Tuesday, January 30, 2018


In what is becoming a tradition, we headed over the Rimutaka Hill Road to Martinborough to pick up some of the new season wines, taste some new wines, and generally see what’s changed since we were last there. Our original intention was to stop at the top of the hill, where there’s a scenic lookout, but as we ascended the hills we encountered a layer of thick cloud, so the view would have been invisible. We pushed straight on and descended to the Wairarapa side, leaving sunny Wellington behind for Schiffer* weather.

First stop, as always, is at the i-site, to pick up a map of the vineyards. We used to hang on to these, thinking we could use the same one again next year, but soon learnt that with the changing seasons comes changing ownership, with different opening times.

We decided to try some new vineyards that we’d not been to before, and formulated a plan to go to Luna Estate, Poppies, Cambridge Road and Palliser Estate.

First on the list: Luna Estate. As we drive towards it, we see the sign: cellar door open from 12-5pm. It’s 11am. The best-laid plans of mice and men, etc. No problem, we’ll go back there later once they’re open – it’s not like we have to go a long way out of our way! The cellar doors around Martinborough are all within a very small area, even if some of them are sourcing grapes from vineyards further afield.

Next stop is Poppies, which we visit every year, and Poppy (who conducts the tastings in the tasting room) recognises me from my chats from previous years. I am slowly building up a vertical selection of pinot noir, and added two bottles of the 2016 vintage, as well as some pinot gris and rosé for immediate consumption.

It’s still only 11:30 by the time we leave, so we head round the corner to Cambridge Road. This is a vineyard that’s been around since 1986, but acquired by its current owner in 2008. Only in the last couple of years has it opened is cellar door to the public, which is why we hadn’t been there before. We tried a variety of wines there, including an “orange” wine (not made from oranges, but the colour being orange rather than pink), which is a rosé style of wine made from white grapes. It also has a characteristic sour taste, as it ferments in much the same style as kombucha. Interesting, but I’m not parting with cash for it. They also make some more traditional wines, and, like the people we found at Riwaka River Estate in Nelson, hold their wine back before selling it; so we were able to get hold of some 2013 pinot noir and syrah.

Finally, it’s midday, so we headed back the way we’d come and drove into Luna Estate. Whilst the name is unfamiliar, it is in fact on the site of the old Alana vineyard, which went bust a few years ago. When they did so I was able to pick up some of their pinot noir at a bargain price, and that is still in my cellar. We chatted to the wine taster, Joan, and she told us that it had now been bought out by the same company that owns Murdoch James. Not only that, but Murdoch James itself is disappearing at the end of the month, to be replaced by the Blue Rock name. As part of this, they’re selling off all the old Murdoch James wine at bargain prices, so we decided we’d pop in there on our way home for some bobby bargains.   

We stopped for lunch at Luna, then skipped our final visit to Palliser in favour of a quick drop-in to the Martinborough Brewery to pick up some beer, and on to Murdoch James, which is 7km outside town in a small cluster of vineyards that also includes Hamden Estate and Coney Vineyards. We told them that we’d just been at Luna and had heard about their bargains, and quickly tasted some wines, before departing with half a dozen each of the viognier and riesling at $10 a bottle.

A successful trip all round, and I’m looking forward to tasting some of these wines in the next decade!

* i.e. Claudia.

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