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Published: March 31st 2016
C: We left Wellington on Good Friday heading across the Cook Strait on the aptly named Interislander ferry. It was really busy due to it being the start of the Easter weekend but we were very excited when they brought round (free!) hot cross buns. The crossing takes a little over three hours but the last hour is spent travelling through the dramatic Marlborough sounds which meant beautiful views all around. We collected our next hire car at Picton and then headed off to the centre of the Marlborough wine region, Blenheim.
Very little is open on Good Friday so we were relieved to see a nice-looking pub directly opposite our motel. However, they have strange licensing laws which means you can't have a drink on Good Friday without ordering food. As we wanted dinner, this shouldn't have been a problem but the place was so busy that they said they couldn't take our food order for at least half an hour. Oh well, we thought, we'll just have a drink while we wait but nope, that's not allowed due to the strange licensing laws. After getting thoroughly confused by this seeming paradox we figured out that we could order
a bar snack (although only some things counted, bread - yes, but fries - no!) and get a drink. Weird experience. The best thing was that most of the staff didn't seem to understand it either. In the end we had a very nice dinner with a beer and a wine...eventually.
The next day we wanted to explore the surrounding wineries and so had booked two bikes through a company called bike2wine set up to avoid drink driving, clearly drunken cycling is not such a problem. We were picked up by minibus, driven to our bikes and then sent off armed with a map showing all the local wineries. They're mostly quite close together so there was definitely more drinking than biking involved. The whole region is full of vines, so you cycle on fairly quiet roads in amongst the vines with a lovely view of the surrounding mountains. Most of the wineries do free tastings too which was great. We made it to about eight tasting rooms and I discovered that I now prefer NZ Pinot Gris (much drier than in Europe) to the ubiquitous Sauvignan Blanc. We punctuated the constant drinking with some cheese tasting and a
much needed late lunch before rolling into a somewhat out of place brewery at about 5pm. They had a cider on tap so I asked what kind it was, thinking I'd get the same kind of description I had been used to in the wineries, and they told me it was 'apple'. Great! From here we were collected by the bike2wine minibus and deposited back at our motel. It was a happy day! (R : So happy we both fell asleep when we came in and then went drunken shopping in the supermarket which is never a good idea).
After a good night's sleep we woke up on Easter Sunday. We went to the local church for their Easter morning service, I felt a bit sad as I was missing my dad's last service before he retires. When we get home they will have moved house after 21 years in Weymouth! After church we went on a scenic drive up and around the Malborough sounds. The whole area is stunningly beautiful and it was lovely weather so the colours everywhere were amazing. The roads are definitely not designed for much traffic though, very narrow, steep and windy. We got
a lot of impressive views and enjoyed watching boats pootling about on the water. Next time I think boating would be the best way to see the sounds as there actually isn't much there. We then dropped in to Picton which is much more than just the ferry port and enjoyed soaking up the late afternoon sunshine with a coffee before heading back to Blenheim.
Our next day was mainly a driving day, but we made a bit of time for some of the wineries we hadn't got to on the bike. We had to check out at 10am, so our first tasting was at about 10:10 and included six wines! (R: at the fourth we had lunch, which was delicious and incredibly good value, considering, then we headed on the road towards Nelson and Cate, being the nominated taster, slept most of the way...).
R: Overall the experience of visiting the cellar doors was fun and unpressured. You normally saunter in, they put out a list of what's possible and you drink them in the order they present them to you - normally with more subtle whites first, moving to bigger bolder reds at the end. This
Cloudy bay winery
(Recognise the mountains?)
region specialises in Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Pinot Noir so they normally feature, sometimes with some bubbles, or a desert wine thrown in. Normally the tastings are free, but some ask for $5 or so per person. We found some of the staff pretty engaging, others miserable as sin, but you also got to chat to others who were there too. Almost all the wineries had lovely gardens and picnic areas and some had restaurants of varying cost. Of course, there's the option of buying a bottle, they often get you to taste things you can't go and buy cheaper in the supermarket to prevent you just walking away, but there's generally no pressure to buy anything.
A full list of the wineries we visited :
Nautilus Estate - wins our prize for best cheese board, even though we only had one.
Giessen - probably our favourite where we came back to for lunch on Monday
No1 Family Estate - only does bubbles, and the tasting room is covered in bling
Cloudy Bay - a bit pretentious as they have the world wide reputation,
also one of the ones that charges for tasting
Allen Scott Family winemakers
Spy Valley - themed like a Bond-villain hideout
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