Marlborough – New Zealand’s largest wine region and a wine lover’s dream. With rows and rows of green vineyards as far as the eye can see, this is a must do activity for anyone visiting the area. Discover the best way to explore Marlborough’s vineyards!
Not that into wine? Not a problem. We are not the biggest wine drinkers either, but we can safely say that visiting this beautiful valley and admiring the individuality of each vineyard is spectacular in itself.
Where is Marlborough and what is it known for?
The Marlborough region is in the northeast of the South Island. Most visitors will stay in either Picton (the arrival and departure point for the ferry which connects the North and South Islands), Blenheim or Havelock.
Annually, Marlborough has some of the highest sunshine and lowest rainfall in the country, which is why it is perfect for making wine. Whilst it is world renowned for its Sauvignon Blanc, Marlborough’s vineyards produce a variety of wine, including but not limited to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Travelling between vineyards
I (Kimberley) have been fortunate enough to visit Marlborough twice. I drove my mother around the first time and rode a tandem bike the second. Yes, the easier option is to drive through the vineyards, but honestly, where is the fun in that? Especially for the designated driver…
Unless you’re short for time, put those keys down and feel the liberation of renting a bike for the day (or half day). We believe that this is the best way to explore Marlborough’s vineyards at your own leisurely pace. We promise that you won’t be disappointed!
Renting a bike
There are a couple of companies which offer bike rentals in the area. However, we can highly recommend Bike Hire Marlborough to explore Marlborough’s vineyards for the following reasons:
- If you opt in for the full day and are staying in either Blenheim or Renwick, they will collect you and drop you off; no added charge.
- If you want to buy any bottles of wine along the way, they will collect these for you. No need to cycle around with them!
- Their base is next to a wine cellar door and a gin tasting room. Perfect to finish your day off.
Prices start at $40pp for 3 hours and $50 for the full day (10am – 4.30pm). You can rent individual bikes, tandems of even electric bikes (for a higher price). It was our first time riding a tandem, and after a few wobbles we thoroughly enjoyed it.
Once you arrive at their base you are provided with a bike, a helmet, a high vis and a map. This includes the locations of the vineyards and the roads to take (both main and designated to cyclists). Some of the tracks run along the local river.
Once you’re all set, it’s time to enjoy the best way to explore Marlborough’s vineyards!
How it works
For the majority of Marlborough’s vineyards, you can simply rock up with no reservation needed. However, do check the opening times as some open after 11am. The likelihood is that you will have set off on your bike by then. As was the case for us, we used this time to familiarise ourselves with the tandem and cycled along the river.
Due to covid, the smaller cellar doors, e.g. No.1 Family Estate, have limited the number of people inside. In this case, they ask you to wait outside until the space has freed up. Each tasting experience takes you no more than 20 -30 mins max, so more often than not, you won’t be waiting long. Alternatively, Cloudy Bay (one of the largest cellar doors) took down our details for a reservation later on as they were full, so we were able to continue with our day and return later.
While all vineyards offer a similar experience in terms of sampling, tasting and puchasing, they are all just a little bit different in their own way. Some are more formal, some are more relaxed. Some feel intimate, whilst others are less so, perhaps due to their size. Ultimately, each experience is what you make of it. The staff are incredibly knowledgable about the production of each wine, the vineyards and their founders. They are happy to answer any of your questions, so not a problem if you aren’t an expert.
In any case, most have the option to enjoy a glass of wine (rather than the tasting option) within a tranquil setting, should you prefer. One of our favourites is Hunters; it feels more homely with a cozy garden.
* Dec 21: Since the new traffic light framework, My Vaccine Pass is required to enter the vineyards.
The cost of wine tasting differs between each vineyard and whether or not they offer a variety of tasting menus. This can range anywhere from free (yes, we really did say free!) to $25 for the more fancier selections. The majority fall between $5-$15.
Additionally, some will offer discounts if you subsequently purchase any bottles of wine from them, e.g. $5 off.
To enhance your wine tasting experience, or if you are celebrating a special occasion, why not treat yourselves to lunch as well? A couple of the wineries, notably Brancott Estate and Wairau River, have restaurants on site. Now, we have not eaten at either (unfortunately, not quite in our travellers’ budget) but they come highly recommended. Brancott Estate is also in a breathtaking location with fantastic views over the vineyards and Marlborough. On a clear day, you can see the whole valley. They are popular spots, so reservations in advance are a must.
For something more low key, you can also purchase bar snacks/nibbles at some of the smaller cellar doors. Alternatively, there is currently a Latin American food truck called La Ruca at the Moa Brewery (next door to Cloudy Bay), which does the most delicious Churrasco. Basically, their take on burgers but instead of a beef patty, it is beautifully tender sliced beef in a bun.
Other places of interest
Following on from this spot for food, this is a must for all beer lovers! We are talking IPAs, stouts, ciders and more. Regularly changing, they offer a beer flight of 6 tasters (either in full or half measures) which showcase what is on offer. An almost festival like vibe, you can relax on a bean bag, glass in one hand, listening to the music in their beautiful outdoor space. There is also a hammock should you be so inclined.
Roots Dry Gin
Located in the Vines Village, next to the bike rental, is Marlborough’s first dedicated gin distillery. Elemental Distillers produces Roots Dry Gin, which you can sample with a selection of tonics. Other New Zealand based gins were also available to try at 2 for $5.
So, are you ready to enjoy the best way to explore Marlborough’s vineyards?
Not gonna lie, when people talk about wine tasting, we often think of formal gatherings of enthusiasts who are able to detect 14 flavour notes with just a sniff. But whether you’re a connoisseur of wine or just a casual drinker, the experience is enjoyable for everyone. Despite not being able to engage in the deeper conversations around the wine, we certainly learnt a few things along the way. That, coupled with the hilarity of riding a tandem for the first time in an iconic wine region, makes for any great day.