Marlborough is by far New Zealand's most important wine region, in terms of both production and area under vine. It is located at the north-eastern tip of the South Island. It stretches from the small port town of Picton in the Marlborough Sounds to the east-coast town of Kaikoura. The long, straight Wairau Valley has the most extensive plantings of vines, and the entire region had 58,300 acres (23,600ha) of land planted with grapes in 2010. This young wine region has won worldwide acclaim for its Sauvignon Blanc.
Marlborough is one of New Zealand’s sunniest, driest areas. Plenty of sunshine, with cool nights and a long growing season helps to promote the vibrant fruit flavors for which this region is renowned. Sauvignon Blanc has become New Zealand’s most important grape, producing pungent, lively dry white wines of consistent quality that are routinely exported.
The valleys were created millions of years earlier by a large glacier. The Wairau Valley is in close proximity to the Wairau river that runs from mountains in the west to the Pacific ocean in the east, and has a warmer, wetter climate. South-east of the Wairau Valley, the Awatere Valley has a cooler, dry climate, producing grapes with intense fruit flavors and minerality. Both sub-regions have stony, fast-draining, heat-reflective, infertile soils.
Although Sauvignon Blanc dominates the vineyards here, several other grape varieties flourish here. Among the white wine varieties, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris and Riesling are the most common. In recent years Pinot Noir vines have matured, enhancing the reputation of these often elegant, fruity, red table wines. Pinot Noir from Marlborough tends to be lighter in body than Pinot wines from Central Otago and Martinborough.
Marlborough is also an important producer of New Zealand’s sparkling wine: Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are made into quality, dry sparkling wines, usually using the methode traditionelle.