Martinborough is one of the three main sub-regions (Gladstone and Masterton being the other two) in the Wairarapa region of the north island of New Zealand. Martinborough lies in a rain shadow between the Taraua and Rimutaka mountain ranges, making it the North Island’s driest spot. It has 4 distinct seasons, with warm days and crisp nights during the growing season. At 40 degrees south latitude it has 1130 growing degrees and a long growing season. However, it is prone to spring frosts, which necessitates the use of wind machines in some vineyards.
Martinborough produces less than 1% of New Zealand’s grape production yet attracts an enormous amount of attention mainly due to the high quality of it’s Pinot Noir. The area is interesting because the wineries are usually small and family owned. There are a large number (over 30) of wineries dedicated to producing high quality Pinot Noir and cool climate varieties from the unique alluvial gravels found throughout the area. The cute village of Martinborough has been transformed over the last 30 years (since vineyards came) into a trendy wine tourism hub, with excellent accommodation and fine restaurants. There are only a handful of wine regions in the world that can rightfully claim to make great Pinot Noir, but this is one of them.
Te Hera Estate
This 13 acre vineyard is located in the sought after Te Muna road sub-district of Martinborough. It is run by viticulturist/winemaker John Douglas and his family. The vines were first planted in 1996, varietals include 12 acres of Pinot Noir clones and 1 acre of Riesling. The soils in this area consist of a shallow layer of topsoil over 25 metres of alluvial gravels. This results in extremely low yields and fruit with enormous character and intensity.
To say John Douglas is “passionate about Pinot Noir” would be an understatement. He is one of those rare breed of wine people who actually walk the talk. Every clone is made separately (even if it is only one barrel), each ferment is keep apart and batches are tiny. He makes what he makes from the vineyard…and no more. If John doesn’t like a batch he has been know to pour it down the drain. We are lucky to see this wine in Canada, as he is as careful selling the wine as making it.
Matahiwi is one of those rare wineries that do not make a bad wine…or if they do I haven’t tried it yet. Their vineyards lie in both the Wairarapa and Hawkes Bay regions of New Zealand. However, it is the Wairarapa vineyards that utilize the important alluvial gravels and unique microclimate so perfectly suitable for Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc. The winery is owned by Wellington based Alastair Scott, who smartly employed Jane Cooper to run this impressive facility. Jane is one of the single most talented winemakers I have come across in all my travels. The quality of their portfolio can be witnessed in both the Matahiwi and “Holly” ranges of wines. All labels show clarity, typicity and intensity without being boring. I can see why these guys are constantly on top of the wine show circuit.
Tim and Margaret Coney established the 16-acre Coney Vineyard in 1996 when they decided to “retire” from city life in the music business. The couple planted Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Syrah on the Dry River road sub-district of Martinborough. Tim had been looking after the winemaking since 2003, however daughter Lisa (a recent winemaking graduate) has since taken over wine duties. Margaret (Tim’s wife) also runs the successful restaurant (Trio Café) at the winery. They have become known for their Rieslings (there are 3) that range from bone dry to sweet, but are all equally delicious. Coney is one of the few producers to successfully produce Syrah in Martinborough, although not every year, but when they do, the results are impressive.
Julicher was founded by Wim Julicher in 1996 when he started planting 45 acres of bare land on the Te Muna rd terraces. The vineyard was planted on the deep alluvial gravels to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling and Sauvignon Blanc. The wisdom of this decision became abundantly clear when Julicher won Champion of the Show in the New Zealand International Wine Awards 2007 (for their Pinot Noir) and just to prove it wasn’t a fluke, again in 2009! The winemaking team is headed up by Helsinki born Outi Jakovirta who studied her winemaking at Lincoln University in New Zealand. The winery only makes around 5000 cases of wine a year, yet exports to over 10 countries. This is a classy outfit and make some of the best Pinot Noir you will try outside of Burgundy…actually, some of the best Pinot Noir you can try, full stop!