This was my must-do activity. Hiking is great and all, but drinking lots of wine on a sunny day is better.
Okay, so truthfully I didn’t even know that biking to wineries in the Marlborough region was a thing until our airbnb host in Wellington mentioned it. But once I got the idea in my head, I couldn’t let it go. How could we not do it?!
I should really start doing a little more research on New Zealand…
Planning the Day
So we’d heard it before, but the people who work in the i-Sites around New Zealand are incredible. These little tourism information centers have the most knowledgeable employees. They can basically plan your itinerary for you if you tell them what you’re into. After disembarking the ferry, we visited the i-Site in Blenheim to see about this DIY bike tour. We basically wanted to know where we could rent bikes (cheaply) in order to visit the most Marlborough wineries possible. Quantity over quality, eh who cares?!
Their advice? We should head over to the little town of Renwick where a majority of the wineries were clustered within close distance. That way we didn’t have to start our day by biking the 10 kilometers from Blenheim to the nearest winery. And because we were camping anyway, we also go to Watson’s Way, a local hostel, where we could book a campsite and then get our bike rentals at a discount. Done and done. (Okay, she even booked it for us.)
But First, Let’s Whet Our Palette…
We had half-day to fill, so we also asked which wineries were drivable and must-dos for that afternoon. At this point, our i-Site woman had become our guiding light and we were following her every word. Thanks, Pauline!
Thank goodness I heard the correct French pronunciation of this winery’s name before heading out here and embarrassing myself. Owned by a French family with ties to the Sancerre region in France, the Clos Henri vineyard is located on a fault line that runs through Renwick.
Their tasting room is really cute and original – it’s a little chapel that they relocated to the property and then deconsecrated so that people could spend their days drinking wine there. For $5, we tried five wines and chatted with the French woman pouring it. I won’t lie, it was a very hot afternoon and I started feeling slightly boozy after that first tasting. (And it got me really excited for the next day when we could go all out.)
Uber modern with floor-to-ceiling windows and polished concrete floors, this is the place to come for views and photos of the surrounding fields of grapes. Set up on a hill, it’s pretty impressive… and you can even check out some falcons on the optional nature walk down if you want. They also have a restaurant that I can only imagine is gra
A little pricey for a full tasting at $10, but we split it between the two of us, and the wines were delicious. Like, it really made us want to buy a bottle and separate ourselves from the cheap boxed wine we’d been drinking, at least for a night…
But yeah, the views were impressive. These folks have a lotttt of grapes.
The Bike Tour Begins!
So after paying $18 for the night and $18 for a bike, we were set. (And yes $18 per night is quite expensive for a campsite, but typically a bike rental alone in Renwick costs $30 to $40 for the day, so apportion the costs how you will.) Also, the folks at Watson’s Way have taken the official Marlborough Wine Map and written down how much each tasting costs on the map beside the winery. They know their audience…
Wineries in the area offer tastings between 10 AM and 4 PM, with some of them staying open until 4:30 or 5PM, so we planned our day accordingly.
Get up, get ready, get bikes by 10 AM, and head off to do the cheapest (and um, all of the free) wine tastings… until all the wineries we can possibly peddle to are closed.
The Marlborough region produces mainly sauvignon blanc wine, followed by pinot noir. (And how lucky, these are some of my favorites!) The scenery is absolutely stunning, with mountains on top of bright green rows of grapes. And I just kept yelling, “I think this is the most beautiful place that we’ve been in the country!” It had nothing to do with the wine I’m sure.
Renwick is located in the sunniest part of New Zealand – THANK GOD – and we had great weather the entire time we were there. We even got to have an excellent lunch outside in the midst of our tour.
So here’s the list. We hit up the following wineries during our DIY bike tour of Marlborough vineyards around Renwick:
Alan Scott Winery ($2)
Located out by the popular Cloudy Bay Vineyard (whose tasting costs $10, no thanks!) we decided to get our exercise and peddle to this family-owned winery which was a bit out of town. We got some complimentary bubbles to start and then tasted three other wines in quick succession. We were even able to choose a few rather than being stuck with a set menu (for instance, I’d rather try the pinot noir and Marko would rather try the merlot).
