Wednesday, February 16, 2011

South Island: the Vineyards of Marlborough

Despite a fairly rigorous travel schedule on our way to New Zealand and the difficulties encountered along the way, I decided to make the most of my last week before work started and on Friday, January 14 we set off to take a tour of New Zealand's South Island.

I'll make no secret of the fact that this was a fairly one sided decision. After living out of a suitcase for 15 days, 15 000 km of traveling over 18 time zones and 5 stopovers, we had only spent two days at our home in Palmerston North and were once again packing our suitcases.

Interislander Ferry
I had a cursory but mandatory interview with the Medical Council of New Zealand in Wellington to finalize my credentials on the morning of Friday, January 14. Once that was finished, we joined the queue to board the Interislander ferry that would take us across the Cook Strait from Wellington to Picton.

It was a beautiful sunny Friday afternoon. The last segment of the trip was through Queen Charlotte Sound, arguably one of New Zealand's most picturesque waterways. Here are some shots.

Thankfully, we got a free upgrade from "sheep class"
Queen Charlotte Sound
Queen Charlotte Sound
Late in the afternoon, we drove off the ferry in Picton and 30 minutes later arrived in Blenheim, the central town of the Marlborough wine region specializing in ... well, they all rocked ... Sauvignon Blanc wines. There are 79 independent vineyards within a 20 minute drive of the city center. Kiwis take their wines very seriously. The University of Otago in Dunedin offers a diploma exclusively in wine - everything from seed to shelf.

Next Year's Vintage
Young Sauvignon Blanc grapes at Cloudy Bay
To say that Blenheim fills the same function as Niagara-On-The-Lake would be a little misleading as there are several wine towns across NZ that would compete for this honor (Napier, Martinborough, Queenstown) and many of the best restaurants in the area are not in town on the main drag, but among the grapes in the vineyards, featuring complete pairing menus with their own wines. But we did see more than a few well-heeled couples enjoying a romantic getaway from the big cities, presumably Wellington and Christchurch.

Feel like a glass of wine?
We got up early on Saturday and despite my objections, the kids decided that it was too early to go wine tasting. So we took advantage of the weather and went on a short hike along the cliffs skirting Queen Charlotte Sound. Here are some pics.

Interislander ferry

Cassandra's shot.

We made it!
Now that we had worked up an appetite, we were all in for wine-tasting. Err ... well, two of us were. But we soon found something that convinced the kids to give us some time sampling Marlborough's best vintages.

House of Sin
The kids trying in vain to score some chocolate

Now it was our turn. We drink Cloudy Bay at our house in Montreal more than any other white wine. I am a fan of white wines and Cloudy Bay's Sauvignon Blanc is second to none in my books. This one was the very first stop (after the chocolate factory, of course).

Cloudy Bay's cellar door
... and right across the street

Hans Herzog, one of the best of the region, especially for reds
After a few hours of sampling wines and pretending I knew what I was talking about, it was time to leave or risk being unable to drive to our next port of call. While Trish and I longed to stay on for the 8 course meal with beautiful wine pairings at Hans Herzog, it was hard to take the $40 kid's menu seriously.

So we headed south to Hanmer Springs, an inland mountain town famous for it's natural hot springs. That and our experience whale-watching in Kaikoura is the subject of the next blog.

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