Marlborough Wine Region, NZ

One of the world's emerging great wine regions with a dominant Sauvignon Blanc that's the envy of vineyards around the globe.

Going to the Marlborough wine region is like a breath of fresh air. This is the purest of the world's wine regions, with the world's best Sauvignon Blancs and rapidly emerging Pinot Noirs.
The ideal growing conditions in this beautiful valley surrounded by mountains has allowed other very good varieties to emerge including Riesling and Pinot Gris.

 saint-clair winery marlborough

Cloudy Bay is the most famous of the wineries here, named after the local bay that Captain Cook "discovered" sailing past New Zealand in the 1770s.

The Marlborough wine region is a connoisseur's delight, with gourmet restaurants and award winning wineries including Saint Clair all within ten minutes of each other.

The easy way to get to the Marlborough wine region is to fly into Blenheim, the cute town at the top of New Zealand's south island right in the middle of the wineries. International airlines fly directly into Wellington, New Zealand's capital, and then it's just a 15 minute Air New Zealand flight across the water, before you land with famous vineyards all around you.

Wellington is a very pretty capital city with a picturesque, vibrant harbour. If you have time, spend a day and stay at the new Airport Motel we discovered with beautiful ocean views, starting from $99 including free airport shuttle, double glazed windows and a continental breakfast. Mike the manager was most helpful and you can even watch planes landing over the ocean at this pretty spot less than a kilometre from the airport. Picton New Zealand

You can also get to the Marlborough wine region from Wellington by catching the ferry for the picturesque three hour trip, landing at Picton, only 15 minutes from the Marlborough vineyards. Sitting at Le Cafe in Picton is surely one of the world's prettiest views before you embark on your Marlborough wine adventure.

Wine Holiday Accommodation

First, where to stay? Chateau Marlborough is the only 5-star accommodation in Blenheim and a very good choice offering great value for money. Its central location makes it a winner every time, with gourmet restaurants within walking distance. chateau accommodation marlborough
We found it so much easier to walk back from our choice of quality restaurants instead of driving back to accommodation near the vineyards after a few good wines. More on good restaurants later.

The Chateau prides itself on being the premier boutique hotel in Marlborough in a lovely location overlooking Seymour Square gardens.
Chateau Marlborough is run by the friendly chateau staff who make sure every-one is happy, and the staff here go out of their way to give you tips on which wineries and restaurants are best. The deluxe rooms are delightful, with King size super comfortable Heavenly beds and big LCD TV to snuggle up with.
hotel accommodation Marlborough New Zealand
We knew this was the place to stay when we spotted an overseas film crew making a travel program here. And when you're ready to hit the wineries, they're all waiting only a few miles away. That almost sounds urban, but the beauty of this south island scenery and the laid back New Zealand hospitality quickly make you realise you're in wine country paradise.

Best Marlborough wineries

Now for the wineries. If you want the best wine first, go straight to Saint Clair (see image at top). These remarkable Sauvignon Blancs keep winning international awards year after year, and Saint Clair has a number of other sauvignons at its vineyard that are just as good. Owners Neal Ibbotson and Judy Ibbotson are pioneers of the Marlborough wine region. Get on a plane now because you won't find all of these delectable wines outside New Zealand!

Saint Clair's cellar door is run by the enthusiastic Chris who is a credit to the vineyard. She happily showed us the delicious Sauvignon Blancs from locally-grown Pioneer blocks 1 to 8 that are blended to make the award-winning premium range of 45,000 cases that sold out in 42 countries. We were so excited to discover that some of the blocks were as good if not better than the premium Sauvignon Blanc that 's so popular world wide. Our recommendations - Block 1, which is fruity, fresh and vibrant with passionfruit and gooseberry flavours, or Block 7, creamy smooth with delicious ripe tropical fruit flavours and refreshing finish. And if you can ever find it, we're told the Wairau Reserve Sauvignon Blanc is exquisite, but limited to 1,000 cases a year.marlborough winery

Our second favourite winery is just down the road, the small Wairau River Winery with an equally-impressive Sauvignon Blanc enhanced by the cellar door with its exposed beams, limestone walls and delicious cafe menu.
This is another must-see-and-drink Sauvignon Blanc making a big impact outside New Zealand. Owners Phil Rose and Chris Rose are pioneers here by the pure Wairau River, which is Maori for "many waters." The Pinot Noir here is also good, and they make the best Gewurztraminer sweet white in this picturesque wine region.

