Taste specialty wines during a trip to New Zealand’s Marlborough region. // © 2017 Debbie Olsen
Feature image (above): Active clients can take a bike ride through the vineyards. // © 2017 Debbie Olsen
There’s a reason the ancient Maori people referred to New Zealand as “the land of the long white cloud.”
As I sat in the tasting room of Brancott Estate, I could understand why the name fit. Floor-to-ceiling windows provide excellent views, and I couldn’t help but notice a long line of white clouds floating just above vineyards that seemed to stretch as far as the eye could see.
The sun-drenched tip of New Zealand’s South Island has become a mecca for food and wine lovers. The first modern winery was opened in Marlborough in 1977, and today, the region is home to more than 120 wineries and 90 percent of the country’s sauvignon blanc vines. About 76 percent of New Zealand’s total wine production can be traced to this region, making it a tourism hot spot.
Exploring wineries is the No. 1 tourism activity, but fine dining is also taking off. Since food and wine go hand in hand, most wineries have established excellent on-site restaurants. Clients can taste nature’s bounty when top chefs create remarkable dishes from the freshest local ingredients — organic olive oil, honey, fruit, produce, local meat and seafood — and then pair them with fine wines.
Almost every winery has a tasting room where clients can sample different varieties and vintages. Some are simple spaces, and some are quite elaborate. At Brancott Estate, the tasting room sits on a hill overlooking the original Brancott vineyards. Clients can learn about the history of Marlborough wine, enjoy a tasting or have dinner in the winery’s outstanding restaurant. They can also go for a walk on an interpretive trail and learn about the endangered New Zealand falcon.
Some wineries also offer cycling tours — many of which include a wine tasting — where clients can explore the property and vineyards on two wheels. There are also several companies, such as Wine Tours By Bike and Bike 2 Wine, that provide guided winery cycling tours that include transport of any purchases and transportation from Blenheim, the most populated town in Marlborough.
The nearby Marlborough Sounds are best explored by water, and there is a range of cruises and activities that can be booked out of the nearby town of Picton. Clients can rent a kayak, book a luxury yacht cruise or enjoy a fishing excursion.
Those interested in food and wine would enjoy the Seafood Odyssea cruise. Marlborough Sounds is famous for its beauty and its abundant seafood, and this cruise lets clients experience both. They’ll spend a relaxing afternoon sailing through Queen Charlotte Sound and stopping to see a salmon farm. Along the way, they can sample salmon, clams and green mussels paired with local sauvignon blanc wine.
Where to Stay
Blenheim is the biggest community in the Marlborough region, with an urban population of around 31,000. There are several hotels and bed-and-breakfasts in Blenheim, but Chateau Marlborough is the only five-star hotel in town. The hotel is a short walk from the town center and overlooks the gardens of Seymour Square.
When to Go
With a warm climate and mild winters, Marlborough is great at any time of year, but most people visit between October and May. The annual Marlborough Wine & Food Festival, the longest-running wine festival in the country, takes place in mid-February each year at Brancott Estate. Festival-goers get the chance to sample world-class wines and great food, enjoy cooking demonstrations by celebrity chefs and view a Fashion in the Vines competition.