Pinot pioneers

Size is one thing, but growing the profile of Martinborough is high on the to-do list of the Wairarapa Wine Region.

When it comes to small wine regions, New Zealand has no shortage of contenders to vie for being the smallest. Even if it does have an extremely high quality wine profile, Auckland has precious few vineyards of its own left these days but it is far from the smallest region with its 285 hectares of vines. Then there is Northland with 76 hectares, the Waitaki Valley with 59 and the Waikato with a mere 13 hectares of vines, no doubt most of them ornamental.

This story is about Martinborough, another small wine region and also the name of a remote rural village in the Wairarapa, a 90-minute drive from Wellington city. This small wine region is one of the epicentres of high quality pinot noir production on Earth. The only problem is, hardly anyone knows about it.

Martinborough is the heart of the Wairarapa Wine Region (the official title of the broader area), and in total the region has 1,090 hectares of producing vineyard land – of which 400 hectares is devoted to pinot noir, the region’s flagship wine.

It may be small but so, too, are many of the world’s greatest wine regions. Barolo has had a 40 per cent growth in the past 30 years, bringing it to 1,700 hectares of vines today and Barbaresco has just 680 hectares of vines. These are two of Italy’s greatest wine regions. They will never be big but they each have enviably high profiles for making some of the greatest, seductively complex, powerful red wines on Earth.

And so, it is Martinborough’s profile that needs to grow first and foremost.

Enter Pinot Pioneers, an event that will be held for the first time on Thursday 27 July. The aim is to celebrate the success of the first four modern wine pioneers in the region and also to give the region a wider profile in the minds and mouths of wine lovers around New Zealand and the world.

The event will include a dinner at Union Square Bistro & Bar, where pinot noir will be celebrated, enjoyed, and followed by an informal pinot noir tasting. 

The quality of pinot noir made in both Martinborough and the Wairarapa can be outstanding. Many of the wines routinely punch above their weight in terms of price, but the region’s marketing machine has been notable for lack of presence and the organisers of Pinot Pioneers want to change that.

The region is growing in size, albeit from a small base.

This is most notably due to Craggy Range Winery, which has purchased 132 hectares of land in the Te Muna Valley, nine kilometres east of Martinborough village. This will double the production of Craggy’s wine in this region and will see the production of Wairarapa wine grow by about 10 per cent.

Te Muna Valley is significantly windier with summer days that can be hotter and nights that can be chillier. This higher range of temperature variation between day and night is a highly- prized key quality of the entire region and one of the reasons pinot noir thrives in and around the quaint little village of Martinborough.

It may be small, remote and without the mountain peaks of the deep south, but Martinborough pinot noirs scale great heights of quality and style, often without an astronomical price tag. This is a wine region to watch.

Try this…

2020 Te Tera Pinot Noir, $29

A stellar Martinborough pinot noir made from grapes from a stoney vineyard south of the village; all grapes were destemmed and the wine is smooth and spicy with earthy aromas supported by great acid structure.

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