Known world-wide as a paradise for wine lovers, with sauvignon blanc and pinot noir as the shining stars, my latest expedition to Marlborough had me firmly focussed on curating a trail that brings food and drink together with a special nod to the locals that drive that conversation so well. As you head into Blenheim those glorious vines will seduce you at every turn so it’s obvious that you need to head straight to a winery to get yourself orientated and into the Marlborough mix. FROMM Winery delivers a superb cellar-door experience where you will have the opportunity to taste current release wines together with older vintage library releases. General manager and co-owner Stephan Walliser will proudly walk you around an intricate collection of corkscrews including the first corkscrew ever patented in 1795. There’s something to be said about that 15-second ceremony followed by the satisfying pop of the cork that is rarely executed these days. Winemaker Hätsch Kalberer helped Swiss couple Georg and Ruth Fromm establish this winery in 1992 and he is still the force that guides their outstanding 100% organic wines into each bottle. These are wines that are created with genuine concern for the health of the land, the plants and the environment. While wondering about the person that would truly appreciate the FROMM approach to quality over quantity I asked Hätsch who he made his beautiful wines for he answered, “Me.” I like that. frommwinery.co.nz

On the subject of making wine with a unique set of rules, Framingham proudly maintains some of the oldest riesling vines in Marlborough. As delicious as that riesling is, there is much more to discover inside their cellar door where accreditation of 100% sustainability keeps the focus intently on the future. Their experimental F-series range creates alternative takes on classic varietals and although most of the time the F-series wines are one-offs, winemaker Andrew Brown takes what he and his team have learned and applies that to a range that runs the gamut through sauvignon blanc, chardonnay, pinot gris, gewürztraminer, pinot noir, viognier and Montepulciano plus those much-coveted rieslings. Music is at their core with Brownie joining local winery band Renwick Nudes to take centre stage at the annual Framingham Harvest Concert – an event that I’m told is so good on so many different levels that hardly anyone ever remembers it. framingham.co.nz

To continue our wine theme and experience complete seclusion, a night or two in the vineyard cottage at artisan winery Hans Herzog is unforgettable. While our borders remain closed, owners Hans and Therese offer safe and exclusive private wine and food experiences by appointment in their gorgeous wine lounge, and their story is one of immaculate attention to detail. Hans is in sole control of his wines and tends to over 28 different grape varieties with a holistic approach that produces exceptional wine and, understandably, extremely low yields. Therese knows good food and has an eye for curating beautiful things to create comfortably elegant spaces. Everywhere you look you will see her influence and feel her hospitality. The Herzogs invite you to immerse yourself in their incredible knowledge and, if you book ahead, a seat at their winemaker’s table will have you sharing their journey from European to New World winemakers while enjoying a menu that is based on the very best regional ingredients. I suggest you start with a glass of their Cuvée Therese Brut Rosé sparkling. Lucky Therese, having a husband that can put her on her own delicious bottle of bubbles. I greatly admire the fact that she will share it with us. herzog.co.nz

Life in the vines cannot always be about exclusive dining, so I will jump from one extreme to another to give you some casual options that punch way above their weight. Herb + Olive is a wholefood café in central Blenheim where the passion is high for good coffee, kombucha, Buddha bowls and smashed avocado with sauerkraut, Cranky Goat feta and Kanapu hemp oil. Owners Alexandra and Richard Barton have created a café with tremendous heart and a diverse menu. You can do breakfast or lunch here really well and your body will thank you for it. Of course, if you want to live dangerously go for the 3-cheese grilled sammie on grain bread. 62 High Street

If you are simply wanting a takeout, pop over to see Marco at Minghettis for pizza that has developed a devoted local following. While there, you can fight for a loaf of his traditional Italian sourdough fused with local flavours – it is extraordinary bread. The black barley is sensational and his country rye – scented with orange zest and toasted coriander seeds – is worthy of a space in your suitcase. 93 Middle Renwick Road

Burleigh Gourmet Pies. Yes, that’s right, I said pies. No road trip is complete without a good pie and these are magnificent. Co-owners Rod Burdis and Jane Dickenson deliver an eclectic pie range and good coffee along with a cabinet full of goodies that are perfect for taking on the road. My money is on the steak and blue cheese, although the pork belly is probably one of the best I’ve had. I’m just not sure I could finish a whole one. The steak, mushroom and truffle is a knockout and the jerk chicken will kick-start your day in an extraordinary way. I can say this with certainty as I took one for team Cuisine and tasted my way through the full Burleigh pie range at 10am. And I’d do it all again in a heart-beat! 34 New Renwick Road

