Highlight Wine Tours
Blenheim, New Zealand
+64 3 5779046
Blenheim, New Zealand
+64 3 5705252
Wairau River Wines
11 Rapaura Road
RD3, Blenheim, New Zealand
+64 3 5729800
12 Rapaura Road
Renwick, New Zealand
+64 3 5726008
603 Rapaura Road
Blenheim, New Zealand
+64 3 5728489
Makana Chocolate Boutique
504 Kerikeri Road
Kerikeri, New Zealand
+64 9 4076800
At 7:00am one Friday morning, we said goodbye to Christchurch as our train, the Coastal Pacific pulled away from the friendly city. We were heading to Picton via the east coast of the South Island, passing through towns such as Rangiora and Kaikoura. Picton is not just the arrival and departure point of supposedly one of the world’s most beautiful ferry routes (Picton – Wellington in the North Island, and vice versa), but happens to be close to the Queen Charlotte Sound walking track, which we would have loved to hike but sadly, didn’t have time for.
We might not have had time for hiking but we still had a whole afternoon to kill so I thought it would be cool to check out some wineries. After all, we WERE in Marlborough, home of the New Zealand sauv blanc. My mate Sam would be screaming ‘PASSIONFRUIT, PASSIONFRUIT, PASSIONFRUIT, BLEURGH!’ at this stage but let’s be serious here, the mild climate and clean air explains why sauv blancs from the Marlborough region rank among the world’s best. That said, many Marlborough wineries do produce some shocking sauvs but that’s another rant for another time.
The night before, I e-mailed some companies that did winery tours and because Highlight Wine Tours (HWT) were the quickest to respond, I went with them. HWT are run by local couple David and Colleen. What I like about their tours is that they provide a lot of flexibility from which wineries are visited on the day to the length of the tour (with prices adjusted accordingly). We decided to go on the half day wine tour, which included visits to four wineries (with a lunch stopover at your own cost) before concluding at the Makana Boutique Chocolate Factory. The cost of this tour was NZD$65/AUD$51.58 per head (an extra NZD$10 if you go in summer) which I thought was pretty good given that a lot of Yarra Valley winery tour operators charge twice as much for similar packages.
Our train was scheduled to arrive in Picton just after midday but because most of the wineries were closer to Blenheim, we were instructed to get off at Blenheim station where Colleen was waiting. Colleen and David have been running their own tours since 1993, but have only recently enlisted help from a guy called Andy who was our tour guide for the day. She drove us to meet Andy, who had just finished taking a Chinese couple to Drylands and were ready for the next winery.
The first winery we went to was the Selaks Wines. Started by a Croatian migrant, Selaks has two wineries, one in the North Island and one on the South. While the Marlborough region is famous for its sauv blancs, I thought their Gewürztraminer was their strongest drop. Thankfully, I could get most of their range from Dan Murphy’s back home so I didn’t have to carry bottles back to Australia and risk excess baggage charges.
We then had to collect more guests, this time a crazy middle-aged female pair from Colorado. Soon, the seven of us were heading to Wairau River Wines for a tipple and some lunch.
The family-run winery is named after one of the South Island’s longest rivers and is carboNZero certified, which means that it proactively aims to reduce carbon emissions by undergoing practices such as installing wind machines to replace helicopters. Prior to having lunch, we got to try a few of their estate wines, most of which were available at Dan Murphy’s (on this note, I’d like to say that about 70% of the wines we tasted on the day were available back home).
Wairau River’s indoor restaurant is homely with its timber floors and walls and a fireplace for the warmer months. Because the sun was out, however, we decided to sit outside.
Marty went straight for the Marlborough mussel chowder with toasted herb bread (NZD$19/AUD$15.08). It was matched with a glass of 2010 Reserve Sauvignon Blanc, a drop with intense fruit notes thus making it the perfect accompaniment for the creamy chowder. We were expecting the dish to have a strong seafood-y taste but Marty was delighted to find that it wasn’t the case – a good thing when you find yourself slowly but surely getting smashed on wine! (‘Thoughts of chowder turn to chunder, true story!’ he says).
Meanwhile, I had the salt and pepper tempura prawns which came with an ‘Asian salad’ topped with a soy and sesame dressing (NZD$24/AUD$19.05). Knowing that New Zealand is better known for producing lousy cricketers than prawns, I kicked myself once I had placed the order. As expected, the prawns weren’t the best I’ve had – the meat was bland and lacked bounce (oh, how I’ve been spoilt by beautiful Queensland prawns!). However, it didn’t mean that the entire dish was a disaster. Okay, so the coating may have been more ‘fish and chip batter’ rather than ‘tempura’ but it was still tasty and my 2011 Gewürztraminer, all spicy and perfumed with elder flower, rose petal and lychees, proved to be a perfect match.
Marty, who was currently nursing a crème brûlée fetish, then insisted on trying Wairau River’s vanilla bean crème brûlée with poached orange (NZD$12/AUD$9.52). It was a lot better than the previous night’s crème brûlée at Oopen, though I felt that the custard could have been a little bit lighter. Still, it was tasty so it wasn’t a bad effort overall.
Unfortunately, the rest of the afternoon was a bit of a blur so I’m afraid my accounts of Nautilus Estate and Hunter’s Wines are pretty much non-existent. I do remember that the guy at Nautilus was Sewt Efrikan and he was trying to bring Chardonnay back (lol wut?!?) but unlike Justin Timberlake, I can’t see his efforts working. Meanwhile, the two whacky American ladies were pretty much wasted by the time we reached Hunter’s (but to be fair, so were we) – but not wasted to buy different several bottles of wine. After all, they didn’t have Dan Murphy’s back home in Colorado.
Our final destination was the Makana Chocolate Boutique. I’m normally one to roll my eyes at ‘pffft chocolate’ but given my now-inebriated state, I decided to check this place out rather than sulk on my lonesome in the tour van.
Upon arrival, we were given samples of macadamia butter toffee crunch to nibble on. They were damn good, so good that Marty and I bought a box each to take home to our families (NZD$25/AUD$19.84 for a 250g box). Each square had a coat of macadamia-dusted milk chocolate which covered a sheet of toffee and macadamia butter. It was insanely delicious; what made it really stand out was the toffee – it was made with fresh New Zealand butter, resulting in a toffee that was insanely creamy and slightly salty. Perfect.
I also brought home a bag of Macadamia caramel corn (NZD$18.50/AUD$14.68 for 300g), despite Marty saying that that stuff was ‘stupid.’ Well, try telling my mum that, mate. She loved it more than the toffee crunch. Popcorn, macadamia nuts and golden caramel. That. Is. All.
Even though we were picked up from Blenheim, Andy was kind enough to drive us further out to Picton where we were staying for the night. How’s that for excellent service? Despite being tipsy for the latter half of the tour, Marty and I both had a fantastic time. We would not hesitate recommending HWT to anyone in the Marlborough area wanting to visit some wineries but have no idea where to start.