Wellington isn’t known for its wines but, just over the Rimutaka Range into the Wairarapa, nearby Martinborough is. Once just another farming region in the rural countryside Martinborough was first planted with grapes 30 years ago. Although having only 3% of the planted vineyard acreage in New Zealand and producing only 1% of the national vintage it’s well worth checking out. These are high quality cool-climate vines of Burgundy style and pinot noir and sauvignon blanc are the main varieties, with much smaller acreages of the aromatics – riesling, pinot gris and chardonnay grown as well. Ata Rangi, Craggy Range and Dry River are amongst the well known wineries in the region.
Martinborough is just an hour and a half drive ‘over the hill’ from Wellington city. It’s a bit of an understatement as ‘the hill’ is a winding, steep (but sealed) road across the Rimutaka Hill. Signs to the ‘Classic New Zealand Wine Trail’ start on the Wellington side of the range in the Hutt Valley. It’s a beautiful drive and well worth doing by rental car, either as a day trip or for a few days.
There is a good selection of accommodation ranging from family-style homestays to luxury retreats. Local activities include winery tours, mountain biking, golf, quad biking, coastal fishing and long lunches – vineyard style.
Martinborough village is a vibrant little centre, first surveyed in the shape of the Union Jack back in the 1880s. The central portion of that layout is now a boutique shopping area with cafes, a day spa and specialty wine and food stores. The Martinborough Wine Centre in Kitchener Street is well worth visiting.
Toast Martinborough is a highly successful wine, food and music festival held each year in November. You’ll need to buy tickets well ahead for this one; they sell out fast. There are also two market days held in early February and early March which pull together lots of local producers and their wares.
Martinborough is on State Highway 2, so if you’re touring the North Island between Taupo and Wellington this makes a nice alternative to the busier roads along State Highway 1. You can also visit Napier and Hawkes Bay along the way – perfect, as the Hawke’s Bay is also a key wine region.