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Marlborough is New Zealand’s largest wine region and is world-famous for its Sauvignon Blanc. The cold nights, hot sunny days, and low rainfall at the top of the South Island are the ideal conditions to create this crisp and aromatic white wine.
You’ll also find good Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Riesling, and Gewurztraminer.
We love a glass of refreshing sauv and are always up for a wine break, so of course, we stopped here for a few days on our way from Wellington to Nelson.
The Marlborough Wine Region is conveniently located just a 30-minute drive from the ferry terminal in Picton. If you are travelling on the ferry between the North and South Islands, it’s well worth making a short detour here. It’s also close to the gorgeous Marlborough Sounds.
We spent a wonderfully relaxing few days in this beautiful area where mountains surround the vineyards and the sun is often shining. We stayed in a lovely B&B, cycled through the vines, sampled some superb wines, and ate delicious food.
It was the perfect wine country break and we share our top tips below so you can make the most of your visit to the Marlborough wineries.
- Top Tips for the Marlborough Wine Region
- Our Recommended Marlborough Wineries by Bike
- Map of Marlborough New Zealand Wineries
- Getting to the Marlborough Wine Region
- Other New Zealand Wine Regions
- More New Zealand Posts
This post was originally published in January 2020 and last updated in 2021 after repeat visits to Marlborough.
Top Tips for the Marlborough Wine Region
1) Stay in Renwick
Blenheim is the largest town in Marlborough, but it’s not very charming, and I recommend staying 12km (7 miles) west in the tiny town of Renwick instead.
Renwick is closer to more of the wineries, so it’s easier to explore by bike or even on foot. There are 20 wineries within 5km (3 miles), so you’ll have plenty of choice for a DIY Marlborough wine tour by bike.
While you could visit the Marlborough wineries as a day tour from Picton, you’ll either have to drive (which is no fun for the driver) or take a minibus tour (which gives you less freedom). Plus it’s such a beautiful area with some excellent restaurants that it’s well worth spending a few days here.
One night is doable if you arrive at lunchtime, but I recommend two nights to give you a full day to explore. We could have spent even longer here as we enjoyed our relaxing break so much.
Part of the reason we loved Marlborough so much was our accommodation—the Olde Mill House B&B is the perfect example of a wine country B&B.
The B&B has just three rooms (all ensuite) in a historic house with beautiful gardens—I loved sitting amongst the flowers with views of the mountains. There’s even a hot tub to relax in at the end of the day.
It’s run by friendly couple Mark and Janice who provide lots of advice and thoughtful touches. Our room was spacious and comfortable with extras like chocolates and fluffy robes.
Although there’s no fridge in the room, there’s a shared kitchenette where you can store things in the fridge, make tea or coffee, and use the microwave. You can also use the BBQ in the garden.
A continental breakfast (including warm croissants and homemade jams made with fruit from their garden) is included in the room rate and is eaten communally with other guests.
The owners also run the onsite Bike2Wine service and bike rentals are free to guests, which makes the B&B excellent value. We found cycling the perfect way to explore the wineries (more on that below).
If Olde Mill House is not available, we’ve also stayed at Anglesea House B&B. It’s central, friendly, comfortable, and offers free bikes (but they are more basic than at Olde Mill House). The double room with terrace is best as it has an ensuite, separate sitting room, and seating area in the garden.
2) Rent Bikes to Cycle the Marlborough Wine Trail
The best way to explore the Marlborough wineries is to rent a bicycle. It gives you more freedom than a tour (and is cheaper—spend your cash on wine instead!) and no one has to be the designated driver.
It’s also lovely to be out in nature, enjoying the vineyard and mountain views, and stopping to take photos whenever you want.
Bike2Wine at Olde Mill House B&B in Renwick rents bikes for NZ $30 per person per day (or free for guests). This includes a wine trail map and recommendations, helmets, locks, and saddlebags to carry any purchased wine. They will also pick you up at the end of the day if you get too tired to cycle back!
