Marlborough claims the title as New Zealand's premier wine region. With Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc firmly establishing New Zealand's modern wine industry on the world stage, it's a claim that's hard to dispute.
A relatively small region, certainly by international standards, Marlborough punches above its weight in almost everything it does. Marlborough's present-day wine story begins as recently as 1973. Before this, because of its high sunshine hours, barley was a primary crop.
But wine producer Montana, trading as Cloudy Bay, was about to change all this. In the mid-eighties Cloudy Bay produced a Sauvignon Blanc that took the world by storm. The wine received rave reviews, especially in the UK. Marlborough was on its way to international stardom.
Today, with more than 20,000 hectares under vine, Marlborough produces 77% of New Zealand's wine.
Climate and geography
Marlborough sits in the north-eastern top corner of the South Island, bordered by the Pacific Ocean to the east and the Southern Alps to the north and south. Narrow valleys with northerly aspects give way to an alluvial plain that runs down to the coast.
The region enjoys maximum sunshine, minimal rainfall during vintage and free-draining soils. However Marlborough’s real secret lies in the stones washed down from the Alps by rivers that once criss-crossed the valley. They reflect the sun's radiant warmth upwards onto the ripening grapes. An hour after sunset these stones remain warm and retain heat in the soil, continuing the ripening process.
They say Sauvignon Blanc has found its spiritual home in the sun-drenched Wairau and Awatere Valleys. While producers are happy Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc gets so much praise, they want the world to know the region also produces excellent Riesling, Chardonnay, Gewurztraminer and Pinot Gris. And in recent years, Marlborough Pinot Noir has frequently rated above examples from the Wairarapa and Central Otago, both considered the optimum spots to grow this hard-to-please variety. Marlborough is also the centre of New Zealand sparkling production.
The future of Marlborough
As a small region, land in Marlborough now commands a premium. The good news is, the diverse soils and meso-climates are revealing exciting new sub-regions, with many wineries expanding their plantings. It is within these that many believe Marlborough's future lies. Certainly, experimentation with different styles and demand for Marlborough wines shows no sign of slowing.