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Bottles, Brews, and Sauvignon Blanc: New Zealand’s Best Wineries and Breweries

No trip to New Zealand is complete without stopping in its top wine producing regions, Marlborough and Hawke’s Bay. And while wine gets all the attention, Wellington’s buzzing brewery scene is sure to satisfy any craft beer lover. Thirsty yet? Here are some of New Zealand’s best wineries, breweries, and tours.

Marlborough Wine Region Tours

Sauvignon blanc—the vino that put New Zealand on the palate of the international map—rules the roost in this region, but there are plenty of other worthy chardonnays and pinot noirs. More than two-thirds of New Zealand’s wine is produced from the 20,000 hectares of vineyards that line the Wairua Valley, named kei puta te wairua (“the place with the hole in the cloud”) by Maori.

wooden sign of the New Zealand flag in a vineyard
Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s top wine producing regions. Photo © gustavofrazao/iStock.

There are many popular tours to choose from. Highlight Wine Tours offer door to-door pickups from Blenheim, Picton, and Havelock, with half- and full-day tours in a choice of shuttle bus or classic vehicles like a VW camper or drop-top Mustang. Escape to Marlborough offers custom vineyard tours in luxury shuttle buses. Combine your trip to include attractions like the Omaka Aviation Centre or a kayaking trip in the Marlborough Sounds. Explore Marlborough runs half and full-day winery tours by bike or car; full-day tours include lunch at a vineyard. Tours pickup from Blenheim and Renwick.

The Marlborough Wine & Food Festival takes place at one of the region’s oldest and most prestigious wineries, the Brancott Estate, home of New Zealand’s first sauvignon blanc. Guests can sample a selection of local wines and dishes while being serenaded by live music.

Northeast of Renwick, The Vines Village is a welcome detour on your grape tour—or a fun destination in itself. The sunny, lakeside complex houses a gaggle of boutiques, bike hire, and a cellar door.

Brancott Estate’s Vineyard Cycle Tour is a 75-minute bike ride around the legendary Brancott Estate, followed by a tasting session. The cellar door and restaurant are surrounded by floor-to-ceiling windows; an adjacent deck offers expansive views of the vineyards with mountains in the distance. Try a tutored sauvignon blanc tasting experience, which lasts 45 minutes. The 30-minute Premium Wine Tasting includes exclusive vinos only available at the cellar door.  The one-hour Living Land Falcon Encounter lets guests get up close to an endangered New Zealand falcon, with a tasting session afterward.

For the independent traveler, the easiest way to explore Marlborough is to Ride the Golden Mile. The 6km bicycle route takes in nine wineries (don’t aim for more than five in one day). Convenient starting points include the Olde Mill House B&B and the Marlborough Vinters Hotel. Wineries to stop at include: Nautilus Estate, whose award-winning wines are served alongside artisan New Zealand cheeses; the super welcoming family-run operation Wairau River Wines; and pioneering organic winery Seresin Estate.


Wineries of the Hawke’s Bay Wine Region

Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest and second-largest grape-growing region. It’s noted especially for its reds and supplies more than 80 percent of the nation’s merlot, cabernet sauvignon, and syrah; the chardonnay is also excellent. Many of the cellar doors offer free tastings or charge a small fee, and the winery restaurants are exceptional. Grab a wine trail map from the i-SITE Visitor Centre for a full list of the vineyards or visit www.hawkesbaywine.co.nz for the latest happenings.

vineyard in hawkes bay new zealand
Vineyard in Hawke’s Bay. Photo © tristanbnz/iStock.

A good place to start is where it all began. Mission Estate Winery vines were planted in 1851 by French missionaries for the Roman Catholic Church, who still profit from the proceeds. The raised estate affords breathtaking views over Hawke’s Bay. The on-site restaurant serves contemporary European fare with fresh, local produce.

Founded in 1937, Brookfields Winery was the nation’s first boutique vineyard. The intimate handmade-brick winery sits along the Tutaekuri River, overlooking a rose garden. Its small, immaculate batches include an excellent chardonnay.

Crossroads is an award-winning boutique winery famed for its flagship Talisman label, made from secret blends passed down from the winemaker to the heir. There’s a good chance of bumping into chief winemaker Miles Dinneen—he’s happy to chat, but don’t expect him to impart any secrets.


Wellington’s Craft Beer Scene

Wellington is the craft beer capital of New Zealand (just don’t tell Nelson). For a complete list of establishments, check out www.craftbeercapital.com to see what beer-themed events are on while you’re in town. A great introduction to the city’s craft beer scene is Hammonds’ Capital Craft Beer Tour, which stops at four microbreweries. Tours include talks about each brewery’s history with tutored tastings and shared platters.

Hops field in New Zealand
Hops field in New Zealand. Photo © AdamSilver/iStock.

Little Beer Quarter, a few blocks west of Cuba Street, collates the cream of Kiwi craft beer. Its 14 revolving taps (plus a pair of hand pulls), more than 100 labels and international brews, and New Zealand wines are served in the cozy mismatched gastropub filled with stools, leather seats, and airy plants.

Garage Project Taproom boasts 18 taps and a couple of cask lines, along with a selection of cans and bottles served in a lair-like setting, hemmed in by artwork and mirrors. See where their tipples are brewed and sample some free tastings at their Garage Project Cellar Door. The Garage Projects are in the inner-city suburb of Aro Valley.

Parrotdog offers seasonal in-house brews along with a standard range of pilsners and ales served with complimentary snacks. It’s 6km southeast at Lyall Bay.

The Occasional Brewer is the only one of its kind in the country. Guests are invited to brew their own beer from scratch under expert guidance. The process takes half a day, with another two to three weeks before the brew’s ready for bottling. It’s worth considering if you’ll pass through Wellington on the way to or from South Island, but you can still stop by for tastings at the bar. The brewery is in the suburb of Mount Cook.


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