Not into pies? Perhaps Noodle Corner is the place for you. Dom and Shiho have been feeding hungry Blenheimites and supporting the local food culture since 2011. I have it on good authority that they provide many a staff meal for surrounding restaurants which indicates just how good their Panang curry can be. 3 Twelfth Lane

And for your sugar fix head over to Sweet Creations, a terrific little spot for cakes cooked up by Melissa Rae and her team and made all the more special by a collaboration with designer florist Nina Stanley who runs Pink Poppy. Together these clever women have created a perfect mix of stunning blooms and exquisite sweet treats. If I lived in Blenheim I’d be in this happy hub more often than I should. I’d say it would be addictive. Make sure you order the housemade strawberry and lemon syrup; it’s a splash of pure sunshine. sweetcreations.nz

If it’s a longer lunch you are looking for, then lunch at Wairau River Wines is synonymous with Marlborough good times. The Rose family are well known as pioneers in the region with Phil and Chris Rose having established their vineyards on the banks of the alluring Wairau River in 1978. It’s definitely a family affair with all members playing a key role in the business. What was once a cellar door and restaurant has now become pretty much a restaurant with tastings of their distinctive Wairau River Estate and Reserve range available at the tables. The atmosphere is super-casual and warm, the service is great and the food dished up by younger sister Caroline Rose and her partner Tane Malcolm is the kind of food you’d expect from a family that understands the seasons and the environment around them – generous, produce-driven, super-fresh and packed with Marlborough flavour. I had the legendary cheese soufflé and it was unarguably epic. wairauriverwines.com

Scotch Wine Bar is another Blenheim hotspot that shouldn’t be missed. The food is designed to share and always comes with an interesting twist. A restaurant combined with a wine shop means plenty of fab wine to choose from and front man Lorenzo Visser certainly knows his way around them all. Chef Georgia van Prehn and her team deliver a deliciously edgy menu. If the beetroot tartare with horseradish and crispy spring onion root is still on, go for it. A set menu option is also available and very reasonably priced. scotchbar.co.nz

The Marlborough Lodge will provide you with the ultimate retreat if you are in the mood to spoil yourself. The lodge itself was originally a convent built in 1901 and located next to St Mary’s Church in Blenheim. In 1994 the building was relocated to Rapaura Road and nestled within 16 acres of secluded parklands. It is unusual to find a property of this magnitude just minutes from a state highway, but once inside the estate you will find yourself surrounded by the most stunning gardens and the resulting bird song is nothing short of glorious. With tennis courts and a superb selection of curated Marlborough experiences on offer, a stay here means you actually don’t need this article! Your days can all be perfectly arranged for you by Samantha Warrender and her terrific team. Renovations are planned for the restaurant and I can’t wait to see what the new space brings to this iconic luxury estate. themarlboroughlodge.co.nz

A visit to Bladen Wines turned into a wine tasting experience that I will return to again with my family in tow. You drive through their vineyard to what Christine, Dave, Deni and Blair Macdonald call their humble cellar door and receive one of the friendliest welcomes on the Marlborough wine trail. Although sauvignon is the focus at Bladen, they have a stellar range of boutique aromatic varieties to complement. You can pull up a chair in their garden, enjoy their wine and relax with a cheese platter while contemplating the vines and the beautiful Richmond Ranges or you can hang out at the cellar door and listen to their fabulous stories. I suggest the latter – you will be educated and entertained with great finesse. Do try their excellent pinot noir rosé. bladen.co.nz

Within The Vines Village you will find the Whitehaven cellar door and wines that are the realisation of the White family’s vision to create a critically acclaimed winery. I just loved their 2019 Whitehaven Chardonnay with its creamy, caramelly, nutty, roasted-stonefruit flavours. You will find a LOT of cheese platters along Marlborough’s golden mile, but here is where you can find one of the best, with an option to build your own grazing situation from locally produced cheese, patés, dried meats, artisanal crackers and a very cool assortment of condiments – or let the team build one for you. Be sure to book ahead to ensure a space. whitehaven.co.nz Feeling a little land-locked within the vines by now? I have the perfect solution.

