Niki Hewitt of Cloudy Bay aboard Voila, Voila Winery, 16.5m sailing yacht Beneteau Oceanis. Photo / Jackie Gibson
Its bright intensity of aroma is vineyards and sunlight in a bottle. From here, on the private lawn of Cloudy Bay, arguably Marlborough’s most famous winery, the Richmond Ranges are a mauve framing of a sun-drenched valley. Curving around a mountain range, the Wairua River flows over pebbles and boulders, heading towards Cloud Bay and out to sea.
Around me, like a green cloak, rows of grapes, interspersed with stripes of emerald grass. Behind me is a tall, rusted building with a roofline rising high into the clear blue sky of Blenheim. Just a short walk from where I stand, along a gravel path through a small grove of trees, is the entrance to the Cloudy Bay cellar and winery on Jacksons Road.
My host Claudy Bay hands me a glass of 2021 Sauvignon Blanc. A bouquet of fresh grapefruit, passion fruit and lime rises to meet me as I take a sip. Spicy fruity aromas spread across my tongue – do I smell stone fruits?
The minerality that is said to provide balance is present. But is it really like licking wet river rocks? However, I was captivated by this intense citrus wine. Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc is considered one of the most popular white wines in the world and New Zealand’s most famous drink. Right here, as my master fills my glass, I acknowledge that I am his latest convert.
For decades, people traveling to Marlborough have been heading to the region’s wineries, restaurants and food festivals to sample the famous local drop.
In Cloudy Bay, where the international craze for New Zealand sauvignon blanc began with the release of the 1985 vintage, summer is a flurry of sales, wine tastings and warm, chilly evenings with effervescent Pelorus rosé, fresh-caught oysters and Cloudy Bay. shellfish to customers relaxing on bean bags outdoors. However, even in winter, Marlborough enchants – sapphire skies, cold air, abundance of sunlight and hospitable cellar doors.
Couples nibble on soft cheese and sip on silky pinot noir while hovering over cozy fires; weekend boats sail through the glassy passageways of Marlborough Sounds; and visitors are looking for luxury and relaxation in luxurious apartments with private chefs and views of the vineyards.
There are so many options in Marlborough that I sign up for a Cloudy Bay experience called Secret Shack Escape trying to try it all. Touring the Marlborough Vineyard in a restored 1985 Land Rover Defender, I peer at the scope of the Cloudy Bay operation in Marlborough before stopping at the foot of the vineyards to run my fingers through the rocky ground.
“The 27,000-hectare Marlborough vineyard is approaching the size of a Champagne appellation,” explains my guide Jimmy Rodon, squatting among rows of golden grapes. On a hill overlooking the Mustang patch, he offers me a glass of sparkling Pelorus NV, suggesting that I can pair it with something summer like paua patties and a handful of roasted asparagus.
Nodding at the suggestion and the apple freshness of the wine, my stomach howls in anticipation of the promised cheese and fruit dish to come next, as the thin fabric of the cloud slowly drifts across the sky.
Such talk stimulates an insatiable appetite. After a day of sipping wine, snacking on tasty snacks and breathing in the invigorating seasonal air, I happily return to The Shack, Cloudy Bay’s architecturally designed guest house, where I camped on the second floor. Inside, the team prepares a dinner of wine to be served between stands of fresh flowers on The Shack’s green brass banquet table.
When darkness falls, I start with fresh oysters in ice-cold pelorus and grapefruit granite over an open fire. Salmon tartare and a glass of sauvignon blanc follow me as I sit down.
Candles flicker and scatter flickering light through glassware, while Marlborough Pinot Noir is bottled in Cloudy Bay, and tender pink pieces of lamb are served on a bed of baba ganoush risotto, semi-dried tomatoes, pak choi and spicy stracciatella labneh.
To close, I savor a large glass of earthy Te Wahi Pinot Noir from Cloudy Bay Winery in Central Otago and sip on a shiny donut with dark chocolate mousse garnished with tiny, delicate pansies. Marlborough fragrances completely won me over, so I wish the hosts a good night and fall into bed.
The next day shines just as brightly as the first, which prompted me to pack up and take the minibus to Picton’s marina. The skipper, crew and chef load gear onto Voila, Cloudy Bay’s 16.5m Beneteau Oceanis sailing yacht.
But today it is more than a walk on the water in cloudy conditions. On the Grove Arm Cruise in Marlborough Sounds, we are joined by two rare Maui dolphins racing in our wake, and later, a harem of chocolate brown New Zealand fur seals lolling on the surface of the ocean and hurrying to nowhere.
Treats are constantly pouring in from the galley—fluffy tortillas with balls of jam and cream, purple-fleshed figs in goat cheese, nuts and a dash of manuka honey, towers of smashed avocado and salmon (for squashing buttery toast into small circles), and warm bowls of homemade pumpkin soup. And all this under sail or at anchor in Kumutoto Bay, sipping glasses of fresh Sauvignon Blanc Claudy Bay.
I could forever immerse myself in the beautiful nature of Marlborough, but alas, my stay is coming to an end. Finally, I pack my suitcase and close the door, revealing the view of the vineyards from my bedroom.
Outside, morning light flickers and a cool breeze picks up. But I look forward to returning to this place – if only mentally – when I finally get home, unscrew the lid of the Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc that rests in my purse, and pour myself a chilled glass of Marlboro in a bottle.
The Shack, a luxurious Cloudy Bay guesthouse, accommodates up to eight people. Book a vineyard tour by car (or helicopter), wine tasting, private lunch or dinner prepared by the chef, and half or full day sailing in Marlborough Sounds on a Cloudy Bay luxury yacht. cloudybay.co.nz