With only one day in New Zealand’s Marlborough wine region, I wanted to find a way to quickly connect with the land known for its beautifully acidic and fruity wines. More specifically, I was on the hunt to discover Marlborough’s aromatic varieties such as Riesling and Pinot Gris, most of which don’t make it to the United States.
Luckily, I found Wine Tours by Bike, run by Nigel Hart, a British transplant who runs a B&B and bike rental facility near one of the main winery routes in town. Nigel fitted me with a bike and helped me plan my route, maximizing my wine tasting time.
With map and route in hand, I set off down New Renwick Road, home to some of the region’s big wineries (Wither Hills and Villa Maria), and also the path to some of the small boutique wineries I was interested in seeing.
My first stop was Wither Hills, where a $5 NZ tasting fee allowed me to try five different wines, from a fruity 2009 Sauvignon Blanc to a sweet, sparkling Gewürztraminer, only available at cellar door. I decided to skip Villa Maria since I was headed to a summer concert there later in the week, and forged ahead 4km to Fromm, a winery that specializes in reds but makes a great late harvest Riesling. Unfortunately, it wasn’t available, so I saved my tasting fee for Gibson's Bridge, a boutique winery that produces mostly Pinot Gris, a grape that is difficult to grow but is lovely to drink, as well as a little Gewürztraminer.
With only 6 acres, and 2,000 cases produced each year, Gibson’s Bridge is the smallest vineyard in the region, and their wines never hit export markets. Here a small fee allowed me to taste through the range of Pinot Gris, a crazy array of vintages and blends that showed the depth and variety of this grape. My favorites were a sweet, late harvest Riesling called “Sweet 16,” so named because the grapes were selected from only 16 rows that hung until July (late in the season for the southern hemisphere), and a 2010 Pinot Gris reserve, with a delicious full body of white pepper, smoke, and ginger.
Looping back toward home, I visited Te Whare Ra and Spy Valley. Te Whare Ra, “a house in the sun” in the native Maori language, is owned by the young couple Anna and Jason Flowerday, both of whom trained in Australia’s Clare Valley where they fell in love with Riesling. In fact, Jay was manning the tasting room while sporting a Summer of Riesling t-shirt. The small batch farm is certified organic, and all seven grapes for their wines are hand-picked and hand-sorted. The result? Gorgeous, bright, acidic, balanced wines, from a concentrated and silky Sauvignon Blanc to a weighty, gingery Gewürztraminer. The highlight though was the 2011 Riesling "dry" made from some of the vineyard’s oldest vines. With hints of tea and lemon-lime on the nose, the palate bursts with complex, concentrated fruit with great minerality. I took an extra swig before hitting the road for my final stop.
The family-owned Spy Valley was a bit out of the way, down a long, hot, sheep-lined road. Although Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir are their main exports, winemaker Paul loves working with aromatics. Rieslings aren’t normally poured, but once I told the tasting room attendant about my mission, she called up to the main office to have one brought down. Off dry, the Riesling had lovely, integrated acidity with ripe peachy and citrus flavors and a lovely stony finish. They only make about 7,000 cases (out of a total 120,000), so distribution is limited; I was grateful for a taste. The Gewürztraminer is what blew me away; luscious with a strong acid backbone, with a big floral nose and tropical flavors, this is their signature wine, and a delicious treat before the 4.5km ride home.
Wine Tours by Bike: winetoursbybike.co.nz