The Seafood Odyssea Cruise departing from the Picton Marina will give you three magnificent hours to enjoy the Marlborough Sounds plus memories that will last a lifetime. I’m often asked to define pure New Zealand flavour and this is definitely part of the equation. There is something very special about being out on a boat, drifting past salmon and mussel farms, learning about aquaculture and hearing the stories of local ingredients and their producers while those very ingredients are cooked right in front of you. Seafood has never tasted this good. Executive chef Sam Webb fired up the on-board BBQ and Regal salmon, Cloudy Bay clams and greenshell mussels were on the grill. A fabulous Framingham sauv blanc was in my glass and a pod of bottlenose dolphins arrived to provide the entertainment. I’m not quite sure how they managed to pull that off, but it was absolutely magical. marlboroughtourcompany.co.nz

If an extra night or two in a luxury five-star resort is in order you may want to head out to Bay of Many Coves in the heart of Queen Charlotte Sound. Host and general manager Graeme Smith runs a sanctuary in every sense of the word. The setting is special, nestled between bush and sea with the renowned Queen Charlotte walking track right on its doorstep. The suites are intimate and the waterfront café is wonderfully relaxed, while the fine-dining restaurant is one for your bucket list. Chef Giamco Cloro and his team deliver a menu that highlights how privileged Marlborough is when it comes to premium ingredients, in one of the most stunning restaurant locations around. Great food and wine with a view like this is pretty hard to find. The rack rate is up there, as you would expect for a luxury lodge, but get in before 30 November and you can pick up a three for two package. bayofmanycoves.co.nz

With regards to dining I have left the best until last. If you only go out to dinner once during your visit (why would you do that?) Arbour is where you must eat when in Blenheim. Owned and operated by Liz Buttimore and Bradley Hornby, this restaurant is a proud showcase for local growers and artisan producers with a thoughtful food-and-drink menu that will gently guide you toward the very essence of Marlborough flavour. Liz and her front-of-house team have that special ability to provide seamless service and just the right amount of information and interaction. You can choose from the smaller ‘Eat Local’ selection or ‘The Many’ menu; either way chef Bradley and his team produce food that is up there with the best in New Zealand. A standout for me was a delicate smoke-cured butterfish with storm clams from Cloudy Bay Clams, leeks and lemon emulsion. A species of kelpfish found in shallow waters around our coast, both butterfish and the sustainable process of spearfishing by Ocean Speared (a company at the forefront of commercial spearfishing in New Zealand) were things that I had previously known little about. Please, go to Arbour when you are in Blenheim. arbour.co.nz

*Kelli travelled courtesy of Destination Marlborough marlboroughNZ.com

 

COLLABORATION & INNOVATION

When looking for interesting wines, these two very special businesses should be on your radar.

The Wine Studio situated at Cloudy Bay Business Park is not only the Two Rivers and Black Cottage winemaking hub, it is also the home of Two Rivers HQ and operates as a state -of-the-art contract winemaking facility for close industry friends of Two Rivers owners, David (above) and Pip Clouston who share their new facilities with like-minded winemakers from across the country. tworivers.co.nz

Small batch, premium, certified organic, contract winemaking is at the heart of The Coterie where winemakers Ben Glover and Rhyan Wardman celebrate and promote diversity with their winemaking collective. A space for winemakers to gather and share ideas and discussion for the betterment and future relevance of Marlborough winemaking. coterie.nz

 

MORE MUST-DO ACTIVITIES

Cloudy Bay Wines Do not miss Jack’s Raw Bar this summer! cloudybay.co.nz

Visit Mills Bay Mussels in Havelock for an unforgettable mussel experience. millsbaymussels.co.nz

Saint Clair Family Estate Vineyard Kitchen Lunch in this Blenheim vineyard is a must! saintclair.co.nz

Dine at Gramado’s in Blenheim for brilliant Brazilian-style New Zealand flavour. gramadosrestaurant.com

Stop by Villa Maria cellar door for some of New Zealand’s most-awarded wines. villamariawines.com

Book in at Elemental Distillers for their Roots Marlborough Dry Gin Discovery Tour. elementaldistillers.com

Makana Confections Macadamia Butter Toffee Crunch – ‘nuff said. makana.co.nz

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