Yealands. Richard Briggs Photography

The Region

Our geographically diverse landscape, combined with an enviable climate, grow wines of unmatched intensity and aroma. 

Explore the Marlborough Wine Heritage Trail story map.

Marlborough is home to New Zealand’s signature wine, Sauvignon Blanc, alongside a range of other mouth-watering varieties.

The Region

Situated at the top of New Zealand’s South Island, with Cook Strait to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the east, Marlborough experiences a maritime climate. This provides a cooling influence which, coupled with some of the highest sunshine hours in the country, creates the perfect environment for grape growing.

Hot days and cooler nights add to the complexity of fruit grown in Marlborough, especially the diurnal range of around 11 degrees during summer. It allows fruit to ripen slowly, ensuring intensity and naturally high acidity; the perfect combination for producing delicious Sauvignon Blanc.

Those ideal conditions also suit a number of other varieties that Marlborough is becoming increasingly known for. Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Gewürztraminer and Sparkling Wines have long been stars in Marlborough’s portfolio. More recently, varieties such as Syrah, Albariño, Arneis and Grüner Veltliner are steadily making their mark on the region.

It could well be that the best is yet to come, especially given Marlborough’s wine history only goes back to 1973.

The Subregions

Marlborough has three main grape growing subregions, each having distinctive soils and climate characteristics. These are the Wairau Valley, Southern Valleys and Awatere Valley.

Wairau Valley

Wairau Valley vineyards are planted in the old, gravelly, riverbed soils of the Wairau River which now form the base of the Richmond Range. The humps and hollows are very obvious down vine rows running from North to South, showing where the river has changed its course and flowed over many centuries. The soils here are naturally free draining and range from old stony riverbeds to fine, deep, alluvial soils. The Richmond Ranges and Wither Hills protect the Wairau Valley from incoming rain. They create a zone of high sunshine as clouds are buffered by the hills, preventing any rain from spilling over into the main valley.

 

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Southern Valleys stretch across the valley floor and rise up towards the Wither Hills and Black Birch Range. The soils here are older, heavier in clay, and hold more moisture than the Wairau Valley subregion. The rolling hills and valleys mean the majority of sites have good northerly orientation which assists ripening on this cooler, drier side of the Wairau Valley. Pinot Noir is widely planted in the Southern Valleys, often on the lower slopes of the rolling hills. This area provides a different flavour profile and structure due to the clay-based soils.

 

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Southern Valleys
Awatere Valley

Awatere Valley Marlborough’s driest, coolest, and windiest subregion is also dominated by its river and flood plains. Flanked by Black Birch and the Kaikoura Ranges, the Awatere Valley is the most geographically distinct subregion and stretches a long way south to the edge of Marlborough’s Geographical Indication. Dramatic river terraces have been carved out, creating free draining sites with alluvial gravels along the banks of the river and clay and sandstone subsoils on the wider river plains. This terroir alongside cooler, winder conditions influence the profiles of wines produced here, making them highly regarded and distinctive.

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History

  • 1873

    First grapes planted by Scotsman David Herd in the southern valleys.

  • 1973

    Commercial planting began at Montana’s Brancott Estate at Fairhall.

  • 1980

    Marlborough Grapegrowers Association Incorporated established.

  • 1984

    Phylloxera outbreak first recorded and widespread by 1992.

  • 1985

    First Marlborough Wine & Food Festival.

  • 1986

    Oversupply of unsuitable varieties leading to Government-sponsored vine pull.

  • 1986

    Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc (Hunters) awarded the top three trophies at London International Wine Show.

  • 1992

    Wine Marlborough Limited formed as the trading company for Marlborough Winegrowers Association.

  • 2009

    30th anniversary of the regions first Sauvignon Blanc vintage.

  • 2012

    Marlborough produces 72% of New Zealand’s 2012 vintage.

  • 2013

    40th anniversary of Marlborough’s first commercial plantings.

  • 2016

    The first International Sauvignon Blanc Celebration is held in Marlborough.

  • 2016

    Winepress Magazine celebrates its 25th anniversary.

  • 2020

    Marlborough Winegrowers Association celebrates 40 years.

Vintage Summaries

2022

Growers

TBC

Wine Companies

TBC

Vineyard (ha)

TBC

Tonnes

TBC

Marlborough’s 2022 vintage was “edge-of-your-seat” stuff, with higher yields, inclement weather and the impact of Covid infections on crews, says Sophie Parker-Thomson, MW.

