We arrived into Wellington (South West of North Island, New Zealand) airport late in the evening to find a cool and damp Aeotearoa welcome. With a little navigational help from a friendly Maori man (who looked like he played in the front row for the All-Blacks), we set off into the night to find Martinborough. Heading east, we began climbing into the fog and twisting over the Rimutaka Mountains. 90 minutes driving later (and a with slight case of motion sickness), we rolled into the quaint town of Martinborough. After a long, deep, dreamless sleep it was time to explore the town.
The Wairarapa Region itself is quite beautiful, lying on flat alluvial gravel beds surrounded by mountain ranges to the west and the ocean to the South. Most of the area is mixed farming country with a slow, easy feel and a clean pristine environment. Martinborough village consists of half a dozen restaurants, a couple of pubs, one supermarket and some novelty stores dedicated to easing the money out of tourist pockets. Despite the towns’ small size, it had quite a trendy vibe and cozy atmosphere. I was able to get some great winery tips from the local wine store (Martinborough Wine Centre) as well as the Supermarket owner…who also knew local wine industry well! Armed with a bunch of samples I looked forward to an evening of blind tasting. [I always find it useful to calibrate my palate on the first day and purchasing a bunch of wines sight unseen seems to help me do it]. I was pleasantly surprised by the high quality of the selection, with Pinot Noirs the highlight of the tasting.
Over the next few days we were able to visit many of the wineries surrounding the town. It is kind of a cool setup in Martinborough, because there are around 20 small wineries within walking distance of the town square. This made tasting a pleasure, as we were able to combine a bit of exercise with the tasting process. Some of the standup wineries around town for me were; Ata Rangi, Martinborough Vineyards, Schubert, Vynfields, Te Kairanga and Margrain.
After visiting most of the wineries close to where we were staying, we headed out to the Te Muna road district. These alluvial terraces (despite being slightly later ripening) seem to produce some of the areas’ most incredible Pinot Noirs, and are dotted with a number of stellar wineries. Highlights in this area included Te Hera, Julicher, Escarpment and Craggy Range.
The Dry River Rd area, as well as areas to the north (such as Gladstone and Masterton) also proved notable for Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling. Winery highlights in these areas included Matahiwi and Coney Wines.
I would recommend Martinborough to any wine tourist with 4 or 5 days to spare. The people are friendly, the food is great and the wine is even better. Its’ like a modern Burgundy in the Southern Hemisphere.