Marlborough Wine Region | The Star of New Zealand

Harry Lambourne
14th February 2024

The Marlborough wine region is the jewel in New Zealand’s crown. It was crucial in establishing New Zealand as a global wine powerhouse.

We will introduce you to the world of New Zealand wine, with a focus on the Marlborough wine region, as well as the key wines to look out for and a few of the regions most famous producers.

New Zealand Wine

New Zealand is a relative newcomer to the world of wine production, but their rise has been meteoric. Anglican missionary Samuel Marsden and the Scottish James Busby both spent time, (separately), on the island of New Zealand in the early 18th century and attested to the potential for viticulture, (MacNeil 850).

However, there were numerous pitfalls that occurred in the following 150 years. This involved inexperienced British winemakers, the Temperance Movement, phylloxera and even a general indifference to wine as a beverage. It was until the 1980s, that we were introduced to some Sauvignon Blanc wines that would quickly become a global staple.

The producer that was responsible was Cloudy Bay, who still produce wine today and do so primarily out of the Marlborough wine region. They focused on Sauvignon Blanc, (ahead of the often more popular Chardonnay), and it quickly excelled in the Marlborough wine region. It produced wines unlike others in the world.

Herbaceous and grassy notes mixed expertly with intense tropical fruit flavours, (particularly those of passionfruit).

Cloudy Bay Winery
Cloudy Bay Winery – A Trailblazer In New Zealand Wine

From here, things developed quickly and soon elegant, light yet earthy new world Pinot Noir wines would also come to permeate supermarket shelves and wine lists across the world.

Between 1994 and 2013, the number of wineries jumped from just 30 to over 700. From 2003 to 2013, vineyard acreage doubled and finally, production grew by more than 50% between 2007 and 2011, (MacNeil 851).

Then, New Zealand, (and indeed the Marlborough wine region), only went from strength to strength. Now, New Zealand is home to Noble Rot affected Riesling, to rich and complex Bordeaux blends of Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot.

Broadly speaking, New Zealand is split into two areas – the North and South Island. For our purposes, we will be staying focused on the Southern Island. It is notably cooler than the North Island and this helps to provide the wines with that crisp acidity for which they are known.

Marlborough Wine Region

Until very recently, much of this area was incredibly rural. This includes what we know as the Marlborough wine region. In fact, there were no commercial vineyards on the South Island until 1973, (MacNeil 854). When you consider the global success of this wine region has come in around 40 years, you really appreciate how quick this rise to fame truly was.

Today, the Marlborough wine region accounts for 60% of all the vineyard areas and 70% of all the wine in New Zealand, (MacNeil 854).

In terms of climate, the Marlborough wine region can be described as maritime. It has high levels of annual rainfall which comes in from the Pacific Ocean, but even higher levels of sunshine. A large cluster of protective mountain ranges help to protect the vines from the worst of the weather, but allows cooling winds through cracks in the mountain ranges. It is a perfect combination of natural factors for healthy vines.

You can get some absolutely world class Riesling and Pinot Gris in the Marlborough wine region, but it is Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir which rule the roost. The former is wonderfully tropical, with a bracing acidity and delicate herbaceous notes that build in complexity. The latter is light and fresh, but also possesses a real earthy quality that can lead you to draw comparisons with high-quality Burgundian Pinot Noir.

Some say that the first Pinot Noir cuttings were actually smuggled back from the world-famous Burgundian producer Domaine de la Romanée-Conti in a rain boot, (known colloquially as a ‘Gumboot’). by an All-Black Rugby player who has playing in France. Hence, many Pinot Noir grapes are known as the ‘Gumboot Clone’. Be sure to read our full article on New Zealand to find out more about this fascinating story.

Rain Boots
Rain Boots – The Source of New Zealand Pinot Noir?

Top Marlborough Wine Regions Producers

The list here could be long. Indeed, part of the success of this wine region is that affordable high-quality wines are easy to come by. However, we’re going to look at two producers who were think have been particularly influential in the Marlborough wine region.

Cloudy Bay

We’ll start with Cloudy Bay, who we mentioned earlier. Cloudy Bay began in 1983 and quickly established themselves as a global force. Today, they have even become part of the luxury LVMH brand.

Yet, quality is always at the forefront of what they do. The yields at Cloudy Bay are 30% smaller than the regional average as they look to prioritise concentrated flavours over higher yields.

Today, along side world-class Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, they produce excellent Chardonnay and even beautifully crafted traditional method sparkling wine. We highly recommend you check out the Cloudy Bay Pelorus. This emulates the great sparkling wines of France and takes its name from a friendly dolphin who was given the name ‘Pelorus Jack‘. This dolphin became a local legend as they would regularly escort boats through a treacherous stretch of water for 24 years from 1888.

Greywacke

Next, we are looking at Greywacke, (pronounced ‘Greywacky‘). They were established in 2009 as a family affair and like so many other New Zealand vineyards rose to global fame. Greywacke did so under the leadership of Kevin Judd. Judd was actually Cloudy Bay’s first winemaker but has now set off on his own path.

You can find small portions of Chardonnay, Riesling and Pinot Gris, but like Cloudy Bay they specialise in the two key grapes of the Marlborough wine region – Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. If you’re a fan of natural wines, we would recommend that you check out their ‘Wild Sauvignon‘. It retains the classic Marlborough profile while providing something unique.

Greywacke Wild Sauvignon | Marlborough Wine Region
Greywacke Wild Sauvignon – Photo From @greywackevineyards

This has been our look into New Zealand’s biggest wine region. The Marlborough wine region has become a global powerhouse and we couldn’t recommend the wines from this wonderful place enough!


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Work Cited

MacNeil, Karen. The Wine Bible. 2nd ed., Workman Publishing, 2015.


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