We’re spoilt for choice for good wine in New Zealand – but especially so in Marlborough. The sun-drenched marmalade hills and river valleys emanating from Blenheim account for over 75% of New Zealand’s total wine production, and over 150 working vineyards and wineries are in operation across 25,000 hectares of vine cultivation here.
With so many good options on offer, it can be hard to pick and choose between the best wineries to visit for families, couples, days out, expert tastings, casual tours, wine-making classes, et cetera et cetera. To help you plan a trip to the vineyards and the region, we’ve put together a list of the best Marlborough wineries to visit in New Zealand, organised by what to expect at the vineyard, who each one is well suited for, and what else you can do along the way, or before, after, and between wine tours and tastings.
Tours, tastings, and cellar doors: visiting the best Marlborough wineries
To start with, let’s lay out an idea of what to expect when dropping into a vineyard for a tasting, a tour, or a quick stop and shop on your way.
Some Marlborough wineries you probably already know about
These are the big boys. No surprises with any of the names here, but people who haven’t already visited these Marlborough wineries on site may be pleased to learn that they all offer the full spectrum of convenience and facilities expected of a winery visit, of any kind: tours, tastings, retail stores, excellent on-site restaurants, function rooms, corporate events, family-friendly facilities, and large outdoor green spaces and dining areas with superb views. Handily, pretty much all of them are also within a 15-minute drive (or 40-minute bike ride!) from Blenheim:
Founded by three German brothers but 100% Marlborough through and through, Giesen have an attractive winery to visit with an awesome restaurant famous for its oversized platters.
The vines of New Zealand’s biggest wine producer (the label formerly known as Montana) is also one of the most convenient wineries to visit from Blenheim, making Brancott Estate (and its dizzying range of vintages) a handy one-stop shop for anybody short on time.
The vineyard that produces Marlborough’s most famous sauvignon blanc is open for public tastings throughout the year, only 8 kilometres northwest of Blenheim and a short drive from the beautiful bay that inspired its name.
While not strictly a local in terms of origin, this New Zealand wine giant has made itself more than comfortable at its spacious vineyard on the Wairau Valley floor near Blenheim Airport. Villa Maria is great for the budget-conscious, too, as they offer generous free tastings and great value for their 7- and 10-wine tasting boards.
Basically walkable from anywhere in Blenheim, Wither Hills is surely one of the easiest do-it-all wine experiences in New Zealand: take a tour, mix your own blend, book a private guided tasting, or stroll between the vines before a gourmet lunch at the renowned Wither Hills Restaurant.
Situated almost due north of Blenheim – away from the main vineyard drag west of town – Saint Clair has quietly amassed an international reputation and array of awards to match any of its lofty neighbours. Try the outstanding chardonnay (see below) from a seat at the acclaimed Vineyard Kitchen overlooking superb views of the Richmond Ranges.
Some Marlborough wineries you might not (but ought to) know about
These Marlborough wineries may not be quite as famous as those above, nationally or globally, but they all do things in their own, innovative ways – and they are all well worth a visit, with beautiful views, great food, or interesting behind-the-scenes tours and experiences:
Wairau River Wines
The definition of a family business, all aspects of this Marlborough winery (from pruning to picking to touring and cooking) have been run by members of the Rose family since the 1970s.
The rare Marlborough winery that specialises in riesling rather than sauvignon blanc, this quirky Renwick vineyard has a great sheltered courtyard engraved with famous rock lyrics.
A leader among Marlborough wineries for organic and biodynamic growing and production principles, Huia also make vegan-friendly wine, and their popular ‘Hunky Dory’ sauvignon blanc is gaining recognition among both connoisseurs and casual drinkers.
A bit further off the beaten track than most Marlborough wineries, Seresin Estate is a small vineyard nestled into a beautiful backcountry landscape that also adheres to organic and biodynamic wine-making principles.
Spy Valley Wines
Edgy architecture and jaw-dropping views of the Waihopai Valley come together at Spy, a uniquely espionage-themed Marlborough winery. Spy Valley is fantastic for entertaining kids and families, but just as good at satisfying refined wine tastes.