And if you can find it, the third nearly as good Sauvignon Blanc is from the small Astrolabe winery.

Next, go straight to Cloudy Bay winery, now part of the international Moet Hennessy group with its manicured grounds and modern cellar door. Cloudy Bay has a long-standing reputation for producing wonderful Sauvignon Blancs, and now with thNew Zealand wine Cloudy Baye association with Moet it's producing a fine sparkling wine called Pelorus that's very good for non-French champagne. Riesling is also emerging at New Zealand vineyards and the Cloudy Bay late harvest 2002 is their best ever. The 2005 Pinot Noir is a very smooth lighter red, with opulent aromas of dark plums and a hint of smoky oak.

The Montana winery on the other side of Blenheim is almost as famous and produces a nice pinot noir. The impressive old French architecture and the boutique cellar door gift shop make this winery pleasing on the eye as well as the palate. And they offer a guided tour of the working winery to see their "awe-inspiring giant French oak cuves, and the country's first traditional Coquard Champagne press."

The Isabel winery is also highly recommended, but unfortunately it was closed when we visited; we hear it has a nice open-air Italian country-style atmosphere and the Sauvignon Blanc is good.

Also try Jackson Estate - the acclaim their Pinot Noir generates is based entirely on the merit of their pristine, cool climate vineyards and the clay bound soils. The ‘Vintage WidowPinot Noir is named in recognition of the  families of those who are overlooked during vintage.

Other good wineries are: Allan Scott (across the road from Cloudy Bay), Dry Hills, Dog Point, Highfield Estate with its Tuscan tower and good Sauvignon Blanc, and Wither Hills. And while you're near the tiny hamlet of Renwick, call in to the wonderfully-named Cork and Keg pub, an old English hotel serving quality wine and its own pilsener beer that's like nectar from Heaven.

Best Marlborough restaurants

Marlborough wine region restaurants are simply brilliant, with fresh produce that is unfailingly excellent. restaurant marlborough

There are two wineries that incorporate very good restaurants. Allan Scott Winery has a nice restaurant called Twelve Trees, named after the old walnut trees lining the entry to the winery. Maitre d' Neil Kingscote has the happy knack of making sure everyone is looked after while also running a busy restaurant, and the results are outstanding. Try the freshest salmon you'll ever have, deliciously smoked and a generous size.

Herzog Winery is an all-round excellent choice for food lovers, described by various international travel writers as simply the best restaurant in New Zealand. You immediately notice the beautiful ambience of its European interior (the owners are Swiss) and a gorgeous grassed area at the back that's ideal for whiling away the hours sampling marvellous Marlborough wine and food. Lunch is good value here, while dinner is more expensive, but certainly worth it. The highlight is the 5-course Herzog Avante-Garde Classic menu including complementary wines with each course.

And there are two stand-alone restaurants in the Marlborough wine region that are outstanding as well. Bellafico Restaurant is run by the entertaining Dietmarlborough restaurantmar, who's keen to promote the food and wine of Marlborough. Dietmar offered us so many good whites and reds that we were glad we were near accommodation we selected at Chateau Marlborough. Bellafico's Pohutukawa smoked Marlborough salmon with corn and shrimp cream is worth the trip to Marlborough alone, as are the NZ scallops in organic manuka honey glaze, avocado and grapefruit salsa. The other fresh fish of the day was snapper, freshly caught and filleted on the boat that day, then cooked with figs with mouthwatering results. Bellafico's famous Lemon Meringue Pie is a great way to finish, with the best toffee you'll ever taste.

