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.
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.
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.
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.