Small but innovative, Nautilus make an impressive range of hand-crafted wines that go beyond the usual selection, like a top-quality sparkling wine and their award-winning ‘albarino’. Plus, they provide picnic blankets and awesome artisan cheeses for a low-key yet memorable picnic lunch between tastings.
The best Marlborough wineries for particular varietals
If you want to follow your nose – or palate – around Marlborough wineries, it’s possible to pick a pathway following particular varietals and specialities of certain vineyards:
Everybody knows Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and almost every winery does a world-leading version of it (especially the likes of Cloudy Bay and Wither Hills, who attract international visitors to make a special trip to New Zealand just to visit their wineries), so it’s pretty much impossible to go wrong if it’s sauvignon blanc you’re chasing.
However, if you’re looking to discover something different, there are dozens of other wine varietals produced in Marlborough to an (arguably) equally world-class standard:
Given the prevailing suitability of the soils and climate to producing sauvignon blanc, the level of Marlborough riesling production is not even close to that of its better-known relative. However, there is one vineyard where riesling is the main event: Framingham Wines in Renwick. Home to some of Marlborough’s oldest riesling vines, this quirky little vineyard produces a range of different riesling varieties in addition to chardonnay, montepulciano and gewurztraminer labels. It is also known for its courtyard paved with stones that have been engraved with the lyrics from famous rock songs.
It’s hard to go past Saint Clair when talking about Marlborough wineries who do a good chardonnay – theirs ranked in the top 10 chardonnays in the world at the prestigious Gold Medal Chardonnay du Monde awards in 2016, and it is consistently listed among the best in the country.
Sparkling, Champagne-style wine
No.1 Family Estate, run by Frenchman Daniel Le Brun, has been leading the way for Marlborough’s burgeoning sparkling wine production for over two decades, although other labels – such as Nautilus Estate and Huia vineyards – put out excellent small-batch sparkling wines, too.
While nowhere near as famous as its sauvignon cousin, Marlborough pinot noir also accounts for a huge amount of acreage, and it has a well-deserved reputation within both New Zealand and world wine circles. Most of the lighter and aromatic varietals come from vineyards along the valley floor closest to Blenheim (such as Villa Maria and Wither Hills), while heavier, more robust pinots come from the clay loam soils of the southern valleys (such as the legendary ‘The Ned’ from Marisco Vineyards).
Syrah and earthy reds
Although rarer in the area than pinot noir production, some wine-makers manage to produce some excellent earthy reds, such as Te Whare Ra’s exquisite boutique syrah, Framingham’s rich montepulciano, and Rock Ferry’s voluptuous tempranillo.
The best Marlborough wineries for fine dining and good food
If it’s delicious food you’re after, then these are some of the many, many Marlborough wineries that combine great wine-making with memorable dining experiences. Whether you’re after fine dining or casual family eating, Marlborough wineries run the gamut of delicious gourmet offerings:
Alan Scott Family Winemakers
A suitable choice for those with high standards and fine tastes, Alan Scott’s exquisite on-site restaurant is equally able to satisfy homely-comfort cravings and family diners as it is gourmands and haute cuisine admirers. They offer food pairings with a uniquely expansive range of their wines, a diverse cellar that includes plenty of surprises and things you won’t find elsewhere (such as their house-made ginger wine).
Wairau River Wines has been a 100% family operation since helping to pioneer Marlborough wine-making in the late 1970s, and it is still entirely run by members of the Rose family. This includes its eponymous restaurant, which has won plaudits overseas and at home for balancing fine-dining quality with a casual atmosphere, not to mention perfecting a few famous specialties along the way – none more so than the mouthwatering blue cheese soufflé!
Any fans of Japanese or raw dining will want to head straight to Oyster Bay, where the on-site Jack’s Raw Bar specialises in Japanese-inspired raw dishes like seafood sashimi and beef tartare, utilising the best of Marlborough’s delicious fresh seafood and local farm produce.
If you like the idea of casual haute cuisine, then Rock Ferry punches well above its weight in terms of gourmet offerings, and it is a fine choice for a quick but quality lunch. Enjoy a hearty organic steak sandwich alongside one of their vibrant red wines.
