Vineyards of Marlborough

Day 7 – Easy living today. Chillin’ out max and relaxin’ all cool. A stop in Marlborough was not part of the original tour, but elaborate visions of sprawling vineyards had a magnetism that I just couldn’t resist.

It was a lazy meandering day that started with a late wake-up around 9am. I moved like molasses, checked out of the inn while still in a sleepy daze, and smiled abashedly when the adorable old man owner of the inn picked and presented me with a flower as I was leaving.

Breakfast was simple eggs on toast. Views of vineyard for miles ahead as I contentedly sipped my coffee. Then came a gaggle of children into the cafe, which ushered me on to my next move.

Tastings! So many tastings. Because I was driving around to the different vineyards I kept it to a sip, and chug of water, and a sip, and a huge chug of water. I hit up 3 vineyards, and 1 brewery. They were all distinct from one another, with not only unique flavors in their wines, but also the vineyards themselves and the people running them.

Stop 1: Hans Herzog

Hans was described to us by our tour guide as a mad-scientist wine master. He’s originally from Switzerland, where his family has been in the wine business since the 1600s. He tried to stay on and continue the tradition, but his ideas were too out there for the Swiss, and so, like the pilgrims before him, he came to America to practice freedom of his religion – wine-making. Napa Valley, though, turned out to be way too expensive. So off he went to scout his next, and hopefully last, location which is when he stumbled across the Marlborough region in New Zealand. Not only did he find conditions ideal for what he had in mind, but it’s also New Zealand so he obviously fell in love with it. Now he has set up what seems to be a very successful and unique operation. Herzog grows 26 varietals of grapes on a relatively small plot of land. He’s fastidious to the point of obsessive. His staff is diligent about trimming any extraneous leaves or non-grape producing branches from the vine so they don’t suck up any nutrients that could instead be going to the grapes. Using the same logic, when the grapes are about halfway through their growing cycle, he trims off half of the bunch to let the fewest possible grapes get the most possible nutrients. Because of this, he’s only able to get about a bottle per vine, whereas what’s typical is 5-10 bottles. Also, absolutely everything is organic and there’s no machinery involved during the growing process – it’s entirely done by hand. His estate was stunning, without being over-the-top ostentatious. We actually ran into him on our tour. Focus would be the word I’d use to describe him. Extreme focus. The man knows what he’s about, that’s very clear.

At the tasting, I’ll admit that I found the Hans Herzog wines good but not mind-blowingly awesome. I’m no wino, so it’s possible my unrefined palate couldn’t taste pure genius when it smacked her in the face.

Stop 2: MOA

Brewery in wine-land. Defiance of convention was palpable in everything at MOA, including the decor. I stopped here for a good long while. The woman in charge of the sampling wasn’t a fan of me at first, but by the end we were best of friends. Good ‘ole Fe told me all bout the brew-masters backstory, the best beers they’ve brewed of late, and when she found out I loved sours she let me taste 3 additional beers not included within the tasting price. One of them was ridiculously awesome. It was more of a beer wine hybrid, which could have gone terribly wrong but instead was oh so right. The sour was brewed with Sauvignon Blanc, the wine the Marlborough region is known for. Never tasted a beer quite like it. So unusual. You know what happened next – I nabbed myself a bottle of the stuff.

Side story: a little 5 year old girl came in with her dad and aunt. I kept her company while they tasted, or rather she kept me company. Precocious and imaginative she was. Despite the fact she’s an icky sticky child, I enjoyed her company. Her name was Samara, and she asked me if my Colombian earrings were from Minecraft. Kids.

Stop 3: I forgot

I don’t know what this place was called. They had a little tour that afforded decent views of the surrounding vineyards. I also had a delicious asparagus cheese toast thing. Asparagus is in season here. It was gnom.

Stop 4: Brancott Estate

Enormous vineyard compared to the others. Stunning vistas from their cellar door/restaurant, which is nestled atop a small hill. I’d arrived at 4:20 and they closed at 4:30, but they were very accommodating and ran a tasting for me and these two boozy women from Chicago – one Irish, one an American. Now THEY were wine snobs. Still, it was fun to hear them be all atwitter over this or that wine. We tried a Sauvignon Gris which they died over. I know nothing about wine, but apparently this is quite rare. I will say, it was my favorite wine of the day. Quite tasty. I took the walking path down to an aviary where they housed two falcons that because of injury are permanently grounded. The aviary is obviously a big reason why I chose this vineyard as one of my 3. Falcons are more endangered in New Zealand than kiwis, and the Harcourt Estate is actively involved in conservation efforts to try and up their numbers. The two in the aviary were quiet and sad-looking. Regal and powerful too. Me wanted to pet.

Random extra fun spot – cherry picking! So much fun! The cherries were absolutely perfect.

Terry Pratchett’s I Shall Wear Midnight kept me company as I began the drive to Abel Tasman, which was filled with terrifying twisty roads up in the mountains towards the end. I’m a little sunburnt – damn you ozone hole – but delighted with my experience in wine country. Thank you Marlborough for the relaxing day for me and the adventurous day for my taste buds.

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