244 Days on the Road
So it begins! Anyone’s time in Blenheim usually involves at least a tipple of wine in New Zealand’s largest wine-making region. Admittedly for us, we are going full-out. Today, we’re hopping on a bike and ride from vineyard to vineyard with Explore Marlborough!
However, we kind of feel like we should be a little ashamed waiting to be picked up for a wine tour at 9.30am… As we’re about to find out, time has no meaning when it comes to drinking wine in Marlborough and we’re all about trying out the customs in each region we visit so…
The branded Explore Marlborough minivan arrives to pick us up right outside our accommodation and we meet our guide for the day, Karen. Although Explore Marlborough offer self-guided bike hires around Blenheim’s vineyards, we figured we’d go for the guided option so we can learn more about the region as we go.
Preparing for a winery-hopping bike ride
After picking up four more people for their guided tour which will happen simultaneously to ours just with a different guide (just so we are not holding them back with all our picture-taking, video-making travel guide nonsense), we park up at The Vines Village where a huge shipping container holding rows and rows of bikes awaits. Karen fits us up to our bikes complete with a cute basket in front to store our muesli bar and water provided. (And if the mood takes you, to fit any bottles of wine you might end up purchasing along the way).
Karen gives us a briefing of the plan using a map of the wine region, making sure we are cool with it and choosing wineries that will allow us to try Marlborough’s famous Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, as well as a mix of other wines. If we have any specific wines we’d like to try, then sure Karen could find a place.
Hypnotic vineyard landscape
So let’s hit the road! It’s just a short stretch on a busy road before turning off onto a network of much quieter roads where we can ride in a line for more sociable biking.
We pass rows and rows of perfectly-separated vines, which are almost hypnotic with each row passing. But we can’t help but notice subtle differences between vineyards, especially when we arrive at a vineyard with rows seemingly decorated with large stones. Karen stops us right alongside one of these stony vine rows to explain how the land is naturally this stony and the exposed rocks we can see hugging the base of the vines have only been moved their by tractors driving up the rows. Karen explains how this unusual soil for growing grapes actually creates a distinct taste in the wine produced here.
An introduction to the Marlborough wine at Framingham
Our trail then takes us down some bumpy gravel roads (we find just sticking to the edges of the road gives a smoother ride), and onto our first winery, Framingham Wines. Karen is sure to explain about each winery before we arrive and why she has chosen each winery in a specific order. For Framingham, it is a good base for trying a bit of everything including a Sauvignon Blanc. Sauvignon Blanc makes up 85% of New Zealand’s wine produced with most of that made in the Marlborough region.
Walking through a symmetrical garden centered with a water feature and paving stones decorated with quotes from famous rock songs, we enter the small cellar door where we try six (or was it seven?) different wines. A stand-out taste is the 11-year-old Riesling – not something you’ll find offered for tasting in your everyday cellar door!
Definitely not a bad way to get between wineries, don’t you think?
Drinking to family tales at Bladen
With a little boost to our palettes (and our spirits), we head onto the next winery! We welcome the burst of fresh air on the bikes and to soak up the Marlborough sun that helps produce such wonderful wine grapes.
After riding alongside a small stream, willow trees and, of course, rows and rows of vines, we arrive at Bladen. The charming garden set-up with a humble bar area for tasting gives an instant personal experience – like we are just tasting wine in someone’s back garden. This is then amplified with the host, Dan, who tells the story of how he started the family business while bringing up too young children. Photos of his family decorate the walls to illustrate his story. The family dog walking amongst us to lie down in front of the bar is the finishing touch! A great story goes well with our tastings of Pinor Rose, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Noir.
Lapping up the luxury in Nautilus
At first glance, we thought a Marlborough wine tour would be “all about the Sav”, but our winery crawl by bike is really shaping up to be super various from the wines we taste to the style of cellar doors we visit. We see that contrast once again as we arrive at Nautilus, one of the big players here in the Marlborough region. Karen explains how the popular wine brand has six (!!) vineyards across the region using the difference in weather determine different tastes in their wines. With that, we walk into a cellar door with a lot more of a luxurious feel decorated with Nautilus shells – that iconic brand image.
Wine and an epic lunch platter at Giesen
By this time, we have tasted around 20 different wines and our taste buds have kind of got a bit overloaded. The differences in tastes start to get a muddled, we need a refresh, even if we don’t see it ourselves. Karen recognises this instantly and declares that we are going to lunch before we have another wine tasting! She is keen to take us just a little further down the road to Giesen. It seems this place is super popular for food, so much so that the staff are super apologetic that there is no more seating available outside. Instead, we eat upstairs with a balcony overlooking a beautiful view of the vineyards stretching out to the golden mountains. Aw… Too bad!
To Karen’s suggestion, we get ourselves a platter lunch with a glass of Sav and Riesling. When we receive the piece of art on a wooden platter, we understand why this place is so busy! The Vintage Platter has soft gooey brie, blue cheese, a selection of meats, pate, chutneys, salad, and green-shell mussels (another famous Marlborough produce). We try to squeeze as much as we can on our mix of soft and toasted baguette slices. It’s a foodie’s dream right here!
From hipster to hippy Huia
The lunch was just what we needed to try Giesen’s wines in their hipster-style cellar door decorated with skateboards, rugby balls and cycles wrapped in fairy lights.
The final winery on our list is yet another completely different experience. This time, we bike through the vineyard of a biodynamic winery, Huia. Karen goes into great detail explaining what a biodynamic winery entails from using other animals and plants to work in unison to make great wine to growing grapes completely organically. This is enforced when we spot a group of chickens pecking at the vineyard floor.
Our super-friendly host, an American on a working holiday with a freakin’ awesome job, welcomes us in to try some of Huia’s wines on a beautifully crafted bench made by one of the winemakers here. This place really has a do-it-yourself feel about it, along with good vibes from the sustainable and organic principles. We try a great selection of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer, Riesling and Chardonnay, as well as their wine under the name of Hunky Dory, made to suit most palettes.
Back to base on the scenic route
From there, we take the scenic route back the start, taking in views of the brilliantly blue and braided Wairau River and more of the bizarre but completely photogenic vineyard landscape.
With so many aspects to this winery cycling tour and the wealth of vineyards visited, it really is difficult to keep this blog post below 1,000 words but we figure that can only be a good thing.
On that note, we’ll leave it with being dropped off back at our accommodation feeling a little merry and enjoying the rest of the sun the day has to offer. Tomorrow, we continue our foodie experiences in Marlborough by exploring the town centre and visiting a pretty unique restaurant in New Zealand. See you then!