a blog about seeing the world

A taste (or two) of Marlborough’s finest

Just beyond the leafy green hedge out back and past a noisy lamb next door, our small home in Renwick is besieged on all sides by vines. Hedged to perfection, and now carrying ripening grapes, row upon row makes for a mesmerizing ride every time we drive into town.

When else might we be living in the heart of one of the world’s great wine regions? Ignoring the wineries just down the road would be a crime, akin to skipping sushi during a trip to Japan. So, late one morning, we set off on the two trusty bikes parked in our garage, armed with a vineyard map and picnic lunch.

It was a perfect day for biking. A late summer sun shone down onto infinite vines, the rising temperature tempered by fluffy clouds and a light breeze. It took all of three minutes to roll up to the first cellar door at Gibson Bridge.

There are dozens of small, family-run vineyards scattered across the map, producing small vintages that never make it to the States. Marlborough is famous for its sauvignon blanc, though most wineries offer or even specialize in other varietals: pinot gris, gewurztraminer, chardonnay, riesling, pinot noir. It is all good. A far cry from the ubiquitous box wine we drank in Australia, it is pleasantly surprising to be able to relate to the detailed and pretentious tasting descriptions. Some of this wine actually did have slight flavors of mango and pineapple, while others were peppery or had a hint of citrus. It didn’t take long to be able to navigate the wine lists and figure out our favorites.

We had picked up a wine touring book at the library which included a list of other notes and flavors we might come across on an afternoon of tasting. Thankfully, we have yet to sample wine with hints of leather, cigar box, coffee, or — why not? — manure.

The patio at Isabel Vineyard.

A typically happy vineyard dog.

After several months of cheap living, it was wonderful to feel like a tourist again. We parked our bikes next to white limousines, pretended to be interested in $60 bottles, played petanque on a court surrounded by roses. Best of all, there are enough wineries within pedaling distance of our house that several more days could be filled in the same manner.

Admiring the view from Highfield Estate.

Playing petanque at Forrest Winery.

A loop in the opposite direction brought us to Nautilus Estate, Wairau River Wines, and a dirt road that runs past the vineyards to the banks of the Wairau and our favorite swimming hole. Though the river was chilled and swollen from weekend rains, which also brought the season’s first snow to Marlborough’s highest peaks, a quick dip was mandatory.

The Nautilus wine rack.

Another day, another ride, this time to the gates of Georges Michel, a French influenced winery. The wine here was delicious, some boasting smells and flavors that make you wonder if they didn’t crush fresh berries right into the bottle. We opted not to resist a platter of charcuterie and two flights of wine to match.

After all these days of sampling, we’ve built up a little wine cellar in the bottom of our closet. Opening a bottle under the backyard silk tree was just as enjoyable as a day in the finest winery courtyards; the perfect way to spend a summer afternoon.

What we don’t manage to drink now will be stuffed into backpacks to make the return trip across the Pacific. Wine seems an all-encompassing souvenir. With a sip of Georges Michel Syrah on a cool autumn night, memories of wrapping vines on frosty August mornings and breezy summer bike rides will surely come flooding back.


7 responses

  1. Callie

    Oh, how absolutely lovely this is!! You’ll be glad to know that we have a french petanque set, lawn chairs, and wine glasses ready for your return. And It sure felt like summer today at 80 degrees, yet it is the first day of spring . . .

    March 21, 2012 at 12:10 am

  2. Jesse Littlefield

    I’m so jealous! It seems so idyllic! Beautiful scenery!

    March 21, 2012 at 1:04 am

  3. Linda van Leuken

    Hi guys,
    Sounds really good! I only had time to visit 2 wineries when I was in Renwick, in 1,5 hours. I visited Forrest and bought the Doctor’s Riesling. It was de-li-cious!
    I’m going to see if I can get my hands on a few bottles back here in the Netherlands.

    Enjoy your wine!

    March 21, 2012 at 8:26 am

    • good luck, hope your trip went well!

      March 21, 2012 at 7:06 pm

      • Linda van Leuken

        I had a wonderful trip, thank you. I spent 2,5 weeks in Queenstown, my favorite place, and met my friends there a lot, which was really nice. Enjoy your time in the Marlborough!

        March 27, 2012 at 10:06 am

  4. Erme

    The deck shot looked tasty…

    March 24, 2012 at 8:25 pm

  5. Spierto

    Ohh…Your grandmother is not going to like the “ubiquitous box wine” comment. Enjoy your final weeks abroad. I’ve so enjoyed hearing and seeing of your travels and can’t wait to see you guys this summer to ge it first hand. Of course, you are always welcome back in SOCAL, if you feel so inclined.

    March 26, 2012 at 10:41 pm

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