Right on queue the stupid seagull woke us up early, around 1 hour before our alarm again. Oh well, at least we were up on time to move on to our next destination. It was going to take us around seven and a half hours to make it to Blenheim, a town central within the Wine Region. We took it in turn driving a few hours at a time each, we were concerned we may have had to stop for scenic views and whatnot like we have been previously but we found we were driving mainly through thick forest and all we could see were trees and mountains, this was ideal as we needed to get to the area before dark so we could find a suitable camping site. Alex had a not too proud moment when he was overtaken by a Hyundai Getz!

Our Camper Van has done 444444Kms!

We arrived in the area around 4.45pm located a camping ground on the outskirts of town and made our way there. Unfortunately the campsite was nowhere to be seen; we travelled up and down where it was situated on the map but to no avail. It was now starting to get dark and we had nowhere to park up for the night. We quickly choose an alternative which proved to be a mission to get to and find, especially in the dark, up and down very steep windy roads which were close to the edge of huge drops down the mountainside. It was also potentially going to cost us $12 if the warden came around and collected in the morning, damn. Happy we at least had somewhere to settle, we had diner and an early night. Up at the crack of dawn, well 7am, we had not been awoken by the site manager and scarpered quickly away to save us the $12, it worked again, we are getting good at this!

Claire sniffed out the cellar!

Our main aim of visiting this region, is probably clear by the title, we were here for the wine. Oyster Bay New Zealand Marlborogh Sauvignon Blanc white wine is one of our favourite tipples, and we were in search for some new wines to try. We enquired at the local information site for wine tasting tours and there was a range of companies offering full and half day tours at various prices. We went for a mid-range, just over half a day, almost a full day tour priced at $55 per head, with the Highlight Wine Tours Company. This was a tour from 11.30am-5.00pm and included transport, pick up and drop off at from your campsite/hotel. Ideal so you can get sossled! The company is owner operated and the guy is very knowledgeable about the region.

Alex the wine connoisseur!

We booked ourselves into the Spring Creek holiday park for the day/evening ($30) and waited there to get picked up. A small mini bus collected us, and we were part of a small group of 7 doing the tasting, plus the driver. Off we went and were driven only 10 minutes down the road to our first winery the Wither Hills. It was a posh looking place indeed with an elegant restaurant and roaring fire. We were greeted by our wine expert who led us to a table ready with wine glasses, water for rinsing out our pallets between wines and a spitting bowl, we both knew at this stage we weren’t going to be spitting out any of the wine, that would be an awful waste! We were provided with a list of the wines we would be tasting with a brief description of the flavours and aromas we would encounter, there were 8 to try in total, and unfortunately the tasters were only a fraction of the size of a normal glass of wine, although I guess we wouldn’t be standing at the end of the day if they did them any bigger! We tried a 2010 Sauvignor Blanc, 2010 ‘Rarangi’ Sauvignor Blanc, 2010 Pinot Gris, 2008 Riesling, 2010 Chardonnay, 2008 Gewurztraminer, 2009 Pinot Noir, and a 2003 Pinot Noir museum release. Lots of sticking noses into the glass, glass swishing, and slurping commenced. It was soon time to head onto the next winery Wairau River Wines; this is where we were to stop for lunch also. The wine tasting commenced and again we were able to taste around 6-8 wines of the same names as above, but obviously made by this particular winery. Alex swapped his Chardonnay for a try of the Viognier. We treated ourselves to a full glass of wine each to accompany our lunch, Claire went for a pizza, which was exquisite, and the envy of all other when it arrived, sized for one, but cramped with slices of beef, onion, blue cheese, cheddar cheese, and a side salad. Alex went for a pork schnitzel (bread crumbed pork) with chunky chips, coleslaw and homemade tomato sauce, truly scrumptious, all the food looked amazing as did the puddings, which we had to avoid, with great difficulty.

Za za za zaaaa!

