The Marlborough region in the north of the south island of New Zealand is known as one of the great white wine regions of the world. Yet in 1969, there was not a single vine planted in the south island of New Zealand. John Buck of Te Mata is generally given credit for discovering the region although many people felt that he had got it very wrong when he declared it to be a paradise for wine growing. By 1991, Marlborough had become New Zealand's biggest vineyard area.
But what makes the Marlborough region so special? Probably one of the most important factors is lack of rain. In other parts of New Zealand rain can wreck a crop but although Marlborough doesn't have a particularly hot climate, in most years the grapes creep safely towards maturity. March, the month before the harvest starts, is generally the driest part of the year. In some years there is virtually no rain between January and March. As most vine diseases develop when humidity and rainfall occur at the wrong times, this dry spell hugely reduces the cost of anti-rot and mildew treatments. This leaves the winemaker with a reliable crop of healthy grapes. The bad weather during the growing season in New Zealand generally comes from the west and Marlborough is well protected by mountains to the south and east.
However, lack of rain is not enough as of course you need sunshine and warmth to ripen grapes. The sunshine hours here are often the longest in New Zealand and the consistent temperature is very similar to Burgundy in France yet rarely as hot as somewhere like Bordeaux. The fruit from the Marlborough region is famous for its mouth-watering acidity and too much daytime heat will soften that effect unless you have very cold nights, which is certainly the case here. The sea is only a few miles away and every night the temperature drops considerably. This, therefore, keeps the acidity high except in exceptionally hot years. Another important factor is wind. Usually cool climate vineyards need protection from wind but mountains on three sides naturally protect Marlborough and the prevailing winds are the warm northerlies so this will in fact help bolster the ripening process.
Soil too is relevant. Although there is fertile alluvial silt varying in depth up to 1 metre, the basic soil here is gravel, pebble and rock going down to 6 metres. On the southern side of the valley there can, therefore be a water deficiency and most successful vineyards are consequently drip-irrigated as a matter of routine.
The Sauvignon Blanc grape, of course, is totally at home in this region but Chardonnay and Riesling can also do well here too. The Pinot Noir can prove successful but Cabernet Sauvignons often fail to reach maturity resulting in one Australian describing it pretty aptly as "red Sauvignon Blanc".
The Oxford Wine Company stock some of the great wines from New Zealand and in particular the Marlborough region. Probably the best known of all New Zealand wines is Cloudy Bay and in particular the Sauvignon Blanc. As with all wine companies, we have a limited allocation of this wine together with the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Whilst the allocation of Sauvignon Blanc is heavily restricted, I urge customers to look more closely at the Chardonnay (we have some stock), which I believe offers excellent value for money. Wither Hills Sauvignon Blanc is another wine that we stock which I strongly recommend. We ship the wine direct and have good quantities available. We also stock Jackson Estate and Isabel Estate but with a very small harvest last year, both of these wines have been severely restricted.