Marlborough to Nelson

As Tim’s 2014 tours had covered Marlborough comprehensively I didn’t spend much time there.  Flying in on a Friday evening I was quite shocked by the massive extent of vineyards filling the Wairau River area, which opens into the Marlborough sounds at Cloudy Bay.  I believe that something like 80% of those vineyards are Sauvignon Blanc and there is virtually no other crop being grown, effectively a huge monoculture.  More Sauvignon Blanc is being planted, either on new sites or replacing other varieties.  I can’t be the only person to wonder what if…. Disease struck?  People go off Savvy?

Wairau River
Yealands Estate in Awatere Valley

I did indulge myself in a visit to the Awatere Valley, which my WSET Diploma training had taught me was a specific sub region, and which Tim had not visited in 2014.  The main vineyard that can be visited there is Yealands, a 1,000ha ‘single vineyard’, where the most amazing experience has been created – the 10km ‘White Road’ drive that takes you through the vineyards (by car or bike or foot) and out to the most spectacular cliff top viewing point, surrounded by vines.  As I have had more conversations at wineries I have learnt there is a back story to Yealands’ ownership that might have reached a resolution by the time Tim runs tours again – I really hope that this beautiful amenity will still be available. 

However, my main purpose was to investigate the wine region of Nelson, a couple of hours drive west.  While in the wine world it is less ‘famous’ than its neighbour (and rival at rugby) Blenheim, Nelson is a much bigger town with thriving fishing, fruit growing and tourism industries, and the claim to be the first place planted with grapes in the South Island.  

It is also exquisitely beautiful, its vineyards spread across the fertile Waimea river valley and Moutere Hills, and reach the sea in the Tasman Coastal sub region.  Surrounded by mountain ranges on two sides and open to the sheltered Tasman Bay to the northwest, its rainfall is relatively low, but a dew forms most mornings.  Irrigation is pretty much essential, and by the end of January the vines (and all the other fruit) will be covered by bird nets.

While Sauvignon Blanc is grown, Chardonnay is the lead white varietal, plus a variety of aromatics.  There’s definitely a local preference for white and rosé wines with some residual sugar (which doesn’t stop people making some great dry wines).  Pinot Noir, Merlot and Syrah are the main reds, most producers seem to have given up on Cabernet Sauvignon (sadly I didn’t have time to work out why).  There is a great wine trail, with lots of wineries having a serious food offer, though some of the best wines I tasted were at smaller places that were just offering tastings. 

Neudorf in Moutere Hills
Vines in the Waimea Valley
Tasman Coastal

Just as I left I was lucky enough to have a visit to Seifried, the largest producer in Nelson, and the family who started it all, when dad Herman came from Styria in Austria to make fruit wine, and never left.  They have a pioneering story from the 1970s of setting up vineyards from scratch, grafting onto phylloxera resistant rootstocks on the kitchen table, sleeping with the fermenting grapes to keep a check on temperatures, repurposing stainless steel dairy processing equipment to use for wine.  An amazing visit awaits us in a couple of years…

Original hand painted sign for Seifried winery