New Zealand's Premier Wine Region
When the first wine companies and growers planted grapes in the modern era of Marlborough’s winemaking history in the 1970s (this followed pioneering grape growing, winemaking and commercial activity as early as 1870s), it is unlikely they would have foreseen the extent of the growth and fame that the region’s wine industry would achieve, based upon a single varietal called Sauvignon Blanc. The distinctive pungency and zest fruit flavours of the first Marlborough wines, in particular Sauvignon Blanc, captured the imagination of the country’s winemakers as well as international wine commentators and consumers and sparked vineyard development that reached its zenith in the mid 2000s.
Worldwide interest in Marlborough wines, particularly Sauvignon Blanc, has continued to fuel that regional wine boom.The continued worldwide interest and demand for Marlborough wines fuels on ongoing growth of plantings. The region currently has 23,600 hectares of land planted with planted grapes. These plantings are primarily located within the Wairau Valley. Over the last decade, viticulture has also spread southeast into the smaller slightly cooler Awatere Valley. More recently the southern side valleys of the Wairau – Fairhall, Hawkesbury and Waihopai – have gathered a collection of vines. New Zealand’s first exportation of wine in 1963 came ten years before grapes were even planted in Marlborough. However, Marlborough is now the largest wine producing region in the country, 79% of New Zealand’s total active wine production.
Located on the east coast with mountains to the west, Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s sunniest and driest areas. In these bright, but relatively ‘cool’ climate conditions, the grapes have the advantage of a long slow, flavour-intensifying ripening period. The average daily temperature during summer is nearly 24 degrees C but clear cool nights keep acid levels high in the grapes.
Marked diurnal (day/night) temperature variations are a key factor behind the ability of Marlborough grapes to retain both fresh, vibrant fruit and crisp, herbaceous characters. The contrast between day and night also helps to enhance the colour development in the skins of Pinot Noir.
Within the region, viticulture has been developed primarily on sites with moderate low fertility and a noticeably stony, sandy loam top soil overlying deep layers of free-draining shingle, as found in the viticulturally developed areas of the Wairau and Awatere Valleys. These shallow, fast draining, low fertility soils help to produce a lush, aromatic ripe wine because they reduce the vines vigour. Where a more herbaceous style is desired, sites with greater water retentive soils and moderate fertility are chosen.