Escape to Marlborough
By Kevin Mintenko and Simon Litherland
Kevin and Simon are based in New Zealand where they work in the wine industry.
Simon and I had the opportunity to be Area Representatives for Opimian until December 2019, when we resigned our posts to make the move to New Zealand. We are very excited to have the chance to contribute again! We were both drawn to New Zealand to be closer to family, and took the opportunity to escape our desk jobs and transition into a more hands-on role in the wine industry, with our first harvest being the very unusual 2020 vintage.
Grapes are grown almost from tip to tip in New Zealand, and to truly appreciate the wines of this beautiful country, one needs to understand a bit more about its climate and geography. For such a small country, there is a huge diversity in terroir, and thus a huge diversity in both grape varietals planted, as well as in the wine flavours themselves from region to region. However, because the country is so small, producers are able to easily grow grapes in two or more regions and transport them to a single production facility, and bottle them as one label.
Sauvignon Blanc is synonymous with New Zealand wine, so you would expect it to play a big part in the industry here, and you’d be right. Sauvignon Blanc accounts for more than 60% of the total plantings in the country, and more than 250 million litres are exported each year.
There is definitely more than one kind of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc. For example, most people are familiar with the big, aromatic, tropical fruit bomb from Marlborough, however this only paints a picture of only one side of this diverse region; the often exported, mass produced side.
Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc can also be quite savoury, mineral and very elegant. Some producers also use oak in a very integrated and refined way; these styles tend to be used by smaller artisan, boutique wineries, driven by the terroir, rather than market demands. These are often single vineyard expressions, and tell the tale of the growing season. Needless to say, quite a few of these boutique expressions of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc have captured our hearts (We served one as part of our wedding dinner. We also served the Sam Harrop Cedalion Chardonnay…. But that is another article entirely!)
Marlborough is a paradise of wine! It is staggering to contemplate the sheer area under vine here, and wine is undoubtedly the major industry in the region, directly employing over 10% of Marlborough residents. The region buzzes with the seasons and you can’t help but be caught up in the excitement all year round, watching the vines transform during their yearly cycle. No matter what time of year you visit, there is always something to see in the vineyards, and many restaurants and tasting rooms to find your own slice of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc perfection!
If you are still looking for an excuse to visit, there is nothing more magnificent than enjoying the dramatic skies; from gorgeous sunrises, to stunning sunsets. Blenheim, the major urban centre in the region, is the sunniest place in New Zealand. There are lots of rental properties to be found nestled in the many vineyards, so you can truly feel like you have escaped. Once the sun goes down the skies come alive again, with clear views of the Milky Way overhead.
SEE: The stunning skies, framed by the dramatic hills of the Wairau Valley, at sunrise, sunset and at night.
VISIT: The Wine Station. This converted train station is a mecca for Marlborough wine tasting and learning.
TASTING ROOM: Rock Ferry Wines – a small boutique winery tasting room with exceptional wines.
DRINK: Everything! Find your favourite style of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc .
READ: First Big Crush by Eric Arnold. Talks about the excitement of harvest, and mentions lots of producers that still exist in Marlborough.