A trip to Wellington without a trip to Wairarapa is a trip wasted I say! The Wairarapa region is located about an hours train ride east of Wellington. It’s a cheap and easy scenic trip that the Wellington locals make the most of, alighting in the quaint town of Featherston for a short drive into Martinborough. The small town of Martinborough has developed into a charming hub of boutique cafes and cottage industries as well as New Zealand’s signature destination for Pinot Noir. Wellingtonians and tourists alike ditch their cars and rent bikes, grab a picnic basket and set out for the day travelling between wineries and stopping as they please. We were lucky enough to catch the local farmer’s market at Te Kairanga winery before a long day of wine tasting!
TK (as its been dubbed via its recent rebrand) is one of Martinborough’s founding vineyards recently acquired by American billionaire William Foley. Foley Family Wines NZ has an impressive portfolio of properties in the area and I was surprised to discover his name was one spoken without contention. ‘Foley’s investment in the region has saved a lot of struggling vineyards and kept the Martinborough wine district thriving’, we were told. Te Kairanga is a great example, the picturesque cellar door plays host to a number of events including the superb farmer’s market and is a great spot to taste some standout wines including the brand’s Chardonnay and ‘Runholder’ Pinot Noir.
Following TK we headed down the road to Poppies, a new winery established by husband and wife team Shayne and Poppie Hammond who gained notoriety across the road at Dry River Winery. Here Poppy makes the wines and Shayne manages the vines, and the menu we later found out! It’s the only vineyard where you can find exclusive Martinborough wines, they don’t wholesale or distribute, you can only purchase directly. We sampled Poppie’s brand new Chardonnay (which she was very excited about), her Pinot Noir and her Pinot Gris, which I think was one of the most delicious wines I’ve had in recent years, so much so that we bought two bottles.
With Poppie at the helm of the cellar door, Shayne, a trained chef, adds the finishing touches to the lunch menu, which on the day included a phenomenal chocolate, cinnamon and chilli tart for dessert. It was great to talk to such an enthusiastic team in Poppie and Shayne who were personable, passionate and proud of the business they’ve built. Poppies delivered one of the finest cellar door experience of my life – beautiful boutique wines, lovely people and a serious lunch all soaked up in a wonderful setting (with a bit of Van Morrison playing in the background).
For our final stop of the day we travelled to Ata Rangi, one of Martinborough’s most acclaimed wineries. Clive Paton planted the original home paddock in Martinborough in 1980 and in doing so was one of the handful of people who pioneered grape growing in the region. Today Ata Rangi is a true family affair. Clive manages the winery with his wife, his sister and her husband and the team are responsible for some of the finest Pinot vintages in the region and the country.
While many in New Zealand struggled in the uncommonly warm 2011 weather, Ata Rangi produced a standout vintage, building on the success of the previous 4 years with an elegant and complex Pinot Noir. We spent the afternoon sitting among the trees tasting the notable varieties from Ata Rangi and couldn’t resist picking up a couple of bottles on the way out!