The other restaurant loved by many in Marlborough is Gibb's Restaurant, near Cloudy Bay winery. We couldn't get in on a Friday night because husband and wife owners Chris and Heidi Gibb were feeding the local vignerons to thank them for theirmarlborough restaurant recommendations.
Heidi graciously fitted us in on the Saturday night and we almost felt like we were back in her home town of Lake Constance in Switzerland with the cheerful timber interior and long tables full of happy gourmet diners. Marlborough is now gaining fame for its extra virgin olive oil, and it was delicious here. For an entree, try the home-made pappardelle pasta with sauteed wild rabbit filet, sage and tomato concasse. For mains, the crispy pork belly with caramelised nectarines, lentils and spinach is delicious.

Best Marborough wine summary

If you want the prettiest wineries, go to Cloudy Bay, Herzog, Isabel, Montana, Allan Scott, Highfield Estate and Wither Hills.
If you want THE best sauvignon blancs in the world go straight to Saint Clair, then Wairau River winery, Astrolabe, Dog Point, Cloudy Bay and Dry Hills. Other whites in the Marlborough wine region are pretty darned good too, including rieslings, pinot gris and gewurtztraminer. winery Marlborough New Zealand

For reds, Martinborough on New Zealand's north island is better known, but here's a snapshot of some of the emerging Marlborough reds, many found on Bellafico's extensive wine list. In Pinot Noirs, Clayridge's 2004 and Dog Point are good, both light and refreshing. The Fromm La Strada 2002 Reserve Syrah (same grape as Shiraz) is brilliant, while the Framingham Merlot Malbec 2003 is very good. Framingham's 2005 Marlborough Montepulciano (yes, Tuscan-style) has the smoothness of merlot but with hints of prunes, tobacco and spicy cherries. And if you can find it, try the Nautilus 2001 Cabernet Sauvignon, discontinued when the winery grafted Sauvignon Blanc vines.

What makes the Marlborough wine region one of the world's best wine holidays is the combination of beautiful wine and such friendly locals who speak English. Locals like Dave Rennye, a cab driver who picked us up and went out of his way to show us the pretty scenery on his own time.
You don't have to be a wine connoisseur to enjoy the uplifting scenery in what must surely be God's own country, punctuated everywhere by those vibrant, verdant vines. And it's only a 4 hour drive down to Christchurch, with some breathtaking scenery especially on the inland route.

Go to the Marlborough wine region while it's still young and fresh, and you'll always remember Marlborough as one of the world's best wine holidays.

Driving to Marlborough

Instead of catching an Air New Zealand plane into Marlborough's Blenheim Airport, try flying into Nelson Airport only an hour and a half to the north west.

From this pretty port town you can drive south through the Alps then east to the Marlborough vineyards, stopping at a lovely historic place on the way called Tophouse Bed and Breakfast in the quaint little alpine town of St Arnaud.

You'll love the history and the feel of this place, worth a night to enjoy the cozy feeling of your own historic homestead on the edge of the alps.
This is so much fun - a night at this magnificent, historic homestead with big mud brick fireplace and a quaint tiny bar (the smallest in NZ).

Nigel the owner offers wonderful hospitality, with dinner laid out in front of the historic big old fireplace.
Dinner is magnficent and the wild venison was so tender.
The rooms are spacious and charming...they have their own heaters and the warmth of the fireplace filters through the homestead.

Nigel was most entertaining as a raconteur, describing the murderous history of Tophouse from more than 100 years ago over the love of a woman. You can still see the shotgun pellets on the underside of an external roof near the cute little bar. 

Tophouse B and B is history with a capital H and a reminder of days gone by when everything was uncomplicated and fresh.

A really lovely experience only an hour south of Nelson and 3 hours north of Christchurch.

Editor's note: We only choose the best for our travel reports. Thanks to Chateau Marlborough, Allan Scott's Winery, Bellafico Restaurant and Gibb's Vineyard Restaurant for looking after us. Car provided by Ace Rental Cars, New Zealand's biggest rental company (we chose them because they started with two Toyotas and are now taking on the multinationals).
 marlborough vineyard


Top Marlborough Wine Region New Zealand