There are 15 Marlborough cellar doors within a 5km (3 mile) radius of Renwick. The nearest winery to Bike2Wine is just a 15-minute ride away and we rarely cycled more than that between wineries all day.
It’s flat and easy cycling (and really, I’m not that good on a bike). Part of the Marlborough Wine Trail is on a separate bike path through the vines which is very pretty. Other times it’s on roads, but none of them are too busy. All the wineries have bike racks for parking.
We spent five hours visiting six cellar doors and had a wonderful day. We only covered about 14km (9 miles) so it was very leisurely cycling. You can see our top picks below.
3) Check Opening Times
Before you set off, check the cellar door opening hours on the Marlborough Wine Trail Map (you’ll get a copy with your bike rental). Most open from 10am or 11am until 4pm or 5pm.
Some cellar doors close or have reduced hours in the winter months from May to October. We visited at the end of October and Bladen, one of our favourite cellar doors, had only just reopened after the winter.
Late October (spring) was shoulder season and a fantastic time to visit. It was much quieter than the popular summer months, but we still had warm enough weather to sit outside with a glass of wine.
We have also visited in winter and although the vines were bare, there were still plenty of wineries to choose from, and some have cosy open fires (check out the Winter Fireplace Trail). This is one of the sunniest parts of New Zealand so you can often expect cool temperatures but bright blue skies. It was cloudy on our trip with temperatures of 13ºC.
The wine harvest would also be an interesting time to visit Marlborough, although smaller wineries won’t have time for guests at cellar doors. This takes place in New Zealand’s autumn months in March to April.
4) Seek Out Smaller Wineries
Many visitors to Marlborough want to visit Cloudy Bay, one of the most well-known wineries internationally, but we heard it was overrated. The large wineries have to hire temporary staff for the cellar doors and the tasting experience isn’t going to be as good as speaking to one of the winemakers.
Instead, seek out the smaller, family-run wineries, or at least mix these in with the larger places. One of our favourite wine tastings was at Bladen which took place in a shed amongst the vines with the son of the owners and winemakers.
5) Share Tastings
A few of the wine tastings at the cellar doors are free (such as No.1 Family Estate and Te Whare Ra), but most charge a tasting fee of NZ $5 to 10.
There’s no need to order one tasting per person, though. We shared all of our tastings and still had enough wine for us both to have a couple of sips of each variety. This not only saved us money, but most importantly, stopped us getting too drunk and enabled us to visit more wineries.
6) Be Prepared
- Wear suncream – Even if it feels cool, the sun is harsh in New Zealand and you can burn quickly.
- Take layers – The weather can be changeable. In October the mornings were chilly but the afternoons were sunny and hot (19ºC).
- Drink water – When you are cycling and drinking, you’ll want to stay hydrated. The wineries provide free tap water, but it’s a good idea to bring a bottle for on the bike.
7) Eat Lunch at a Marlborough Winery
Many of the wineries have restaurants serving excellent local food, and it’s a good idea to have a substantial lunch during a day of wine tasting.
Menus are quite small and change seasonally, and although we found vegetarian options limited, there’s always at least one option. In the summer you might need to make reservations, but in spring we didn’t need to.
On our DIY cycling tour, we stopped for lunch at Giesen (sadly, now closed) where we enjoyed a delicious cheese platter (NZ $20pp) with wine flight.
On a return visit we cycled to Wairau River Wines for a delicious lunch of blue cheese souffle and vegetarian curry.
You could also make the most of your Marlborough stay by stopping at a winery for lunch on your way in and out of town. As you’ll be driving rather than cycling, you can visit some of the places a little further afield.
On our way from the ferry in Picton, we stopped at Rock Ferry near Blenheim where we shared a simple cheese plate and a green bean, asparagus and pesto salad.
8) Eat Dinner at Arbour
By far our favourite meal in Marlborough, and in all of New Zealand, was at Arbour Restaurant.
Arbour is not at a winery, although it’s surrounded by vineyards and has an excellent wine list. They only serve seasonal tasting menus and you can choose between the smaller (NZ $89) and larger (NZ $109) menus.
