The Martinborough wine region is situated around the town of Martinborough and is only an hour north of Wellington making it a popular weekend destination in the summer months. I had heard varied review on this region before I went and I am pleased to say that I like it here! This is pinot noir country and unlike the delicate pinots of Central Otago, Martinborough is making big, intense, acidic, earthy pinots, just the way I like them. The oldest vines in the region are almost 30 years old and a small town center has sprung up full of small cafes and restaurants. Because of how close the wineries are to the town center, a popular tourist activity is to hire bikes and ride from winery to winery because of their close proximity. This tends to be a little annoying for drivers who always have to be on the lookout for a swerving bike, but the bikers seemed to be having a blast!
John Martin founded the town of Martinborough in 1879. As maybe a tribute to his Great British roots, the town was laid out in the shape of a Union Jack and even today an ariel view will show this unique road pattern. The region suffered through the temperance movement in 1908 when it was one of the first regions to tear out vines in order to stop the consumption of alcohol. It wasn’t until a study in 1979 that showed direct climactic similarities to Burgundy that people started to look at Martinborough for wine again. In 1980, four wineries re-ignited the industry: Ata Rangi, Dry River, Chifney, and Martinborough Vineyards. This small region blossomed from there and family ties to the land are very evident.
Nowadays, Martinborough only accounts for 2.6% of total New Zealand plantings and only 1.6% of the volume; however, despite it’s small size, this is a region that is winning international awards left and right and making a big name for itself. It was also the first region in New Zealand to protect its identity through the creation of an appellation system (Geographical Indication).
40 degrees south | North Island | 1 hr North of Wellington
Martinborough is located in the Wairarapa growing region that includes the neighbouring Masterton and Gladstone. Martinborough is by large the most premium of these three growing regions and that claim is in the unique balance of climate and soil of the Martinborough.
The soil structure here varies, but the best growing location for vines is on the 25 meter deep free draining alluvial river gravels that were exposed by the Ruamahanga River. Surrounding this soil, the area stretches out into more of a clay loam base. The Martinborough region receives very little rainfall due to the Rimutaka and Tararua Ranges that flank the area and at night the temperatures drop to allow the slow maturation of that characteristic New Zealand acidity. In fact some wines, especially the whites, border on too much acidity, but when the right balance is met the results are spectacular!
Major Grape Varietals Planted
Red: Pinot Noir
White: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Aromatics
Major Producer/Iconic Wines
Ata Rangi Pinot Noir
Martinborough Vineyards pinot Noir
Dry River Riesling Craighall Botrytis
Craggy Range Te Muna Road Pinot Noir
Palliser Sauvignon Blanc
When you think of Martinborough, think small region, boutique producers, Burgundian conditions, and an up and coming reputation in the wine world. These wines are expressive of their unique terroir and packed with heaps of flavour. The quote below sums up my experiences with Martinborough wines:
“If our Pinot Noir is ever going to make a genuine impact on the world wine stage, it is likely to be wines from Martinborough that will make the genuine breakthrough.” John Hawkesby – World Magazine, December 2009