Tasting Wine and Making It Mine!

Seda: Our first morning on the South Island, having woken up to a delightful Marlborough morning, the day’s agenda was of course wine tasting! There are many options available as the seasoned wine producers are well aware what people’s expectations are coming here. There are even wine tasting tours by bike which I found utterly ridiculous as if it is illegal to drink-drive but it seems totally acceptable to drink-cycle here!

It seems hard at first to find the free opportunities amongst all those expensive wine tours but we eventually found two very good wine tastings which were exactly that – free! It was totally free at Villa Maria which was great, and was free if purchasing a bottle at Brancott Estate. After realising that I have a cool driver and he has a wallet, I suggested we go to Villa Maria’s Cellar Door as they are called here. We didn’t have to go far to get there as this lovely region have all the brands you know and love on your door step. All the way there, as far as we could see, were the vineyards growing those gorgeous grapes that end up as a glass of wine on our tables. Practically heaven, right?!

There was already a group at Villa Maria about to start their wine tasting so we were asked if we wanted to join them. Adam, our sommelier, was brilliant. He was offering us a generous helping of each wine and telling us about the grapes and maturation as we savour the taste. When I say “we”, I mean myself and the other group. My driver was only allowed to sniff the wines and I had to drink for both of us! Yes I know it wasn’t fair but I endured it glass after glass!

Still, there must be a justice somewhere because Andy got himself a personalised grape training course at the end of our wine testing session. As the tour group of paid customers were leaving, their guide turned to me and Andy and asked “Are you not coming?”…. She was very embarrassed when we said we weren’t part of her group. As I was posing in front of the vineyard with my recently purchased bottle of Pinot Gris, Adam took Andy for a tour around the rows of vines and started telling him harvest stories, signs of good grapes and growing conditions. All the cool stuff!

Andy: After sampling various lovely wines, we thought we’d go and see if NZ beer was any good. We were told by Adam, our wine sampling expert, that there was a brewery called Moa not far from where we were, so off we went. They also offered a sampling option where you get to try 6 small glasses of various beers for $10. We actually found that one was a cider and one was a chocolate milk salted caramel stout, yum yum!

They give them two at a time to taste

After our beer and wine sampling we came back to the same free Renwick Sports and Events Centre carpark. It was an incredibly windy night, but after our sampling sessions, we managed to sleep soundly.

Early the next morning we vacated the car park camp site to literally across the road to a lovely little coffee shop. We were seasoned in that car park by now knowing where to park and where not to as it was our second night. We were bitten by the wine tasting bug and wanted more. Brancott Estate being another huge producer of wines and one we’d heard of made it a pretty easy decision of where to go.

Seda: Although a visit to Oyster Bay would have been very nice, some quick research showed that they do not offer wine tours or tasting at their premises. As we spend more time in Marlborough, it became clear why…There are several different farms producing their wines. So unlike others, it’s not an estate that they could proudly show off to their customers.

Andy: We both really like Sauvignon Blanc, and especially from NZ, but a new wine we were introduced to was Pinot Gris. Not to be confused with the Italian Pinot Grigio which we were both familiar with already, although it does have similarities. We asked our wine tasting expert Diana which she liked best and what she’d recommend, only to find out she’d worked there for 15 years and didn’t drink!

Seda: Because we are such wine connoisseurs now, I can tell you the difference happily. Although both wines are made from the same type of grapes, the Italian Pinot Grigio is a lighter crisp wine in contrast to NZ Pinot Gris which is a more full bodied and richer wine.

Andy: Becuse Seda mentioned to me about the Marlborough region cycling tours of wineries, needless to say I was very weary of passing any cyclists on the roads! I’m not sure how that would work when you’re on to your 5th winery having sampled 6 wines at each one?

Seda: I didn’t want to leave Marlborough but Andy pointed out that I couldn’t free sample the local wines forever. I don’t know why not considering I hadn’t even tried the hat, glasses and false beard look yet!

Eventually we got on the road and took the famous Queen Charlotte drive from Picton to Havelock which is 33kms of pure natural beauty and windy roads. Then we drove onto Cable Bay but the theme on the road didn’t change much. All the way there though, the views are to die for…

In the late afternoon, we arrived at Cable Bay Holiday Park, used their kitchen facilities to cook an awesome meal with barbecued sausages and enjoyed some gorgeous white wine. Yes I know you are not supposed to have white wine with lamb but we did and we are still alive, so it’s fine I’d say.

For an after dinner walk, we had the opportunity of having Pepin Island on our door step. We knew we’d feel good about ourselves for doing some exercise if we took the 50 steps climb and could admire the good views from the top as well.

The next day we drove to Nelson and manage to get there in time for the farmers market which was great. We did some cheese tasting (yes, more tasting!), watched some kids competing in Nelson’s Highlands Dancing Competition and had a yummy Sri Lankan lunch.

It is a cycle you see, see nice things, eat nice things and have a nice walk. On this occasion, the walking opportunity was presented at the Queens Gardens of Nelson. Andy’s popularity with NZ ducks continued here with the addition of some geese this time. Andy was absolute terrified of them at first but I managed to catch a few normal moments by these photos.

The Souter Art Gallery is at the end of this park and totally free. We enjoyed admiring some awesome artwork, as well as discussing which ones might have been painted by an elephant holding a paintbrush in it’s trunk!

Andy: Another thing which was of interest to us was a short walk up to the centre point of NZ. Being as Seda lived in Meriden, the centre point of England, when we first met, we thought it would be a fun thing to do. The hike was fairly short, but like most in NZ, it was all uphill! I swear we’ve been on walks where it’s been uphill on the way there, and uphill on the way back too! I really don’t know how they do it. It must be a nightmare for the paperboys!

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