We visited Martinborough wine region this weekend on the way to Castlepoint. We never planned on stopping but as we got closer to Castlepoint with time on our hands, we decided to make a few pit stops. On the way to town, we looked up which vineyards were best to visit and decided on a cycle tour instead. Best decision ever. We not only hired bikes to take us from vineyard to vineyard for tastings, we picked the sunniest, prettiest day to do it. We were given a map and set out on bikes. I was already busy trying to think of words to describe wine because I knew what lay ahead was a wordy challenge. Especially as we consumed wine.
Among us were fellow cyclists and the occasional retired couple or bridal party. A few vineyards we visited were too packed to wait around for a tasting but overall, we saw some beautiful countryside and tasted some yummy wines. Among my favorites were the 2009 pinot noir from Muirlea Rise and a pinot gris from Poppies. These two vineyards were also my favorite pit stops and happened to come at the beginning and end of our tour.
Muirlea Rise was our first stop. I didn’t realize it at the time but not every tour was going to be conducted in this way. We happened to come in on the tail-end of a bus tour of the inner workings of the vineyard and were educated along the way. Manager on duty, Shawn Brown, made jokes about drinking, bottling, and serving wine. He had a fun attitude and was interrupted midway by his daughter who brought the family dog around for introductions. We learned why wines were becoming more expensive and the woes of making wine in NZ. I easily found myself daydreaming of my future wine cellar. In addition, we got to taste a juicy blend Shawn’s daughter chose that he mentioned had a Coke flavor. Anyone who mentions Coca-Cola and wine together gets my vote. All for 5$NZD.
It was at this point we realized we needed to get some food in our bellies before venturing off into the rest of wine country so we briefly biked back to the car to grab whatever snacks we brought along to the roadtrip. That included homemade bread from a house party the night before, a carrot, water bottles, and a banana. We raced back to the next vineyard excited to try more wine. Along the way, we stopped at Martinborough Vineyard (free postcards), Margrain Vineyard (only for a picture because a huge bridal party was taking up the tasting area), Schubert Wines (where we were introduced to the world’s best wine glass), Ata Rangi (claimed missing the experience here was like going to the Louvre and missing the Mona Lisa. There was no Mona Lisa here. Only older men in Aston Martins for Sunday driving) and Tirohana Estate (where we lost a group pushing their friend in a wheelchair and toting small party hats), Haythornthwaite Wines (regretful rosé pictured above), and Vynfields (beautiful white house with wrap-around porch and options for full, half, or 1/4-full glass tastings). Then we ended our venture at Poppies.
Alana Estate aka Poppies is home to a wife/husband pair that have been working with wine for years across the street before opening their own vineyard. The property is gorgeous and has a great front patio for dining. The tasting room had two large, comfortable leather chairs waiting for us and played old, ragtime 20’s music. Shayne Hammond, the husband in the duo, took notice to our map full of notes and treated us extra special. He seemed to really love his job and want to talk about making wine with us. And the tasting was free. At this point in the tour, we were at a loss of adjectives to describe our tastebuds’ experience but one standout description came from Isaac’s sample of the sauvignon blanc: “like sparkling Starburst with a green apple throat”. Another favorite quote of the day was from Shayne who said sometimes “wet seasons can create magic” which gave me comfort in the weather of the region.
Of the 22 vineyards in the region, we stopped at 10 and had tastings at 6 (paid for 5). Please note, we shared one tasting between the two of us at each stop and the tasting samples got smaller and smaller as the afternoon went on. I definitely recommend the venture on bike (25$NZD each for half day) and not being afraid to skip out on some vineyards if they appear too busy and crowded. Although we didn’t buy a bottle on the trip, I now feel educated on the brands when I’m shopping at the grocery (shoutout to New World grocery, the Publix of NZ). And bring a loaf of bread and a thesaurus to avoid over using words like “pretty”, “delicious”, “sweet”, and “spicy”.