Marlborough is the biggest wine region in New Zealand and the most single minded. Its entire wine industry centres around a single variety. Sauvignon Blanc. It makes up more than 70% of the grapes in the ground here and the vast majority is exported. Sauvignon makes up over 85% of New Zealand’s wine exports; the fifth biggest export earner for the country, all of which makes Marlborough a financial powerhouse for the country’s wine industry.
It’s also a white wine lover’s paradise. The region’s hot days, cool nights and warm summer days produces wines with flavours of ripe tropical fruit combined with flinty green herbaceousness, a combo that’s become the signature statement for Kiwi wine globally. The region is home to 509 of the country’s 692 grape growers, 24,037 hectares of the 38,680 hectares of grapes grown nationwide and 150 of the country’s 716 wineries. It’s nothing, if not the dominant region, but it’s not all about Sauvignon. Despite all those eggs in the successful Sauvignon Blanc basket, Marlborough makes amazing reds. Pinot Noir is the second most planted grape in the region, used to make refreshing light bodied reds with accessible price tags and also some outstanding, full bodied Pinot Noirs, which can age surprisingly beautifully for up to 10 years.
Then there’s Chardonnay. It lives in the shadow of the bright and shiny Sauvignon but is a great white in its own right. The climate in Marlborough suits white grapes down to the ground, literally. There’s a diverse range of sites from the warmth of the Wairau Plains to micro climates on hillsides in the Southern Valleys, home to some of the region’s greatest vineyards and interesting grapes like Pinot Gris, Riesling (the unsung rock star of the region), Chenin Blanc (succulent, fresh and underrated), Gruner Veltliner (obscure Austrian variety) and, the new comer, Albarino – a wine to watch.
Marlborough may lie at the north east tip of the South Island but ironically it’s sheltered by the most southern point of the North. Cape Palliser extends its jagged edge so far south that it shelters the Wairau Valley from easterly weather. And that’s why most of Marlborough’s grapes are grown on the Wairau Valley, a former flood plain until the flood control works of the 1960s sorted things out.
In a world where heaviness hangs over us all, the promise of a light, succulent white drink to provide refreshing flavours is just what the doctor ordered.
Joelle Thomson is a wine writer, journalist and author. She’s an avid lover of wine and currently writes for Capital magazine, Good magazine, NZ Winegrower, Drinksbiz, and her own site,www.joellethomson.com.
She also teaches, works in radio, and more, so we've enlisted her help to sniff out our amazing value wines!