local history, information and guidance from Lisa makes our tour effortless and fun. Within three hours, we cover five notable cellar doors, including Framingham, Whitehaven, Wairau River, Giesen and methode traditionelle specialists No. 1 Family Estate, tasting several wines at each stop with a delicious platter at Giesen Estate’s restaurant to mop up some of the shine we are beginning to exhibit. By the time our transport to Picton, 25 minutes’ drive away, arrives we’re ready for a sauvignon siesta.
Saturday 3pm. Hilarity ensues, when embarking on luxury launch MV Tarquin in Picton, our captain welcomes us aboard with a generous pour of – you guessed it –Marlborough’s celebrated sauvignon blanc. Reclining on the top deck for our transfer to the secluded Bay of Many Coves Resort, the deep blue-green waters are mesmerising. The spectacular Queen Charlotte Sound is jaw-droppingly beautiful, and it feels naive to repeatedly voice how impressed I am. Why haven’t I thought to visit sooner?
Cruising up to the wharf and sighting the self-contained lodge apartments at Bay of Many Coves nestled into a hill in the Sounds, I ponder why tropical Pacific Islands are constantly sought as an ideal retreat. Sure there’s the sun, but that’s here too. With one glimpse I’m sure I’d rather stay here a week. Consider the hot-tub overlooking crystal-clear waters, the restaurant with award-winning chef Hannes Bareiter, nature’s fitness facilities (bush walking, yoga on your private deck, or a languid kayak trip) and the 2 or 3-bedroom suites designed to feel like a traditional (albeit 5-star) bach, with large windows and doors that let the sunrise right in to your king bed. It’s said past guests have requested night lights, so enveloping is the inky darkness and still quiet of the location. It’s fair to say the locals love their wine, as hosts Murray and Elaine delight in offering us yet another selection, but Murray’s enthusiasm is contagious as he offers up a blind “left or right hand?” tasting. Later I can’t remember the labels he eventually reveals but remind myself to double check the ‘left hand’ brand. Another divine six-course wine-matched degustation dinner and we climb the bush-lined path to our rooms.
Sunday 7am. Pink light slowly filters into the room, gently waking me in time to watch the sun rise across the water. An hour spent watching its ascent from my pillow and it’s time for breakfast on deck, then a kayak in the mirrored waters below, to work some of it off.
Sunday 12pm. Returning to Picton via water taxi is a comedown from the lofty luxe of the Tarquin, but sighting shags, cormorants, seals, big blue cod and terakihi is enough to take our minds off the hardship. We keep our eyes peeled for the local dolphins and recent orca visitors but they are shy today. The final destination on our whistle-stop winery weekend is lunch back in Blenheim at Brancott Estate, a major player with a sleek Fearon Hay-designed glass and steel Heritage Center perched on a hill with extensive views overlooking the region. On a good day, and it certainly was, you can see the wind turbines on Wellington’s hills across the Cook Straight. One last, sorry, five last wines to taste, then it’s time to return to the airport and head north, with the Property Press literally tucked into the seatback pocket at my knee.