If you like your wine then I’m sure a wine tour (or two) is high up on your list of things to do when you visit New Zealand.
Wine tasting in New Zealand will, not only, give you the opportunity to taste world renowned wines – including those exclusively sold in the southern hemisphere – but you’ll also have a really fun (and most likely boozy) day out in some stunning settings too.
There are wineries all over New Zealand and you could wine tour your way around the whole country if you really wanted to – not a bad way to spend your time if you ask me. But, if you just want to find a place where you hit up the wineries for a day amongst your visit, then one of my favourite spots for a day out wine tasting is Blenheim, the gateway to the Marlborough region.
What is the Marlborough region?
The Marlborough region is the biggest wine growing region in New Zealand and has the perfect climate to produce Sauvignon Blanc which New Zealand is famous for – my favourite type of white wine so I was extremely happy! Over 20,000 vines and over 30 cellar doors to pop into, you are sure to find a wine to suit your palette.
Blenheim is a town set an hour and a half drive from Nelson and only half an hour from Picton (where you find the ferry terminal) in the heart of the Marlborough region. It’s a great place to base yourselves in this area because from there you can access winery after winery that are all nestled amongst the Wairau Valley to the west.
What’s the best way to do a wine tour in the Marlborough region?
There are a number of options to make the most of a visit here that can accommodate all budgets; ranging from hop on hop off buses, private chauffeured tours, making your own way around the region or going by bike. If you’re fit and able, then personally I think there’s only one way to do it; a self-guided bike tour.
From Blenheim, your best bet is to sign up for one of the self-guided bike tours. We went with Explore Marlborough wine tours who charged $45 for a full day bike hire and they pick you up and drop you off from your accommodation in Blenheim or Renwick.
This was a fantastic option because they provide you with great recommendations in the morning, the bikes are good quality and you can sip away on wine all day without worrying about getting behind the wheel to get home.
Which wineries should I visit in the Marlborough region?
It really is up to you which wineries you pick to visit. There are some big, worldwide recognisable names in this area like Yealands and Brancott Estate which are set in beautiful settings and give you the chance to try their selection at a cost. However, the experience at these ‘bigger names’ can be very commercial.
Personally, I feel this is a great place and opportunity to visit the smaller, or lesser known labels because you will get a really personal experience, try some new wines and maybe even discover a taste for a type of wine you never thought you liked before. For instance, we discovered my Dad has a fancy for dessert wines and New Zealand Riesling – that’s Christmas presents sorted!
Visiting these wineries and hearing the stories behind them, sometimes from the winemaker themselves, was what really made the day for me so even if you do visit the bigger vineyards, make sure to add a couple of the smaller ones into the mix.
To give you a taste of what I mean, I’ll summarise my experience of the day and a few of the wineries we visited.
A day cycling around the vineyards of the Wairau Valley
Once we’d been kitted out with our bikes, a map of the area and a handful of recommendations, we nipped around the corner to No. 1 Family Estate to start our day off with some bubbles.
It’s only a small cellar door and there was just one lovely lady in there to talk to us about No. 1 Family Estate, provide us an overview of their fine wines and give us a taste of three of their sparkling wines (at no cost). I’m a big fan of the sparkling and, if you are too, I would definitely recommend paying No. 1 Family Estate a visit to kick off your day.
Following this, we took a scenic bike ride through the countryside of vines and found ourselves at Forrest Estate Wines. This vineyard has a beautiful setting, plenty of places to sit and a heap of friendly dogs to pet while you have a taster menu of their wines.
At Forrest Estate Wines I found the staff extremely welcoming, knowledgeable and down to earth. They knew we were at the beginning of our wine tour, and rather than try and convince all three of us to individually get a taster of their seven wines, they recommended we share so we don’t ‘peak too early’ or spoil the rest of the tour. They were also happy to talk us through each wine and answer the many questions we threw in their direction. For the tray of 7 wines to taste it was roughly $7 NZ.
My parents were delighted to discover Forrest’s Doctors’ range which is a lower percentage alcohol wine (but still great taste) that was designed specifically with the idea in mind that you can enjoy a glass at lunchtime and still be able to return to work – you’ve got to love the Kiwi attitude towards life ey!?