They can cater to vegetarians if you book in advance, and the chef even came out and said how much he enjoyed vegetarian cooking.
This is fine dining in an unpretentious setting. Our friendly waiter had a great sense of humour and gave us tips on the area. Each of our courses was wonderful—creative and flavourful and they even made me like egg yolk.
Arbour is a 25-minute walk from Olde Mill House, but you have to walk alongside a highway without a sidewalk, so we got a taxi back (NZ $15).
I highly recommend having dinner here, ideally on your first night as you might not have the energy after a day wine tasting. Bookings are recommended, especially in summer. Arbour is currently open for dinner Wednesday to Saturday.
Otherwise, places to eat dinner in Renwick are limited to a few pubs and a takeaway. There’s also a supermarket if you want to self-cater. On our second night we had average pizza and curly fries in the beer garden at Cork & Keg. It was fine after a day drinking but no match for Arbour’s excellence.
9) Buy a Bottle or Two
Treat yourself to a few bottles of your favourite wine from the tastings—you won’t regret it. Bottles of Sauvignon Blanc cost around NZ $22-26.
Bikes come equipped with saddlebags, so bottles are easy to carry (we managed five bottles!). Bike2Wine can always pick you up if you get too loaded down.
10) Indulge at Makana Chocolate Shop
In the centre of Blenheim is the Makana Chocolate Shop where you can enjoy free tastings and pick up some gifts and treats. It’s a good stop on the way to Picton.
We loved all their handmade treats, but the chocolate-dipped cherries were our favourites.
Our Recommended Marlborough Wineries by Bike
We visited six Marlborough cellar doors on a five hour DIY cycling tour.
Our favourites were Forrest and Bladen for the Sauvignon Blanc and overall tasting experience and No.1 for the bubbly.
Forrest was only a 15-minute cycle from our B&B on a quiet bike path. It was the most relaxing wine tasting we did on bean bag chairs in their garden.
You can sample two wines for free at the bar, but we recommend sharing a tasting tray of seven wines for NZ $10 which included mostly whites and a couple of Pinot Noirs.
We were given a good introduction to the wines before being left to sample them at our own pace. Our favourite was the classic Sauvignon Blanc with guava notes.
Forrest’s Doctors’ range is named after the owners, a husband and wife doctor team (one PHD, one medical) who have experimented widely to create their excellent wines.
A 10-minute cycle further along was Bladen, a small family-run cellar door in a shed in their garden. It’s one of the best Marlborough wineries for a casual and intimate tasting.
Our tasting was led by the son of the owners who moved here from the city (with a caravan and couple of toddlers) in the 1980s and planted their own vineyards in the very early years of the Marlborough wine scene.
The tasting costs $5 for six wines (a range of whites and a Pinot Noir) but the fee is waived if you buy a bottle. The experience was very down to earth with no pressure to engage in wine talk. We could happily have bought any of the wines but picked up a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc.
A 20-minute cycle along the road brought us to the Nautilius cellar door. Tastings are $5 and you can choose four regular wines or three reserves. We did the regular set and ended up with a bottle of their Pinot Noir.
This was the largest cellar door so far, although it wasn’t busy. The server was friendly but as non wine experts we found it a little intimidating being asked what we thought of each wine.
After Nautilius we stopped for a cheese platter lunch at Giesen, just a few minutes further along the road. Sadly, the Giesen cellar door has since closed. You could have lunch at Wairau River instead (we did on a return trip), which is just across the road from Nautilius.
No.1 Family Estate
Continuing along the road, it was a 10-minute cycle to No.1 which is the only New Zealand winery dedicating entirely to making bubbly. They use the Méthode Traditionelle, which is the same method used in the Champagne region of France.
Tastings of two or three sparkling wines are free and include a good explanation of the wine-making process. It was friendly and unpretentious with no hard sell—although we picked up a bottle for Simon’s upcoming birthday.
