Nursing our hangovers from Toast Martinborough, we woke up insanely early for our ferry journey through the Cook Strait to New Zealand’s South Island. I had never driven on a car ferry before, so this was a new experience for me. After a nice breakfast on board, we found a comfy couch and I settled in to catch up on some sleep on the three hour journey. I was so glad I had brought my fleece blanket along because it was freezing!
After I caught some Zzz’s and Erik watched a movie on his netbook, we went outside to soak up some of the luscious scenery as we entered the Marlborough Sounds. Simply stunning.
When we landed in Picton, we were so excited to start exploring the South Island, as many travelers, even many Kiwis, had told us the South Island was much more beautiful than the North. When we pulled into the small town of Blenheim, we stopped at the Blenheim Motor Camp since we were trying to stick to our daily budget. The place was a dump and probably the dodgiest we stayed in in all of New Zealand. But, it was cheap and it had a kitchen, so we sucked it up. Many of the vineyard workers who are often travelers trying to earn some money while on the road, become long-term residents here, I’m assuming because it’s cheap. But, they get up early and it just made the whole place have a trailer park type vibe.
We ventured into town to the New World supermarket and had a look at the local Sauvignon Blancs sold there. We bought a couple of bottles to sample and whet our palates for the next day’s wine adventures.
Unexpectedly, around 4am, a passing train abruptly woke us from our slumber. We hadn’t realized just how close we were to the train tracks.
The next morning, Kerry from Bubbly Grape tours picked us up for our day in the vineyards. We were so excited to try our favorite wines – New Zealand Sauvignon Blancs. This region of Marlborough has become famous worldwide for producing some of the best Sauvignon Blancs around, thanks to its diurnal climate with sunny, warm days and crisp, cold nights. Kerry hails from Australia, another wine-rich country, but moved to New Zealand with her husband and started her own wine tour company. As their company motto goes, “We’ll drive you to drink!” She’s very sweet and “bubbly,” quite knowledgeable in wines, and we thought the little wine journals and pens she handed out at the start of the day were a really nice touch!
Our first stop of the day was at Lawson’s Dry Hills. Lawson’s was the first wine producer in New Zealand to use the screw cap (the Kiwis like to claim inventing it, but we hear it was really invented in Australia). The pinot noir was nice and the sauvignon blanc was crisp and tart and really had me excited for the white wines we would try all day. The host was funny and informative and we tasted 10 wines in all. Not a bad way to start the day at 10am! This was probably one of our favorite vineyards of the day.
Our next stop was St. Clair. I had researched the vineyards and had suggested St. Clair, who is known for producing fantastic Sauvignon Blancs. It did not disappoint and had me hooked with its tropical tones and crisp tartness. Classic New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. We would learn throughout our time in the country that the in-your-face tartness was signature New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. As a wine drinker, you either love it or you hate it. We were huge fans from that day forward. Their rich and spicy pinot noir was lovely, as well. St. Clair is the largest family-run vineyard in the Marlborough region.
Our third stop was the world-famous Hunter’s Wines. Irishman Ernie Hunter moved to the country and decided to plant grapes in the region and have a go at producing wines. With that decision, he turned out to be a pioneer of one of the great wine-producing regions in the world. He won the region’s first wine award in 1985. Sadly, he died tragically in a car accident just a few years later. His dream lives on as his wife, Jane, and extended family have built the business into a hugely successful brand and Jane is now known to be one of the top women in the wine world. We actually got to meet her that day at the tasting room! We loved the Sauvignon Blanc (of course), and the pinot gris (French version of a Pinot Grigio) was full of nice tartness, as well.
Allan Scott Winery was next. The sparkling Chardonnay was interesting, but for me, not in a good way. This brand is a huge wine-producer, but nothing really stood out as fantastic, except for the sauvignon blanc.
We had a nice lunch in the gardens at Vines Village. Here, we also sampled some local chocolates and liquers (yummy…). We also did a tasting at Bouldevines. The Sauvignon Blanc and Granite Gardens varieties were nice, but the bottle of Sprig we bought on sale, deemed as everyday drinking wine, disappointed us.
Forrest Wines was created by two former doctors. Their medical knowledge and training led to some interesting flavor combinations, but for me they were all just a bit odd. The Sauvignon Blanc and Rieslings were nice, and I especially liked the Waitaki Pinot Noir (which sells for $75NZ a bottle). It was nice seeing the grapes on the vine on our quick tour of the grounds and it was a joy to be able to choose which 7 or so wines we wanted to try individually.
Our last stop of the day was Bladen Wines (our 7th winery of the day, for those of you keeping count). Whew! Christine and Dave MacDonald really liked wines, but knew nothing about making wine. In 1989, they left their city lives, bought some land, moved into a campervan (with a newborn baby) and planted their vines by hand. What a wonderful story! Christine was incredibly sweet and we were so taken by their story.
The wines were lovely and it was the perfect way to end a wonderful day in the vineyards of our favorite wine. We are now forever ruined and spoiled by New Zealand’s delicious in-your-face tart Sauvignon Blancs. If you’ve never tried one, please do yourself a favor – run to the nearest wine shop and pick up a NZ Sauvignon Blanc. It will change your life!