To add to our delight, before we’d even finished the wine tour, my brother-in-law had tracked down the range in Marks & Spencer back at home – winning!
Next up, we hopped back on our bikes (with slightly lighter heads) and nipped up the road to the next vineyard, Framingham. This winery has an amazing courtyard full of roses and quotes from famous artists about wine imprinted on the paving slabs. Framingham Wines hold a lot of parties here with live music, and you can see when you arrive that it would be a brilliant set-up for a party – worth looking up what’s on there for the dates of your visit.
Again, we tried a couple of their wines and we also took a peek at their wine cellar where they store some of the really old wines. Definitely a cool place to take a look around.
Most of the wineries in this area either offer tasters for free or ask for a small charge, around $5, and they will then deduct this from any bottles you purchase.
Our next stop, took us to a lovely family run vineyard called Bladen which was named by founders, Christine and Dave Macdonald, after their two children by amalgamating their names. Bladen Wines was one of my favourite vineyards to visit on our wine tour because we were served at the cellar door by Christine herself.
She told us their story; how they first started the vineyard by planting all their own vines. She explained (with humour) the adjustment of coming from the city where she had perfectly manicured nails, to working hard in the vines with Dave which left her with hands that you couldn’t even scrub the dirt off, let alone soothe the blisters or recover the chipped nails. Hence the artistic picture of gloved hands they’ve displayed on the front of their wine bottles.
It was such a personal experience and, to top it off, the wine was delicious. My Dad even found his new love of desert wines here and purchased himself a bottle, of which they only produce a few hundred a year.
By this point we were getting pretty peckish and certainly a little tipsy so we started to consider where we would head for lunch.
We stopped off at Giesen, following a recommendation, but in the end we just tried some wines there and chose to eat elsewhere. At Giesen they offered cheese platters, but we were on the hunt for more of a meal. Giesen was another pleasant cellar door experience and they had some nice reds. Other than Pinot Noir, ranges of Red wines are less common in Marlborough because the climate is more suitable for white grapes.
I came away from Giesen with a taste for their sparkling chardonnay, which actually surprised me because I’m not normally a chardonnay fan – it was a decent price too which is always a bonus. This highlighted the benefits of doing a wine tour because you certainly discover a taste for types of wines you would never consider buying normally.
By this point we all needed some food in our bellies, in particular my Mum who I think was almost hiccuping bubbles by this point hah! We popped across the road to Wairau River Wines (a great suggested lunch spot by the tour operator) and were not disappointed by the food here. They were very busy, but they were still so accommodating and the service was excellent.
We even tried a few of the Wairau River wines while we waited for our food, just to make extra sure we were properly fuelled up before the food came (not to be confused with Wairau Cove which is commonly found in Tescos).
It’s a popular spot for lunch so you have to be prepared to be patient. But, if you can spare the time to taste their wines, take some pictures in front of their vineyard and read a few of their wine related books while you wait, you’ll have an enjoyable lunch stop here. I recommend taking a look at the dogs and vineyards book – it shows some lovely photos of the various dogs that live at the vineyards in the area, giving you a taste of life in this beautiful part of New Zealand.
After our leisurely, late lunch (including an an extra glass of wine or two oops) we were not far off the end of the day and were no longer in need of anymore wine. Instead, we did a bit of a lengthy bike ride to burn it off and headed over to the Moa brewery to try a few of the local beers to finish off the afternoon. It’s not high up on my recommendations for this area, but if you are into your beers and ales and/or want to mix it up from the wine a bit then this is a good option. It has a nice beer garden to chill out in too!
At the end of the day, we cycled back to our meeting point, handed back our bikes and were chauffeured back to Blenheim. Success!
It was a really good day out, that I would recommend to anyone that’s interested in doing wine tours while in New Zealand. We only scratched the surface when it comes to visiting the wineries there so it’s worth listening to recommendations or doing some research beforehand to ensure you get to the ones that would interest you.
Feel free to comment below if you’ve paid this area a visit yourself and you have some more recommendations to add.