This is a version of an article originally published in Eat Magazine. Read more at EatMag.co.nz.
The village of Martinborough has an overwhelming number of excellent producers and cellar doors − far more than its small size would suggest. The ever charming Martinborough is just over an hour’s drive from Wellington. The idea of hand-crafted and boutique production aren’t just for the wines – they describe the people too. There are several wineries that are within walking distance of the town square, however even the further flung spots are an easy cycle ride away.
Make the most of your visit to Martinborough pinot noir is undeniably the flagship varietal for the region, but it is by no means the only variety worth sampling. If you want to come away with a true impression of the wines and region you’re visiting, here are a few tips and tricks to help you make the most of your time. Don’t try and do it all. Rather than rushing and adhering to a strict ‘must-see’ schedule, linger. Take your time and savour. The other wonders of Martinborough will be there for you to enjoy another day. Ask questions! Staff at the cellar door don’t know who you are or how much you do or don’t know about wine. A seemingly silly question can help you leave the usual script and lead to a great conversation. And when others in your group see you speaking up, they’re likely to voice questions of their own.
Stay the night. Your sober driver can relax and enjoy the first day’s tastings, and you’ll be able to get in more wineries the next day. If you want to maximise your time and get around to as many places as possible, having a focus can help. Taste just the flagship wines at each cellar door, have a single red and a single white at each stop, or go for nothing but pinot.
This will help you get a taste from a wider range of producers while retaining your ability to stand. Feel free to spit. The staff at the cellar door won’t be insulted if you do. Now that you’ve firmed up your approach, here’s a sample itinerary of some of the best Martinborough has to offer.
Best for something different: Cambridge Road
Start from the square in the centre of town, head up Cambridge Road and you’ll come to the first stop on this “best of” tour of Martinborough – Cambridge Road. Vigneron Lance Redgwell tends his vines following the principles of natural biodynamics, but there’s plenty more besides that makes this cellar door one of the best for something different. Within the tiers of handcrafted wines there are fully natural examples that are made without any intervention. There are intriguing blends of Pinot Noir and Syrah, and elegant single vineyard creations. This is one cellar door you don’t want to miss. Must try wine: Cambridge Road Dovetail
Best small cellar door: Schubert
Continue along Cambridge Road until it intersects with Huangarua Road. Here you’ll find Schubert Wines to the left and Ata Rangi to your right. A very cosy tasting room that lends weight to the adage that good things come in small packages. The intimate setting allows tasters the opportunity to have a chat with the always knowledgeable staff as they serve up the tasting pours. It’s also here you’ll find the unofficial tasting glass of Martinborough – the Gabriel Glass, as imported by the team at Schubert. Must try wine: Schubert Syrah
Best for a taste of the old vines: Ata Rangi
Along with Dry River and Martinborough Vineyard, Ata Rangi is one of the founding vineyards in the region with vines planted in 1980. More than three decades later the wines – and especially the pinot noir – from Ata Rangi show the complexity, elegance and balance that comes with well-tended older vines. Must try wine: Craighall Chardonnay.
Best for Organic wines: Vynfields
Heading away from town along Huangarua Road you’ll encounter three options not only for exciting wines but for a bite to eat, too. First up is Vynfields (Martinborough’s only organic certified vineyard), followed closely by Poppies Martinbrough and, a little further down the road, Te Kairanga. Visitors flock to Vynfields cellar door, housed in a historic Maranui homestead that was trucked over the Rimutakas from Wellington. With sunny verandas and spacious gardens there is plenty of space to sit back and soak up the relaxing Martinborough vibe. Where most cellar doors serve wines at a bench surrounded by punters jockeying for position, Vynfields encourages visitors to enjoy the grounds by serving their wines by the glass, the bottle or a tasting flight brought to your table. Pair your wines with anything from nibbles to a full meal. Must try wine: Vynfields Bliss
Best for a picnic lunch: Te Kairanga
A lot of excitement has surrounded Te Kairanga since John Kavanaugh returned to Martinborough after a stint as winemaker at the iconic Neudorf in Nelson. With his return there comes a revival of the quality of TK wines. Your tasting will best be enjoyed in the delightful grounds surrounding the cellar door, known as The Cottage – a classic farm cottage from the late 1800s that lends a rustic appeal to the experience. Here you can linger over your favourite bottle while enjoying something from the kitchen. Must try wine: Te Kairanga Runholder Pinot Noir
Best for a wedding: Poppies Martinborough
Where most other cellar doors in the area are staffed by hired hands,
at Poppies it’s winemaker Poppy Hammond herself who will welcome you into the tasting room and take you through the wines she has crafted. This is an elegant and romantic venue that was purpose-built for big celebrations, with floor to ceiling windows offering views of the surrounding vineyards. The entire property is a nice mix of European grandeur with industrial fittings. Poppies provides a delicious sharing platter that perfectly matches a glass or two of the good stuff. Even if there’s no big celebration in your future Poppies is still worth a visit as it’s the only place you can find the Poppies Martinborough range. Must try wine: Poppies Martinborough Rosé
Honourable mention goes to the cellar door at Margrain Vineyard, with its extensive range of wines to sample, and to Martinborough Vineyard, home to one of the oldest vineyards in the region. This list represents most of the big names in Martinborough wine making. There are several much smaller producers that are also worth a look. A lot of them don’t have cellar doors due to financial restrictions related to their size. However, many can be sampled at the fabulous restaurants, pubs and cafes in the town square. At the end of the day, if you still have room in your suitcase, pop in to the Martinborough Wine Centre for a little something from Kusuda, Escarpment or Dry River – all without cellar doors. Talk to the staff about the wines that really stood out for you on your journey through Martinborough and they’ll recommend the perfect wine for you to continue your experience when you return home.
Best buy for a special occasion: Kusuda
The wines from this small volume winemaker are hard to come by. They only produce 600 to 800 cases a year. These up-market wines carry with them the stories of scores of volunteers gently hand-picking whole bunches and neatly snipping imperfections. A huge effort. With no cellar door open to the public, even domestically there are only three retailers with an allocation of Kusuda wines. A visit to the Martinborough Wine Centre may just reward you with a bottle from this elusive producer. Must try wine: Kusuda Pinot Noir
Further afield: If you haven’t gotten your fill in Martinborough, extend your exploration into the wider Wairarapa region and the wineries dotted along the 35km stretch from Martinborough to Gladstone to Masterton. Most notably, award winning Fairmont Estate and five star rated Johner Estate.