Even though Josh and I enjoy budget and adventure travel, we also have a refined side. We thoroughly enjoy learning about culture, art, music, dance, food…and wine! And during our recent visit to Blenheim New Zealand, we had a chance to do something completely new to us; going on a private wine tour of the Marlborough New Zealand wine region.
New Zealand Wine…it’s a Big Deal!
Some of you may be surprised to learn that New Zealand really does have a large wine industry, and the Marlborough area produces more than 70% of all the wine in New Zealand. The area is known especially for their Sauvignon Blanc, which tastes quite different from those produced in other regions. Pinot Noir is also quite popular, although not as much. Our friend, Chris, from Na Clachan Wine Tours picked us up around 11:30 am on the morning of our tour. It was a dreary, rainy day, but Chris brightened our spirits and we really looked forward to exploring the area with him.
Most of us from the States think that New Zealand is too far south to produce wine. And in particular, it was thought that the South Island was too far south to produce good fruit. Chris explained to us that the wine industry in Marlborough on the south island is quite young, only around 60 years old. The first vines were planted in Marlborough 1973, and the first vintage was produced in 1979. This has grown to become a $1.2 billion dollar industry, and even though it is young, the growth has been huge!
The Perks of a Private Wine Tour Guide
The perk of being with a private tour guide is that we could go at our own pace. We could spend as much time as we wanted at particular destination and ask all the questions we wanted. Chris was also a wealth of knowledge during the tour! He gave us all sorts of information and explained so much to us about the wine industry and the Marlborough area that we didn’t know. In fact, Chris had a great way of putting it. He said “it’s not my tour, I’m simply facilitating your tour.”
At the end of the day, we felt so much more knowledgeable and had a greater appreciation for wine in general. For example, Chris explained to us the trimming process and how they are careful to keep only a specific number of leaves for the ideal amount of photosynthesis to take place. They don’t want too many grapes, which might dilute the taste! Also, they trim the vines in a square shape 3-4 times per year and do it in a way so that one side is more open to soak up the morning sun, but the other side is slightly more shaded so the grapes don’t burn in the afternoon sun. So I guess you can learn something by drinking wine all day!
Lastly, Chris explained to us about the difference in first press of the grapes. Basically, the first press is the best juice because it gets the initial juice out of the grape. You can press again to get more juice out, but the 2nd press will not be as good of quality because of all the extra contact with the skin of the grape. This is because the skin contact puts more tannins in the wine, this may be more desirable in red wines, but not with white wines. See…so you do learn something even if you are out drinking wine all day!
* Warning…there is a lot of wine-talk below.
Our First Stop – Lawson’s Family Winery
Our first stop of the day was just down the road from the Mountain View Villa, where we were staying in Blenheim. Lawson’s is a family run winery, one of the few remaining in the area as most are being bought out. Our hostess, Marianna greeted us with a warm smile on this chilly day and guided us through the tasting of 9 different wines. As she put it, “life is too short to drink mediocre wine.” And we have to agree.
While sampling their wines, we could really taste the apples and passion fruit in a couple of them. We also noticed that she had a sheet of paper with photos of different fruits on it to help communicate with non-English speaking tasters. Marianna said that their best selling wine is the Sauvignon Blanc Reserve, but our favorite was actually the Pinot blush!
Stop 2 – Rock Ferry Organic Winery for Lunch
Next, we made a stop out at Rock Ferry. This is actually a smaller organic winery. And being organic, one of the unique ways they handle pests is to plant crops, such as buckwheat, in between the grape vines. The buckwheat attracts wasps, which controls the aphids, a major threat to the grapes!
We sampled a number of wines at Rock Ferry, including a few heavy reds, and had a wonderful lunch. The great thing about taking an early afternoon tour is that you have time for lunch. And Rock Ferry did not disappoint. We also had an awesome lemon tart and some coffee after lunch, so we were filled up. But ready to move on to the next winery!
Stop 3 – Forrest Winery, Home of “The Doctor’s”
The next stop took us to Forrest Winery. Owned by two doctors, they purchased the this former apple orchard in 1988 and turned it into a winery. They grow 19 different varieties of grapes, and they are all about experimenting and being different. Their “Doctor’s” brand of wine is a special label for those experiments that go well. And John, one of the doctor’s says that he has found “the perfect blend between science and art.”
We were impressed with the number of awards on the back wall, and we really liked a number of their wines. And surprisingly, Josh even liked their dessert wines! We tasted 3 very different dessert wines, all very good. But the dessert sauvignon blanc was incredible! It was wonderfully sweet and full of flavor without being quite as full bodied or heavy like many of the other dessert wines out there. We could just sip on that alone for dessert!
Stop 4 – Framingham Winery
Framingham was our next stop, where we found two of our favorite wines of the day! Not being a big fan of Riesling, I was shocked when I tasted their Riesling Reserve. This was one of the most unique tasting experiences ever! Honestly, the moment that wine touched your tongue, it sent a shot of electricity to your taste buds…in a good way! I don’t know how they do it, but it was just amazing. The burst of flavor was so intense, yet it didn’t leave a heavy or lingering aftertaste. Impressive!
Our other favorite wine was the Gewurztraminer– our hostess called it “G-wiz” because no one can ever say it right. We had to laugh because it is true…we never say it right either. We bought a bottle of this delicious drink to take with us, and from now on we will look for “G-wiz” in the store.
Last Stop of the Day – Brancott Estate
Our last winery of the day was Brancott Estate. This is one of the first, and largest wineries in the Marlborough region. With a great view perched on top of a hill overlooking their vineyards, Brancott was a great place to end our day. In addition to sampling their tasty wines, you will see some of the interesting artifacts from how they used to plant, including using rifle sights to line up the plants. Now, they use GPS!
No Better Way to Experience New Zealand Wine Country than With a Private Wine Tour Guide!
Our day with Chris touring the wineries around the Marlborough area flew by, and we had an awesome time! He was an awesome guide who gave us so much insight into the wine culture and history, we really have gained a whole new appreciation for wine because of Chris. Another aspect that we thoroughly enjoyed about our tour with Chris is that there is no set itinerary, and it is totally flexible. Basically, Chris will take the time to get to know you during the trip and he pays close attention to what you like and don’t like. Then he offers up destinations that he feels will fit with what you like. It’s invaluable having that kind of service and a resource during your New Zealand wine tour. Chris really figured us out and he took us to places that we really loved. What an experience! We want to thank Chris so much for taking the time to show us around. We couldn’t have asked for a better guide to the wineries of New Zealand!