The best Marlborough wineries to take kids and families
We know that hopping from winery to winery watching parents do tastings may not feature very highly on most children’s wish lists. However, here are some of the many Marlborough wineries who make a special effort to entertain kids just as much as adults, combining child-friendly activities with safe surroundings and excellent wine experiences for the adults:
Situated just below the busy string of vineyards along the main valley floor west of Blenheim, this unique winery situated in the picturesque Awatere Valley is a great option for families. Wine tours aren’t normally on the list of ways to entertain children, but this is one exception: Yealands let you do a self-guided tour around the vineyards (via the winery’s app, downloadable on site) at your own pace, an option that is more attractive to kids (and easier for parents to go along with) than the more regimented tours and tastings usually on offer. There are several particular quirks here that kids may enjoy, too – such as music being played to the vines to help the grapes in their maturing – and of course kids will love meeting the troupe of playful resident animals here, which includes baby-doll sheep, overconfident chickens and friendly pigs.
If you don’t feel like taking on a full winery tour, or you’re short of time and are trying to think of ways to please all family members at once, then Whitehaven Wine’s tasting room at The Vines Village (next door to The Vines cafe, on the outskirts of Blenheim) could be just the ticket. Here – thanks in large part to Whitehaven’s close association with the adjacent Vines Cafe – kids can play away to their heart’s content on an exciting pirate-themed play area, feed ducks and hens beside the (fully fenced) pond within sight of the tasting room, or run around the expansive green space containing a market garden and other things to explore, while parents enjoy a tasting tray of Whitehaven’s finest varietals matched with tasty snacks or a full-on meal.
The best Marlborough wineries for enjoying the views and atmosphere
Visiting Marlborough wineries is as much about the setting and experience as it is about the wine, and these ones are particularly pleasing for those who love a good view, enjoy taking in the serenity, or want an unbeatable backdrop for their next Instagram post:
You might presume that the clue is in the title with this one: perhaps a vineyard situated on a high plateau overlooking gorgeous surroundings? Part of that is right, but what really puts Highfield on this list is something less predictable, and more unique: a Tuscan-inspired tower that offers stunning 360-degree views over the braided Wairau River, across rolling golden hills and towards the ocean and wider Marlborough region.
Yealands Estate offers some of the best ocean views not only of Marlborough wineries, but of anywhere in Marlborough, with a staggering vantage point overlooking Cook Straight directly from the winery terrace and garden. On a clear day, you can see all the way along Cape Campbell, including the iconic lighthouse that featured in the film The Light Between Oceans.
Te Whare Ra
It may be one of Marlborough’s smallest wineries, but Te Whare Ra packs a serious punch when it comes to breathtaking viewpoints. Rugged mountain views and vine-laden slopes bending in all directions form the scenic backdrop at this little winery, where you can take it all in over a glass of delicious boutique wine from the elevated winery terrace.
If it’s pure storybook atmosphere you’re after, then Auntsfield Estate is worth a visit. This was where Marlborough’s first ever vines were planted, way back in 1873. You can learn about the early, early history of Marlborough’s wine heritage here and also see an original 19th-century wine cellar – although these days most people think it looks more like a hobbit hole used in filming The Lord of the Rings or The Hobbit than a working wine cellar: a curved, low-roofed wooden structure half swallowed up by trees and encroaching forest!
As close to French wine royalty as you’ll find in Marlborough, this organic winery is run by the Bourgeois family who have produced ten generations of expert winemakers from Sancerre, France. After a meticulous twelve year global search, the family chose Marlborough as the ideal location to expand their production of premium sauvignon blanc and pinot noir, given similar growing conditions to their home in Sancerre. The main reason many people remember visiting this vineyard in Marlborough, however, is the picturesque chapel of their cellar door, set against a postcard-perfect backdrop of towering trees with views out over the vines towards rugged hills – it’s an ideal photo opp between tastings.
The best organic Marlborough wineries and sustainable wineries
Marlborough wine is big business, and with big business often comes industrial shortcuts and ecological oversights. If the scale and potential unsustainability of Marlborough wineries makes you uneasy, don’t worry – here are some of the Marlborough wineries dedicated to doing things in an ecologically sensitive, sustainable way, setting an example for what future wine production in Marlborough might look like while already producing outstanding wine and offering fantastic visitor experiences:
Huia are one of Marlborough’s first fully organic, biodynamic, AND vegan-friendly wineries, and they are a founding member of the MANA Winegrowers organic collective. Huia puts out an impressive range of varieties (including a great sparkling wine) and offers cellar door tastings at their vineyard in Rapaura.
