Martinborough, a wine region that doesn’t disappoint!

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.”

The region specializes in Pinot Noir, and it is such a lovely color. It is also a really nice wine.
The region has had agricultural roots since the 1800s, and has rivers and lakes flowing around the hills and mountains.
The view from the “tasting room” which is also the winemakers’ kitchen at The Elder. Needless to say, we were very impressed they are able to produce delicious wine and some pretty amazing olive oil when they could just sit here and enjoy the view.
Another great view from the area around Martinborough.
One day we took the Martinborough Wine Tour, and had a fun group as we traveled around. Lee, our guide, and some New Zealand natives made for a fun afternoon. On the tour, we found out about some of the different methods and varieties for making wine from the grapes grown here – mostly Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, and Sauvingon Blanc, but also some Merlot.

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!

Margaret and Mike in one of the groves of olive trees. They grow four different types of olives and press them in combination to create three different styles of olive oil. We learned about harvesting olives, both by hand and with a harvester – they do both based on the type of olive. We also learned about pruning olive trees. Apparently, the fruit grows on “last year’s growth” so the pruning takes off big sections of the tree to generate new growth. If you prune too much, you get a huge yield one year and almost nothing the next.
Their vines, they grow both Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris. When they bought the property, they really weren’t looking to do all of this, they just wanted about five acres, alas, they found this piece of paradise that had just been used to graze sheep, and it was closer to 30. They planted the olive trees, and a year or so later, a friend from town told them they should be using the land for grapes. He talked them into letting him plant the vines, and he was to manage them with minimal help from the landowners. Unfortunately, he passed away after a few years, leaving them with the vines. So, they went into the wine business. The wine is good, and Margaret was one of the folks who admitted to making the wine she likes, so their Pinot Gris is nice and dry and very complex.

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!

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