Marlborough and the Wairau Valley are home to the famed New Zealand style and, in many ways, the modern New Zealand wine industry itself. These regions are shaped by glacial washes filled with alluvial soils, deep river deposits, and thin, silty soils. The deep, nutrient-poor gravel deposits help to reduce the natural vigor of Sauvignon Blanc vines, reducing yields, and helping to create the concentration that proves so appealing worldwide.
Unlike in the Wairau, the vineyards in the neighboring Awatere Valley tend to be found on small terraces and escarpment with a thin, 30cm (12-inch), layer of soil-covering alluvial deposits. Cooler than the Wairau Valley, the vines here tend to have even lower yields, as well as a flavor profile that tends to feature more vegetal aspects such as tomato leaf and a fruit character that is more citrusy, particularly lime.
The Waipara Valley is another great region for Sauvignon Blanc, with vines planted on glacial and alluvial soils and a cool climate. With cool and frequently unsettled weather during the spring, flowering low yields tend to be the norm here as well. This is about as far south as Sauvignon Blanc can go in New Zealand. Unlike the more northerly regions, the fruit of Sauvignon Blanc here tends to be more akin to tree fruits, particularly nectarine with a green crisp edge and a taut, highly textured feel.
With only some 2% of the nation’s vines, Martinborough receives an inordinate amount of attention for its wines. While Pinot Noir might be king here, Sauvignon Blanc is the second most-widely planted variety.
Martinborough benefits from an unusually long growing season that results from the uncommonly cool nights. Even during the depths of summer, the night air retains a chill, slowing down the grapes’ maturation and allowing for long, slow ripening.
As with most of New Zealand’s vineyards, the springs -- cool and windy -- generally serve to reduce crop loads during flowering. While the soils here might be a bit richer and more compact than the soils to the south, they are still free-draining and ideal for grape production. The combination of weather and soils in Martinborough yield less herbaceous Sauvignon Blanc than in most of the rest of the country. These tend to be fruity yet subtle wines. There are patches of clay-rich soil in Martinborough and those tend to yield richer wines with tropical fruit flavors, particularly passionfruit.
2009 is the best vintage for Martinborough Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc in 10 years!
Read more about New Zealand wines
Check out the second installment, on Chardonnay, of our New Zealand wine series at New Zealand: Part 2.
Take a look at 5 Top New Zealand Chardonnays.
And for all those celebrating Waitangi Day on February 6, go to our sister site WhatsCook.in to read about traditional cooking Kiwi-style in Celebrating New Zealand Cuisine.