Our party of seven consisted of us, three girls that had recently graduated as doctors from England and an older couple from Australia. By the time we reached the third winery, Bouldevines, we were all chatting away with each other and starting to make slightly less sense. We tried the same wines again and a few of us were opting to swap one for a variety we had not yet tried. The lady pouring the wines for us was full of knowledge and certainly liked a glass herself.

Yes, za za za za za!

The Marlborough Wine Region produces about three quarters of New Zealand’s wine and has approximately 24,000 hectares of vines planted across it, according to our guide book. There are almost 200 wineries here in the Waiaru Valley around the towns of Blenheim and Renwick, with even more dotted around the outskirts. Although not all of the wineries are open for tastings, there are about 40 that do welcome you into their doors, let you sample half a dozen of their various wines and allow you to buy a few bottles if you like what you taste!

Gintastic!

The next place we walked into was not a winery, in fact there wasn’t a grape in sight, it was a little shop that specialized in liquors and dipping oils. We first sampled the oils with pieces of bread, Claire really liked the Smoked Garlic variety and Alex enjoyed the Avocado style. We approached the counter for a sample of the alcohol and the first thing the lady served us was a Butterscotch Liquor with a Butterscotch Cream (a bit like Bailey’s) on top; it was delicious but we are not sure you could drink too much of it as it was a bit sickly sweet. The lady then recommended we try the Chocolate Orange Liquor, Mmmm, it was a good recommendation! It was also quite sickly sweet though.

Cloudy Judgment more like it!

Our driver had been banging on about the Gin from this shop, like it was to die for. So we thought it would be a shame to miss out on some award winning white spirit that called itself Gin and didn’t come from London! Apparently this variety called ‘Blenheim Gin’ made by ‘Pretzel’, we think we have got that right, was the best Gin in the world in 2007, as voted for at the ‘White Spirit Festival’ in Brussels or something like that! A small shot was poured for each of us and we all tried it neat at first, it was definitely Gin flavoured but perhaps we are not that into drinking Gin neat because it was a bit harsh. Then the lady added a small amount of tonic and a tiny bit of lemon liquor; that was more like it, it tasted divine or at least Alex though so, Claire was not massively impressed and does not find herself converted to the spirit.

Grape Vines!

The fourth winery we visited was Cloudy Bay, slightly smaller than the previous ones, again very posh looking with a nice roaring fire. We lined up against the bar and partook in some more wine tasting; behind the bar through a glass pane you could see numerous barrels of wine, some with snuggy red blankets on them, which we later found our were just for presentation purposes. We only got to sample five wine here, but they were all very nice and Cloudy Bay do export to the UK so we expect to buy some bottles when we return home.

A Saint or a sinner? You decide!

The last winery on the tour was named after Claire, it was called “Saint Clair” very fitting we thought! Again we tasted more wine and decided to purchase a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc which was on offer; they had a few offers on over that particular weekend as a half marathon was starting and finishing in their vineyard. Saint Clair Winery have also just acquired a contract with Waitrose in the UK, so you should be seeing their range of wines soon, if you are posh enough to shop in Waitrose of course!

Kids in a sweetie shop!

The last stop of the day was at chocolate factory, as you enter you can see the workers busy making delicious sweet treats and your greeted with a taster of nutty brittle stuff and chocolate peppermints. As you peruse the shop and all they have to offer you soon realise that you could quiet happily purchase a bit of everything, unfortunately the price is not cheap and you were looking at $25 for a 200gram box of chocolates. Anything you liked the look of you could try and we sampled a lemon truffle, vanilla truffle and some macadamia brittle. All were very nice, but we thought of the budget and decided to say goodbye to the chocolate factory and leave empty handed. Boohoo.

Tucking in to some lovely treats!

So back into the mini bus we got and we were dropped back to our campsite feeling very happy and jovial, here we spent the rest of the evening enjoying our wine purchases while watching films and very tasty the wine was! For those of you who have not discovered the Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, we suggest you get yourself down to your local off-license and try some tonight!

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