The largest and most famous of New Zealand’s wine regions, Marlborough is located in the far North of the South Island and was first planted by Montana (now Brancott Estate) in 1973. It is made up of two broad flat river valleys, the Wairau and the Awatere. Soils and microclimates vary considerably, leading to significant differences in ripeness and fruit character, but in general, soils in the lower Wairau are lighter and stonier and produce less rounded and somewhat pungent wines, whilst further up the valley, the deeper, heavier soils produce richer, more textural and more concentrated wines. The Upper Wairau was the original area planted around Renwick and Rapaura, which is home today to many of the finest historic estates such as Cloudy Bay, Greywacke and Hunter’s. The Awatere, first championed by Vavasour, is located to the south of the Wairau, is somewhat cooler and produces wines that are leaner and flintier in style. There has been very considerable planting in the Awatere over the past 5 years by big branded producers, most notably Yealands who boast New Zealand’s single largest privately-owned vineyard. Nearly 90% of the country’s Sauvignon Blanc is grown in Marlborough and it is a style recognised the world over, with its blend of tropical fruit flavours and herbaceous, capsicum notes.
Whilst 79% of Marlborough’s vineyard is taken up by Sauvignon, there are also significant and growing plantings of Pinot Noir (10%), Chardonnay (4%), Pinot Gris (4%) and a few hundred hectares of Riesling and other aromatics. Sauvignon dominates the Marlborough wine landscape, but the quality of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay has increased dramatically over the last decade.