And it required a change in mindset from industry, following three consecutive drought years and light crops last year. “There has been a temptation to replenish the very empty pipelines with the bountiful yields - principally Sauvignon Blanc,” says Sophie, who owns and runs Blank Canvas Wines with her husband Matt Thomson.

Producers had to be “scrupulous” in balancing that against the processing capacity of their wineries, a widespread shortage of labour, and an Omicron impacted workforce, “as well as the dynamics of ripening crops in La Niña conditions”, Sophie adds.

“Timing was everything” for the vintage, says Plant & Food Research weather expert Rob Agnew, noting that Marlborough grape growers “dodged a bullet, but not entirely”. December rainfall coincided with flowering, creating latent botrytis infection that was awakened on some blocks by February rain, impacting early Sauvignon Blanc going through véraison, the onset of ripening in grapes.

A subsequent “very dry” period, from 20 February to 20 March, was a “godsend” that mitigated the impact, says Rob. “If it had continued to be wet over that four-week period it would have been very ugly.”

A very warm October, November and December meant good fruit set, with berry numbers per bunch well up on average, as well as high berry weight. But a cold and wet February “caught everyone out”, dampening the “powerhouse” ripening period, says Astrolabe owner and Winemaker Simon Waghorn. Those with the luxury of time were rewarded with beautiful autumn conditions, he adds. “From our point of view, we rode our luck… We started out with a lot of potential issues, particularly with Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir, but the later finer weather kept that in check and meant we could get our fruit to the ripeness levels we were hoping for.”

Pernod Ricard Winemakers Group Winemaker Jamie Marfell says yields were significantly up on the long-term average, putting the company back in balance after the light 2021 harvest.  They had an early start, partly due to the looming threat of Covid-19, including to Sparkling harvest hand pickers. “We were very wary of the risk of losing a lot of staff,” says Jamie, a Marlborough Winegrowers Association board member. They called on three contract crews instead of the typical two, to spread the risk, and got through “like a dream”.

By mid-March, Omicron started to bite, and there were “holes” in the winery as staff isolated, says Jamie. The theme for their vintage was “flexibility”, with a daily assessment of the available workforce, then ad hoc decisions, such as closing a shift or slowing machine harvest and grape intake to ensure fruit got to ferment within a 48-hour period, “in pristine condition”. And despite all the Covid and climate challenges of the season, there are “some pretty good stonking wines”, he says.  “Commercially they are looking pretty sharp.”

Fellow board member James Macdonald, Senior Winemaker at Hunter’s Wines, agrees that flexibility was key to getting through a harvest beset by a lack of skilled labour, the impact of Omicron and the pressure of February rain. And while he’s happy to see the back of it, he’s even more happy to have typical tonnage in the tank, including Sauvignon Blanc with ripe fruit flavours that promises to be a “crowd pleaser”. But it’s the Chardonnay that really stood out in 2022, as being “bullet proof in a tricky year”, says James. It can be a problematic variety in complicated seasons, “but this year it sat there looking pristine, so we got to full maturity and hand picked a lot of it and made some really good wines that are sitting in barrel now”.

The Waihopai Valley subregion was a good performer this year, with later ripening blocks that benefitted from stunning late harvest weather, with the Awatere Valley also providing good yields and flavours, he says.

Wine Marlborough General Manager Marcus Pickens says wine companies are delighted by a fruitful harvest, following the low yielding 2021 Marlborough vintage and continued high demand for the region’s wines around the world - particularly its iconic Sauvignon Blanc. “Markets are eager to get their shelves and wine lists restocked with Marlborough wine and this higher yielding harvest was perfectly timed to satisfy that demand.”

It’s been a year of challenges, with supply pressures, labour shortages and global shipping issues causing companies stress, which was exacerbated by Omicron and weather threats this harvest, he says. “While these things look set to continue to disrupt us, there’s a lot of relief that we successfully navigated vintage 2022.”

 

For more information please contact,

 

Marcus Pickens

Wine Marlborough General Manager

Ph:    +64 3 577 9299

Mob: +64 21 831 820

Email: [email protected]rough.nz

 

 

N.B. The total vintage tonnages and further breakdowns will be released by New Zealand Winegrowers mid-June.

 

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