September 19, 2012

Putting The Country In Wine Country

We had been planning for months to take the car ferry from Wellington on the North Island to Picton on the South Island. But then we hit the whole, “we don’t have Internet in our campervan” snag and waited too long to buy the tickets. This left us with the lovely remaining option of a 2:45am ferry departure. Lucky for us, we roll around the country with a fold-down bed. We spent the entire 3-hour, motion sickness inducing ferry across the Cook Straight as sleeping stowaways in the cargo hold.

Thank goodness we got that extra rest because our first day on the South Island was fantastic. First off, the sun was shining! After the rainy weather we had on the North Island, this was already enough to make our first day a success.

Picton rolls out the welcome mat with a picture-perfect location on the Marlborough Sound.

We drove along the Queen Charlotte and Pelorus Sounds until we reached Havelock, the self-proclaimed “Green-Lipped Mussel Capital of the World”. Their mussel sampler platter was one fun plate of food to dissect.

Our ultimate goal for the day was the world-famous Marlborough Wine Region. The unassuming small towns of Blenheim and Renwick produce 60% of all New Zealand wines – primarily Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, and Pinot Noir.

Because we visited in early Spring, there were no leaves on the vines...but also no snobby crowds to arm wrestle for a 1 ounce pour. Even more memorable than the wine will be the notion that Marlborough puts the “country” in wine country. We have never seen this anywhere else in the world…sheep grazing the vineyards.

Have you ever seen a happier looking sheep?

Our first stop was Seresin, where the winery dog Gemma’s favorite toys are the big rubber barrel corks.

Every winery in this region loves to tell you that they put New Zealand wines on the map”, but we’re pretty sure that the Sauvignon Blanc from Cloudy Bay actually did so in the 1980s.

Lawson's Dry Hills has won lots of awards and loves to show you so with their too-much-flare-on-one-bottle stickers.

And our final stop was Hunter’s Wines, a winery with an intriguing back-story. The managing director, Jane Hunter, became one of the most successful woman winemakers in the world after her husband died in car accident. She picked up the pieces of their early-days winery and hasn’t looked back. Hunter’s Wines also pulled the most brilliant marketing move of all time when they successfully sold Steve a Merlot-Sangiovese blend by describing it as “pizza in a bottle”.

What wine region wouldn’t be complete without a neighboring artsy community? For Marlborough, that town is Nelson

Before arriving, we didn’t know that Nelson is also the home of the One Who Ruled Them All. But we quickly learned that Nelson’s local jeweler was tapped to created the One Ring in the Lord of the Rings  movies. By the way, Steve helped me write this paragraph. I’m not kidding anyone…I’ve never been able to stay awake through 30 minutes of Lord of the Rings.

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