- Seresin Estate is another of Marlborough’s growing number of wineries focusing on producing wine in line with organic and biodynamic principles. Sipping some Seresin, you can be sure that more care than normal has been taken at every to ensure a clean, chemical-free and sustainable method has gone into making top-shelf wine to go with their top-shelf views.
- Giesen may be among the biggest names in Marlborough wine producers, but they haven’t let the necessities of competing on an industrial scale compromise their principles. Giesen have a select range of organic wines, and they also support local growers and farmers to source products for some entirely organic dishes served at their restaurant.
- FROMM is an innovative organic winery who also champion and practice dry farming, meaning their vines are left to search for water themselves by sending down deep roots, rather than rely on being irrigated daily like conventional vineyards. This saves, according to estimates, approximately 10 million litres of water every year.
Where to stay when visiting Marlborough wineries
The vast majority of Marlborough wineries are located immediately around Blenheim – especially west of town, along State Highway 6 towards Renwick, and then further along State Highway 63 on the way up the Wairau river valley or towards Rapaura. However, “Boom Town” is not the only option when it comes to searching for accommodation while planning a trip to the Marlborough wineries.
Top towns to stay in when visiting the Marlborough wineries
The biggest town in Marlborough, Blenheim is the undoubted epicentre of New Zealand’s busiest wine region, and the most obvious choice when booking accommodation for Marlborough wine tours and winery visits. It has the full range of accommodation options, from budget backpackers to elegant hotels and luxury estates.
Small in size but big in character, Havelock can lay claim to everything from being the “Greenshell Mussel Capital of the World” to being the “Gateway to the Marlborough Sounds” to being the home of Nobel Prize-winning scientist Ernest Rutherford. It’s only a 30-minute drive from Blenheim, and even closer from the wineries around Renwick. Check out our Top 10 Things to Do in Havelock blog post for more information and inspiration.
Probably the only town on Earth that has more world-class wineries and more cellar doors within a 5km radius than Blenheim does, Renwick is a quiet little town with beautiful natural surroundings. It’s near the Wairau river and surrounded by endless cycling and walking trails, plus it’s home to the world-famous-in-New-Zealand Renwick Pie Shop.
Often seen as a pass-through point for the ferry to and from Wellington, Picton inexplicably flies under the radar of a lot of visitors to Marlborough. A quirky town full of galleries, cafes, and boutique shops, Picton is also home to the world’s second-oldest surviving merchant sailing ship (the 19th-century Edwin Fox) and the EcoWorld aquarium, where threatened native animals like tuatara and little blue penguins are nursed back to health. It’s also a popular (read: convenient) starting point for walking the Queen Charlotte Track.
Accommodation options around Marlborough wineries
In terms of accommodation types, there’s a wide range of places to stay when planning a visit to the Marlborough wineries whatever your taste, style or budget:
Hotels and motels
If you like the good old basic comforts of a motel, or want to be conveniently close to town and/or the airport, there are plenty of hotel and motel options in Blenheim and beyond, ranging from cheap-and-cheerful to five-star elegance.
- Marlborough Vintners Hotel, Renwick
- Scenic Hotel Marlborough, Blenheim
- Havelock Garden Motels, Havelock
- Woodbourne Tavern and Motel, Renwick
Cottages and B&Bs
For a bit more of a country feel, seek out a cosy cottage or a romantic B&B hideaway overlooking golden hills and dripping vines. There’s a huge range of cute country cottages and B&Bs around Marlborough wine country, many of which are close to service towns for anybody worried about being isolated.
Luxury lodges and elegant estates
For those with more refined tastes – or those whose appreciation for Old World wines extends to Old World architecture as well – Marlborough has a large number of beautiful old homesteads and country estates that have been converted into exquisite luxury accommodation.
