The Marlborough wine region of New Zealand, located in the northeast of the South Island, is particularly famous for its Sauvignon Blanc, and is the primary wine district of the Country.
With over 20,000 hectares of vines, about 75 percent of New Zealand’s national total, Marlborough has been said to produce some of the finest Sauvignon Blanc in the world.
Māori settlement in Marlborough dates back to at least 1200 AD, but it wasn’t until 1873 that local farmer David Herd planted the first vines in the region. Herd planted a mutation of Muscat Petite Grain, which was called Brown Muscat then, and produced wine on his land until his death in 1905.
After Herd’s death, his son-in-law took over and continued making wine until 1931. In that year, David Herd’s original grape vines were all removed, and no more wine was made in the region until the 1970s.
Frank Yukich, the founder of Montana, New Zealand’s largest wine producer at the time, began looking to expand his portfolio in the early 1970s and began looking for a suitable location on the South Island. Montana ended up buying 1,173 hectares of land in Marlborough, began developing it’s first vineyard, and, in August 1973, planted vines in Marlborough again, a full 100 years after David Herd first planted his vines there.
In 2008, the Auntsfield winery where Herd first planted grape vines in Marlborough erected a statue of him to commemorate the event.
In 1998, an economic impact study was requested for Marlborough, which found that $130 million New Zealand dollars (about £70 Million) was generated by Marlborough’s wine industry, $70 million (about £37 Million) of which was spent within the region.
Marlborough enjoys lots of sunshine and moderate temperatures, allowing the vintners in the region to extend the period for ripening of vines, something that is not possible in most other regions. The area has about 2,400 hours of sunshine annually, and about 650 mm of rain per year.
Another key aspect of this region is the quality of its soil, which is ancient, glacial, and free-draining. An extensive river system also deposited sandy loam on top of deep, stony gravel. The southern valleys of the Marlborough region have more clay in their soil, which assists in the production of Pinot Noir.
The majority of the region’s vineyards are located around Cloudy Bay, Renwick and Blenheim, and, for the most part, they are found on the old terraces of two rivers, the Wairau and the Awatere. About 24,000 hectares are under vine in the region, and about 75 percent of all New Zealand’s wine comes from Marlborough.
In 2016, there were 534 growers and 141 wine companies in the region, producing about 324,000 tonnes of grapes. From 2008 to 2014, the export volume of Marlborough wines increased from 88 Million litres to 190 Million litres. In 2014, Marlborough’s share of the New Zealand wine export was about £525 Million.
86% of wine produced in the region is Sauvignon Blanc, followed by Pinot Noir at 6% and Chardonnay and Pinot Gris at around 3%.
Marlborough has been said to produce some of the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world, which growers attribute to the dry maritime climate in the area. Since it is primarily a white wine region, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris round out the top three white wine varieties grown here.
In the southern part of the region, Pinot Noir grapes can be found, which is New Zealand’s largest red wine variety of grape.
Due to the longer, cooler growing season on New Zealand’s South Island, their Sauvignon Blancs are generally crisper and more acidic. Sauvignon Blancs from Marlborough have aromas of passion fruit and gooseberry, with grassy/lemongrass flavours.
Pinot Noirs from the region often display dark cherry and plum, with a red fruit and strong, spicy background. Chardonnay from the region has flavours of stonefruit and citrus.
There are several notable producers in the Marlborough wine region, and some who can trace their lineage all the way back to the very beginning of viticulture in the area. One of which, Auntsfield, is the winery founded by the original Marlborough vintner, David Herd. Descendants of David Herd’s grapes are still grown at the Auntsfield winery, exactly where Herd planted them in 1873.
Seresin Estate was one of the first New Zealand producers to run, what are classified as, completely organic vineyards. Since its founding, it has been a pioneer in the art of organic winemaking and continues to strive for perfection to this day.
Another producer with a storied history in the region is Brancott Estate, formerly know as Montana Wines. After buying the initial plot of land to set up a winery in the 1970s, Brancott Estate was the first winery in the region to produce Sauvignon Blanc.