Sunday, 6 September 2015

Biking the Martinborough wineries

There is something incredibly romantic about the idea of cycling idly through acres of picturesque vineyards on a summer's day. The bicycle has a basket and a bell (practical and fun), it's sunny, the air is fresh and there are pretty spring flowers everywhere. Ahhh.

The reality is a little different. Getting a group of fourteen novice riders together and keeping them together between multiple venues along various stretches of road can be challenging. Still, it can be done and that's exactly what we managed to achieve last weekend in the wine village of Martinborough. Five vineyards, lots of laughter and several more additions to the wine list made for an excellent day out.

Our first stop on Saturday morning was at The Cabbage Tree Vineyard. We enjoyed meeting the vineyard owner and winemaker, David Bull, for a free wine tasting session. Cabbage Tree is a boutique vineyard set on 3 acres with 4000 vines, meaning 4000 bottles in a good harvest. All their wines are cellared before sale, which made for noticeably smooth drinking on all four samples. We also cleaned out their supplies of quince jelly and bagged walnuts. I love walnuts!
  • Semillon 2013. This is the only semillon produced in Martinborough. It has quite an up front acidity that I didn't like.
  • Chardonnay 2013. Apparently chardonnay will grow almost anywhere. This chardonnay is fermented in barrels for almost a year then bottled. Too much oak for me.
  • Pinot Noir 2009. This dusky red wine was barreled for nearly two years (sooo oaky!) but the finish was smooth because it had been cellared for five years.
  • Merlot 2010. Not often grown in Martinborough, the merlot vine flowers for just four days in November but a strong wind can blow off the pollen and destroy all the crops for that year. Gosh! It had a beautiful, rich red colour and was smoother than other merlots I've tasted, making it onto my maybe list.
Next up was Palliser Estate Wines. This was an elaborate and informative wine tasting experience hosted by manager Sara Benton and cost $5. I knew from our Wellington on a Plate dinner with Dai and Dal two weeks ago that the Palliser Estate Methode Traditionelle 2009 is becoming a firm favourite of mine and had this confirmed once again. We then sampled eight more wines across the Pencarrow and Palliser Estate labels - two each of pinot gris, sauvignon blanc, chardonnay and pinot noir.
Just around the corner is Muirlea Rise, a boutique vineyard specialising in reds. I'm not much of a red wine drinker so sat out this tasting but hung around for the entertainment from host Shawn Brown. He was full of good advice. For example:
"You wouldn't trust a skinny cook, so why would you trust a sober winemaker?"
Good point. We noticed that the labels on some of the wine bottles were upside down. Apparently this is because their wines should be cellared - and it can be hard to see what you're storing when you pull wine bottles out from a rack, so an upside down label suddenly becomes the right way up. Bam!

Across the road is the appropriately named Martinborough Vineyard. We tasted seven wines for $5 and I added one more wine to my yes list.
  • Te Tara Sauvignon Blanc 2014.This is a juicy, fruity style wine. Less up front than a Marlborough sauvignon blanc, it had a soft, smooth finish.
Other wines we sampled but were nos for me but some found favour among our group:
After lunch in the village square, we headed in the opposite direction towards Poppies Martinborough. Poppies is a boutique winery operated by wife and husband team Poppy and Shayne Hammond, formerly of Dry River Wines just across the road. This picturesque venue was hectically busy by mid-afternoon, with several large groups either waiting for $5 wine tastings or enjoying their famous platters.

Poppy the winemaker was our host and we sampled all six of her wines. It's important to note that Poppies wines are only available at their cellar door, so you won't find them at a wine distributor or supermarket. None of them made it onto my yes list but I enjoyed hearing about each wine's nuances from Poppy and learning more about how they were produced.
  • Rose 2015. Very light and subtle in flavour.
  • Sauvignon Blanc 2014. Quite different in style to other savs. Subtle flavour but too sweet for me.
  • Chardonnay 2014. This old-style chardonnay made from the Mendoza clone is just about to sell out. Oaked in larger 350 litre French oak barrels, it makes for a slightly more subtle oaky finish.
  • Pinot Gris 2015. This newly bottled wine was only into its second day of tasting. Very, very sweet, it was made from a Mission clone from Hawkes Bay.
  • Pinot Noir 2014. This wine had a beautiful ruby colour and is made from 33 year old vines that were there before the winery began producing for Poppies.
  • Late Harvest Riesling 2014. Not as sweet at some other sticky wines with 55 gram of residual sugar. Still far too sweet for me.
A few tips if you're thinking of biking the Martinborough wineries:
  • Start out by grabbing the latest wine map from the Martinborough Information Centre or download a copy before you head out. While most of the wineries are situated close to each other along one road, there are others just a few blocks away that are well worth visiting, too. 
  • Check out the cellar door hours. Most are open 10.30-4 on weekends but winter and weekday hours vary.
  • If you're planning to buy bottles of wine along the way, wear a backpack or make sure your bike has a basket. Some wineries do free deliveries to your accommodation later in the day but not all offer this service.
  • The cost of most tastings averages $5; some are more, some are less and a few are free. Some wineries will refund your tasting fee if you buy a bottle from their cellar door; others won't. Not all will accept credit cards or EFTPOS for tasting fees so carry some cash.

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