I am lucky enough to have visited Nelson in the Marlborough area of New Zealand’s South Island several times now as my daughter lives there and of course I have fallen deeply in love with NZ Sauvignon Blanc or Sav as it is known locally.
Although wine was being made in New Zealand in the 19th century its modern wine industry didn’t take off until the 1970’s when Montana (now Brancott Estate) planted the first Marlborough Vineyard, mainly due to the area’s favourable climate: long, warm days and cool nights, minimal rainfall during harvest times and free-draining soil. At the time, Sauvignon Blanc was overshadowed by varieties like Muller-Thurgau and Chenin Blanc but then in the 1980’s due to a wine glut, the NZ government paid growers to rip up their vines. Ironically many used the cash to plant more profitable varieties such as Sauvignon Blanc. Following on from this came an outbreak of phylloxera which, although a blow to the growers, gave them another opportunity to replace their old varieties with Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc on phylloxera- tolerant root-stock.
Back in 1985 the brand Cloudy Bay was the first to produce the premium New Zealand-style Sav which we love so much today and really helped to put Marlborough, and to an extent, New Zealand wines on the map due to its global reach. The Marlborough area is now responsible for just over 75% of New Zealand’s entire wine production. Now, if you fly into Nelson, at the northern tip of the South Island, the view is vastly different to what it was 40 years ago – mile upon mile of neatly planted rows of grapevines as far as the eye can see. Due to its sheltered coastline and abundant sunshine – Nelson is the sunniest place in all of New Zealand – the Sav produced here is crisp and herbaceous and like the rest of the Marlborough area is home to many wineries such as Seifried and Neudorf. Throughout the region there are the huge vineyards such as Villa Maria and Waimea Estates together with much smaller boutique wineries such as Ruby Bay, Rimu Grove and Fossil Ridge. One of my favourite days out is to hire a bike and pootle off along the quiet back roads of Nelson, stopping off at a few of the smaller wineries for tastings, it’s just bliss!