Marlborough is located on the north east coast of New Zealand's South Island and is, understandably, best known for that distinctive and hugely popular style of wine made from Sauvignon Blanc. With more than two thirds of New Zealand's total vineyard area, it is certainly the most important region and responsible for the growth of the Country's standing in the world of wine.
Surprisingly the first vines were planted in this beautiful corner of the South Island back in 1873 but it was not until the 1980s and 1990s that Marlborough's vineyard area expanded. This expansion was down to rising critical acclaim, cheap available land and the ideal climate for certain varieties.
Kei puta te Wairau meaning 'the place with the hole in the cloud' is the Maori name for the region and this seems appropriate given the region gets around 100 days worth (2400 hours) of sunshine annually. The climate is moderated by the maritime influence with the vines protected from rain by nearby mountain ranges, resulting in a long, dry growing season contributing to the intensity of flavour in the fruit.
Machine harvesting is commonplace partly because it is a large, relatively flat region and this is a cheaper option. Actually though it is perhaps more because it has been discovered that the flavours and aromas that make Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc so distinct can be 5 to 10 times stronger with machine harvested fruit. This is due to the grapes being quicker to the winery and therefore fresher.
Over two thirds of Marlborough's vineyards are planted to the Sauvignon Blanc grape. The style of these wines is a glorious concoction of intense aromatics with tropical fruit, floral and herbaceous notes backed up by racy, mouth-watering acidity. The quality is good at the lower price level and extremely good at higher prices. They simply don't make bad wines, some might not be everyone's cup of tea but the standard is either good or better!
Experimentation has taken place in recent years with site specific and single vineyard wines more widely available, look for Awatere Valley or Wairau Valley on the label. Further experiments have taken in the use of oak, ambient (wild) yeasts, and Bâtonnage (lees stirring) and some of the resulting wines are Premium offerings with huge amounts of class, charm and finesse. The range from Kevin Judd at Greywacke displays beautifully the full choice of Sauvignon Blanc expressions available.
The versatility of Chardonnay allows it to be made in a range of styles, from unoaked to extended barrel maturation versions. The unoaked wines are usually less expensive though no less tasty, they can offer a steely minerality with green apple characteristics reminiscent of Chablis but still abundantly New World in profile. The premium offerings that have been through more processes in the winery such as malolactic conversion, Bâtonnage and oak maturation offer all the appeal of the great Chardonnay's of the world.
Some of the most beautiful and expressive Pinot Gris hails from New Zealand and Marlborough in particular. The styles range from crisp and pretty aromatic with an easy-drinking style to richer, more intense wines with dry and off dry versions produced.
New Zealand's South Island produces arguably the finest wines made from Pinot Noir outside of its natural home of Burgundy in France. It only accounts for 10% of plantings in Marlborough but is becoming more popular all the time. The options available are often fruit forward with cherries and red summer fruit prevalent, they range in body from medium to full in style and tend to be matured in oak.