We did some wine tasting in the Martinborough region over the last few days. This is a tiny winemaking region, in size, in production, and in many cases in the size of the wineries. New Zealand produces about one percent of the world’s wine. Martinborough produces one percent of New Zealand’s wine, and it does it with about five percent of the countries wineries. So, when you go out to taste wine here, you are very likely going to meet the folks who do all of the work, from planting and caring for the vines, to harvesting, to the magic that makes the wines. The tasting experience can be very intimate, and, so informative. The winemakers we met all took great pride in their processes and their products. Also, as several of them told us, “when you make such small batches, you make the wine you like.”
Martinborough was mostly a quiet agricultural region until the 1970s, when they had some agricultural scientists from the government come out to help them determine how to “revitalise” an area that was losing population. When the scientists looked around, they determined that much of the “river terrace” in the area was similar to the soil in Burgandy, France, and combined with the weather, grapes might be a good crop. There had been some vineyards in the area in the past, but they had not been optimized for the region or well cared for, so the government offered incentives to pull out the old vines. A few brave souls – including one of the soil scientists – planted some vines and started a small wine industry. In the 1980s, a local Pinot Noir won a big prize and put the area on the map. Because the areas with the right soil are somewhat limited, the wine industry here is both robust and small. There are so many small producers that there is a lovely variety of wine tastes and styles. Plus, the town in charming and the scenery is great.
Prior to coming to Martinborough, we spent a few days in the central part of the North Island in Taupo. While we were waiting for the floodgates to open on the dam for one of the daily “tourist releases” that fills the channel and is worth hanging around to watch, we started chatting with another couple from the area. When they found out we were from Ohio and headed to Martinborough, they said, “You have to look up this winery – an American from Ohio started it!” Well, Mike is actually from Blue Earth, Minnesota, but he and Margaret have a lovely wine and olive oil business. It took a little bit of time on the Google Machine to track down their winery, but an email request later, and we had an appointment for wine and olive oil tasing!
We are not really oeniphiles (a new word we learned recently), but we have come to appreciate wine, and really enjoy going to wineries and learning about the wine process. It is one of those things where the more you know about the stuff, the more you get interested in it. It doesn’t hurt that most wine is grown in areas that are incredibly scenic!