Backpackers, campsites and camping grounds
Whether budget-conscious, wanting to feel closer to nature, or looking to meet new people on your visit to Marlborough’s wineries, you’ll find no shortage of awesome backpackers and cool campgrounds around the region.
Fun beyond the vines – the best activities to do around the Marlborough wineries
As much as we all love wine, there is plenty more to discover and explore on a trip to Marlborough...
Kayak the Pelorus river
Only a half-hour drive from Blenheim, the Pelorus river – emptying into the head of Pelorus Sound near Havelock – was the site chosen by Sir Peter Jackson for filming the famous barrel-escape scene in The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug. It’s certainly not the only stretch of stunning gorge scenery down this beautiful river, either, and the designated Hobbit Kayak Tour from Pelorus Eco Adventures lets you drift through the Hobbit filming location as well as enjoy and learn about other aspects of this special, beautiful river, including meeting the local wildlife.
Walk the Queen Charlotte Track
Walking the Queen Charlotte Track is enough of a reason to visit Marlborough in itself, but it’s also easy to tack onto any visit to the Marlborough wineries. This 70km trail winds its way from breathtaking viewpoint to breathtaking viewpoint between Ship Cove and Anakiwa, taking in plenty of stops and charming settlements along the way. You can opt to walk the entire thing (set aside at least five days for doing so), but most people opt for picking out certain stretches for a one- or two-day walk. For more information on building your own itinerary, have a look at the official Queen Charlotte Track site.
Explore the Marlborough Sounds by boat
After wine, the next most commonly evoked word when one hears ‘Marlborough’ is ‘the Sounds’ – and with good reason, too. These ancient sunken river valleys, covered in lush natural bush and interrupted only by quaint fishing villages and isolated settlements, are a jaw-dropping natural wonder matched only by their South Island cousins in Fiordland. The easiest way to explore the Marlborough Sounds is by boat, and there are countless options and operators to help you do so. Here are a few to get you started:
- Pelorus Mail Boat Cruise – Truly a unique experience, the legendary Pelorus Mail Boat Cruise lets you join the local postie as they deliver letters, packages and parcels to the remote residents dotted about the Sounds whose homes are only accessible by boat.
- Fishing charters – Sounds Connection offer all the gear, expertise and information you need on an awesome half-day fishing charter out to the outer reaches of the Marlborough Sounds, while the Seafood Odyssey Cruise (from Marlborough Tour Company) lets you enjoy the fruits of the sea without having to worry about the labour to get them.
- Cougar Line – if you just want to get from A to B (for example, to connect onto or off the Queen Charlotte Track), or simply want to whizz around for a quick look into the Sounds, then Cougar Line run a great network of short trips and water taxis.
- Comfort cruises and long days out – Depending on your budget, companies such as Beachcomber and Foxy Lady Cruises offer a range of specialised Marlborough Sounds cruises and boat tours: from luxury, private all-inclusive tours to simple, hour-long sightseeing trips around the coves and bays.
Cycle the Golden Mile
You don’t have to choose between cycling and visiting the Marlborough wineries thanks to the Golden Mile. Although technically closer to 4 miles, you get the idea: this 6km trail takes in no fewer than nine cellar doors and vineyards on its way through some gorgeous landscapes between Rapaura and Renwick. Some of Marlborough’s best wineries are located along the Golden Mile – including Giesen and Wairau River Wines – and you can extend the bike ride in either direction, if you want more of a challenge.
There are plenty of places to hire bikes in Blenheim (such as Bikefit and Cycle World), as well as Bike Hire Marlborough right near the Golden Mile in Rapaura, or dedicated wine and bike tour operators in Renwick like BIKE2WINE and Wine Tours By Bike with Steve and Jo. You can find out more about cycling the Golden Mile on the dedicated Ride the Golden Mile website.
More information about visiting the best Marlborough wineries
To get started on planning your trip to the Marlborough wineries, here are some sites that may help you out with further guidance and advice, particularly about specific information for visiting certain vineyards:
- An alphabetical list of local wineries and winemakers from Wine Marlborough
- newzealand.com’s page on ‘Wineries in Marlborough'
- The New Zealand Wine Directory’s page on Marlborough wines
You can even go ahead and start booking accommodation, tours, and activities like the Hobbit Kayak Tour directly online now!