The world renowned Marlborough Wine Region is located at the top right hand corner of the south island of New Zealand. Early pioneer David Herd first planted a small block of vines in 1873 in the Ben Morven Valley. The grapes he planted were a brown mutation of Muscat Petite Grain commonly called Brown Muscat at that time. David Herd made wine until his death in 1905, when his son‐in‐law Bill Paynter took over Auntsfield and continued making wine until 1931.
There were further vineyards established through until the 1960s - then there was a lull until more modern varietals were planted in 1973, despite stiff opposition from local farmers and forestry interests.
Montana which was the country’s largest wine producer was looking to expand, as founder Frank Yukich wanted to move the company into producing wines for export. The company’s viticulturist Wayne Thomas, after months of research came back with a detailed report citing Marlborough as the region with the best potential for wine growing. Montana settled on 1173 hectares and according to Frank the board wasn't exactly excited with his decision and turned down his proposal to develop a vineyard in Marlborough, though it was his resolve that ensured the land sale went ahead.
More modern day pioneers include: Jackson Estate Wines - 1987, Lake Chalice Wines - 1989, Allan Scott Wines - 1990, Fromm Wines - 1992, Saintclair Wines - 1994 and more recently Jules Taylor Wines - 2001, Ara Wines and Tupari Wines planted in 2002, Tinpot Hut Wines in 2003 and Greywacke in 2009, to name just a few.
Marlborough consistently ranks as one of NZ’s sunniest and driest regions, the local Maori referred to the Wairau Valley as ‘Kei puta te Wairau’ - ‘The place with the hole in the cloud’ - reflecting the outstanding protection offered by the topography. The Wairau river bisects the valley west-to-east, with the Richmond Ranges to the north and good sized foothills to the south.
The favourable combination of a cool yet high sunshine climate, low rainfall and free-draining, moderately fertile soil produces uniquely vivid wines across a wide range of varietals and styles. When the first wine companies planted grapes in the modern era of Marlborough’s winemaking history, it is unlikely they would have foreseen the extent of the growth and fame that the region’s wine industry would achieve, based upon a single varietal called Sauvignon Blanc. The distinctive aromatics and zesty fruit flavours of the first Marlborough wines, in particular Sauvignon Blanc, captured the imagination of the locals as well as international wine community and sparked vineyard development that is still growing.
Worldwide interest in Marlborough wines has continued to fuel that regional wine boom. The region vine plantings are primarily located within the Wairau Valley, though over the last decade, viticulture has spread southeast into the smaller slightly cooler Awatere Valley. More recently the southern side valleys of the Wairau - Fairhall, Hawkesbury and Waihopai have a collection of vines.
In the regions bright, but relatively ‘cool’ climate conditions, the grapes have the advantage of a long slow, flavour-intensifying ripening period. The average daily temperature during summer is nearly 24°C but clear cool nights keep acid levels high in the grapes - to retain both fresh, vibrant fruit and crisp, herbaceous characters.
The regions soil types are extremely variable, as close to the rivers on the Wairau Plains the soils range from stony former riverbed gravels to deep fertile silts. Further south to the Awatere Valley you see a variety of soils, from older loess to mixed stony gravel. It is not unusual to see a variety of three different soil types within a small vineyard, with each offering something different to the end product. More and more wineries are now utilising these differences, with single vineyard wines that capitalise on the unique conditions of individual winegrowing areas.
The Wairau Valley - (Rapaura, Lower Wairau, Conder’s Bend, Renwick, Kaituna). The Southern Valleys - (Ben Morven, Brancott, Fairhall, Omaka, Waihopai). The Awatere Valley - (Blind River, Seaview, Redwood Pass).
Sauvignon Blanc is the most important variety in terms of volume, but it isn’t the only star. Pinot Noir production has increased dramatically in recent years, not only for table wine but also for sparkling wines.
As of 2013 Marlborough the largest wine producing region in the country, had 23,232 hectares of vines planted: Sauvignon Blanc 17,829ha, Pinot Noir 2397ha, Chardonnay 1027ha and Aromatics with 1360ha (Pinot Gris - 946ha, Riesling - 309ha, Gewürztraminer - 87ha and Viognier - 18ha). Other experimental varieties include Grüner Veltliner, Arneis, Along with the production of high-quality Méthode Traditionnelle wines is small but critically renowned. In 2013 the Marlborough wine area had 152 registered wineries (out of a national total of 698) and over 548 independent grape growers, accounting for 73% of the New Zealand’s wine production in tonnes.