Wednesday, 1 May 2013

The Awatere Valley

The growth in popularity of Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc over the last ten years has meant that the Wairau Valley – home to the household names such as Brancott Estate, Wither Hills, Villa Maria and Cloudy Bay – has quite simply no space left for expansion.  So to meet demand for wine the vineyards have uncontrollably spilled over the Wither Hills and into the Awatere Valley.

The Awatere Valley is still technically Marlborough but the soil and climate are very different and unique.  As you cross into the Awatere the change in landscape is quite obvious and rolling brown windswept hills that define the valley refreshingly take the place of the sharp famous dark mountains that encompass the Wairau Valley. But the thin, exposed topsoil of the hills is far too inhospitable for vine growing and only hardy sheep can be farmed on them. 

The vines, however, flourish on the fertile and protected valley floor. Like a green river the vineyards flow all the way to down the Cook Strait to just 100 metres from the cliff edge. From here, the North Island can clearly be seen out on the horizon some 50kms away.  This main river of vines spawns hundreds of small tributary vineyard streams and they run out finger like in every direction between the brown hills creating a spectacular landscape vastly visually different from the classic Marlborough we know. 

The Awatere, albeit different, is slowly building a reputation of its own and if vineyards are cropped reasonably, it is very good indeed for growing Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir. I spent some time tasting in the vineyard it’s not as intense as over in the Wairau, but these vineyards do allow everyone to be able to drink very good Marlborough wine. The Sauvignon Blanc characteristics are citrus-driven and the Pinot Noir has fresher red fruits and for me it creates a wonderful new dimension to the Marlborough region.

Some estates such as Yealands Estate have invested heavily. Although many others are sourcing from the Awatere Valley to meet the consumer demands, I am sure these investments will eventually lead to a very unique valley ‘terroir’ in its own right. The Awatere expresses the youth and diversity of New Zealand as a wine growing country perfectly.

I tried good wines from Triplebank but there are also many more who will add the Awatere Valley name to their Marlborough wines. I think this development is important for the future and to the consumer.

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