Whitehaven at Vine Village
Just past No.1 is the Vine Village which includes independent shops, deli, cafe, wine, beer and gin tastings, outdoor games (like giant chess and pétanque), an art gallery, and beehives. It’s a lovely spot with outdoor seating overlooking vineyards.
We really enjoyed the wine tasting at Whitehaven. It was seated and cost $5 for four wines of our choice. They make a classic Sauv and we were surprised how much we enjoyed the Pinot Noir.
Te Whare Ra
Our final Marlborough cellar door of the day was a 30-minute ride down a quiet road with beautiful views back past our B&B.
Te Whare Ra is a small, family-run winery that makes excellent organic wines. You can try as many wines as you like for free in the small tasting room. We especially liked their Chardonnay and the Toru, an interesting blend of three white grape varieties.
Map of Marlborough New Zealand Wineries
Getting to the Marlborough Wine Region
As with everywhere in New Zealand, Marlborough wine country is easiest reached with your own vehicle.
If you are heading south after Marlborough, check out our recommendations for the best stops on an East Coast South Island road trip.
Renwick is a 30-minute drive from Picton where the ferry from Wellington (3.5 hours) arrives.
It’s well worth spending some time in Picton before you head to wine country to explore the stunning Marlborough Sounds. You can visit on day trips by boat, or as we did, spend 3 to 5 days hiking the Queen Charlotte Track, one of our top experiences in New Zealand.
We’ve also spent a couple of weeks staying far out in the beautiful Sounds at remote St Omer's Hideout, which is one of our favourite places to stay in New Zealand. So relaxing!
Renwick is a two-hour drive from Nelson, which was our next destination. If you are heading in this direction, stop at Pelorus Bridge Scenic Reserve where you can do some short walks along the gorgeous turquoise river (or even go for a dip) and through the birdsong-filled forest. This is where the barrel scene in The Hobbit movie was filmed.
See our picks for what to do in Nelson. Or watch the video below.
If you are coming from the east coast of the South Island, Renwick is a two-hour drive from Kaikoura.
By Public Transport
If you don’t have your own vehicle, you can fly to Blenheim airport or take the bus to Blenheim from Picton, Nelson or Kaikoura.
If you stay at the Olde Mill House, the hosts can pick you up from the airport or bus station.
Other New Zealand Wine Regions
There are many other fantastic wine regions to visit in New Zealand.
Near Nelson you can also find excellent Sauvignon Blanc as well as Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and others. We recommend lunch at Forsters Restaurant at the Moutere Hills Winery and a tasting at Neudorf Vineyard who make wonderful Chardonnay and Pinot Noir and have a lovely garden with a view.
Central Otago near Queenstown is home to the best Pinot Noir in New Zealand. Our favourite is Wild Irishman, which you can sample at the Kinross Cellar Door.
We did another DIY cycle tour here along the scenic Gibbston Valley River Trail to a number of wineries. We rented bikes from Going Blue who provide transport from Queenstown. We later returned to stay at Kinross Cottages overlooking the vineyards.
See our guide to the Gibbston wineries for details.
The North Island also has some great wine regions that we love. Hawke’s Bay is the second largest wine region in the country and you’ll even find over 20 wineries on Waiheke Island, a short ferry ride from Auckland. Our North Island New Zealand itinerary includes them both.
We have visited many wine regions around the world and Marlborough is one of our favourites. We loved being able to easily cycle to many wineries through beautiful scenery and the Sauvignon Blanc is superb.
Our stay at a lovely B&B and delicious meal at Arbour made the trip even better. If you are passing through Picton or Nelson, don’t miss a detour to Marlborough.
More New Zealand Posts
- 24 Best Things to Do in Nelson
- Exploring Abel Tasman National Park
- A Detailed Guide to Walking the Queen Charlotte Track
- 12 Best Road Trip Stops on the East Coast of the South Island, New Zealand
- 20 Unmissable Things to Do in Wanaka
- 17 Relaxing Things to Do in Queenstown
- The Best New Zealand North Island Itinerary
- Best Things to Do in Taranaki
- Visiting Magical Hobbiton in The Shire, New Zealand
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