At the foot of the Rimutaka ranges, the iron flat landscape of Wairarapa spreads before you. Martinborough is the jewel in this provincial crown.
Mythology characterises New Zealand, and Martinborough is the site of one modern legend central to the success of the wine industry. Malcolm Abel, a customs officer with a passion for wine, is said to have saved a confiscated cutting smuggled into Aotearoa in the 1970s inside a gumboot. This was no mediocre snipping but a specimen apparently stolen from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, one of Burgundy’s most famous vineyards. Abel propagated the vine, sold some of the clones to a Martinborough vineyard, and pinot noir was born here. Today it’s the Wairarapa’s flagship varietal.
New Zealand’s wine industry has grown hand in hand with tourism, leading to smaller producers hand-making beautiful, high-end wines and a proliferation of boutique bachs and cottages for people to stay. And so it was that we found ourselves at the Winemaker’s Cottage at Luna Blue Rock Estate for a peaceful weekend break just before harvest.
Day 1 On the trail
Luna is the brain child of Wellington businessman Charlie Zheng, who purchased Murdoch James and Alana Estates in 2011 and 2014 respectively. They’ve rebranded as Luna – named after Zheng’s daughter – and have made some serious decisions about their wine, pulling out underperforming varietals to focus on their core products, pinot noir and chardonnay. The Luna Blue Rock vineyard, nestled between Hamden Estate and Dry River Wines just out of town, is where lovers and extended families alike can find themselves on a relaxed and secluded break.
The main vineyard and cellar door is on Martins Road in Martinborough itself, so we decided to abandon the car and hire a bike from Martinborough Bike Hire just up the road. There are around 20 vineyards to visit in town, all in close proximity. Add to that the weekend farmers’ market, boutique cinema, a brewery, the gin distillery and a wide range of restaurants and cafes, and you may wonder why anybody ever leaves.
After enjoying a sharing platter and tasting at Luna, we headed off on a wine trail that could have kept us busy for days. Our first stop was Tirohana Estate, a lovely little vineyard just a short wobble up Martins Road. One of the oldest vineyards in Martinborough, Tirohana produce award-winning, handmade, heritage varieties from their historic blocks, and their restaurant also offers a Sunday roast.
Next was Ata Rangi, the first vineyard to commercially produce that infamous Abel clone. Around 50 per cent of their pinot vines come from that original cutting. Founded by Clive Paton in 1979, the Ata Rangi land is an ancient riverbed terrace perfect for viticulture. Committed to sustainability and biodiversity, insecticides have never been used here. Paton says the dry weather and icy spring wind that naturally lowers the yield makes this area a great match for Burgundy-style wines offering an earthy, savoury flavour profile.
After Ata Rangi we took a slightly longer pedal to the Martinborough Vineyard, home to Lighthouse Gin as well as well-rounded wines. An ISO14001 accredited company, they aim to maximise the effect of the cool climate to produce wines in a classic, European style. Two roads down is Palliser Estate, at 72 hectares it’s one of the larger vineyards in this boutique realm. Despite the size, their small team are knowledgeable and friendly, and apparently they also offer cooking courses. By that point though, we were ready for someone else to cook for us, so we headed to Poppies vineyard for a late afternoon, vegan-friendly sharing platter, matched with wine next to their fireside.
“There are around 20 vineyards to visit in town... Add to that the weekend farmers’ market, boutique cinema, gin distillery and a wide range of restaurants and you may wonder why anybody ever leaves.”
Day 2 Cycle savvy
Just a short drive from Martinborough is Greytown, our focus for day two. I’d wanted to check out the Pashley bicycle shop there for ages, having left my own beautiful vintage-style steel bike in London, many moons ago. Launched by Adam Blackwell and run by general manager Shane Kelly, Blackwell and Sons is the only official Pashley importer in New Zealand, often described as the most beautiful bike shop in the country. Kelly set us both up with Pashley test bikes, and we headed off down the Greytown Woodside Trail, a flat five-kilometre track with great views and handy picnic tables. We stopped halfway to enjoy a bottle of wine we’d picked up from nearby Gladstone Vineyard.
After dropping the bikes back to Blackwell & Sons we dropped into Forest Organics next door for a coffee and a delicious raw food slice. Forest Organics boast that 95 per cent of their produce is certified organic, and they focus not just on health foods but products that are ethical and sustainable.
Back in Martinborough, we headed to Circus Cinema, a restaurant and bar with a small screening room that shows arthouse flicks and new releases alike. Great pizza, some local beer – a nice change – and a delightful end to a dreamy weekend.