Possibly the most knowledgeable and friendly staff ever! We asked the dumbest questions about wine and they humored us graciously. They also threw in a premium tasting or two, just so we could compare it with their cheaper versions. (Like oooh this is your typical sauvignon blanc but this one tastes grassy!) Not free, but worth the money!
No.1 Family Estate (free)
Also super knowledgeable, this place is alllll sparkling wine. Which is fun. Feels brunchy. Feels okay to be drinking at 11 AM. The tasting room also feels very fancy. We learned about how the bubbles are made, which was pretty cool, as I knew nothing about double fermentation.
I felt so adult to actually care about what the woman pouring our wine was saying, rather than just trying to get it into my glass ASAP. Does that mean I’m growing up?
Tiny pours, but still a very neat little organic winery set back off the road. And of course we took the opportunity to chat with the American girl working the tasting room who is also in New Zealand with her working holiday visa like us!
Taking the advice of our i-Site goddess, this was our lunch stop. Having heard that there was a “plentiful” meat and cheese platter for two, we were sold. The tasting itself was great and we got to pick ANY five wines that we wanted. We talked to a lovely French girl who’d been traveling for five years – mainly to wine regions – who was able to recommend a few while we interrogated her about her life story.
The pinot noir we had here may have been the best wine we had all day.
By this time, I was a little boozy and desperately in need of lunch. And our platter did not disappoint!
It had everything from pate to mussels to smoked fish to all the meats and cheeses promised. With fresh hot bread and crostinis. It was bountiful, though of course I could’ve eaten more (as always). However, since we each got to choose a glass of wine to accompany our platter, it was a good value for $40.
Wairau River (free)
Less of a tasting, more of a “tell me what you’d like to try” but still, the place itself is very cool. And I tried all the wines on the list (duh). They have bocce ball – I’m just now learning it’s also called boules – in the back and a great area to chill outside. There’s also a restaurant if your heart desires.
This is where my bike fell on top of me as I was putting on my helmet.
(Better than the other way around I guess.)
Bladen (free, tip optional)
A small family-owned vineyard set back off the main road. The owner was actually pouring the wine for the tastings and we got to hear the story of how Bladen got their start. Delicious and interesting. At this point, I remembered I should take more photos of the scenery, but it was so difficult while in the midst of biking.
I don’t know if it was the booze or if this place is just really cool. Their courtyard feels Spanish and it looks like a fab event space, plus the music inside was great. There are song lyrics spray painted on the walkway on the way in. Their tasting room felt more like a bar where you could actually hang out.
Oh, and they make riesling that tastes REALLY good. That’s the first time I’ve ever said that.
Gibson Bridge ($5)
The pinot gris people, they’re a small winery doing a little something different than the rest. They had a long tasting, a beautiful dog hanging around (you know you’re getting tipsy when you’re playing with the dog), and a super friendly owner running the show. I learned a little something about what just a “hint of oak” tastes like… and that I’m still not a fan.
Like a few of the other wineries, they also have a fun dessert wine (usually called a “late harvest”) which sounds like it’ll be gross and too sickly sweet but is actually quite amazing. The pinot gris is delicious, like you could down a bottle of it and not notice…. I believe the word for that is “drinkable.”
After all these tastings, I think I’m going to be using the word “drinkable” a lot more often.
Having just typed out this list of wineries, I’m shocked we made it to this many.
After our bike tour, we were still standing and in surprisingly good shape if you can believe it! Most of the tasting rooms had closed by this point and our bikes were due back at 5:30 anyway. The weather was still great though, so we cycled back to Watson’s Way and (this is the really shocking part) proceeded to play tennis for two hours before I nearly fainted from exhaustion.
I feel like we packed so much into this day, and because of the lovely people we met and the awesome weather and great wines, it’s been one of my favorite days in New Zealand so far! I see why people fall in love with Marlborough. 10/10, would recommend!
Where I Rented Bikes (& Stayed): I totally recommend Watson’s Way for both – even though I’ve already given you their handy map. They people are super friendly and give great tips, the bikes are solid, and the facilities are great!