Marie Zelie Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 is one good reason to visit Martinborough Vineyards. Wharekauhau Lodge is another, says Victoria Moore.


If you had to take a guess as to where New Zealand’s most expensive pinot noir is grown, the chances are you’d be tempted to go for Central Otago. After all, this region on the South Island is where most of the country's pinot noise comes from. But you’d be wrong. New Zealand’s most expensive pinot (it retails at NZ$225) is made an hour and a half out of Wellington, in the region of Martinborough. Price alone wouldn’t be enough to make me write about it but I had the chance to taste it the other day and it’s very good indeed: a rounded, smooth-flowing pinot with a hint of sandalwood.

Martinborough Vineyard Marie Zelie Reserve Pinot Noir 2010 is named after the first person to make wine in the Wairarapa. Marie Zelie Hermance Frere Beetham was the French wife of an early New Zealand settler and she planted her vineyard in the 1880s on an old homestead about half an hour to the north of Martinborough town, later producing a wine made from pinot noir that she showed in Paris in 1897. The vineyard lasted until 1908 when prohibition arrived in New Zealand and the vines were uprooted.

The 21st-century tribute has been made since 2003 by Martinborough Vineyards, a company that was started by the husband of Zelie’s great-niece. “For me it’s not about a better pinot or a bigger pinot, it’s about making something that’s Martinborough-esque,” said winemaker Paul Mason as we tasted it, underground, in a freezing concrete-floored cellar.

The wine is delicious but so scarce – just 1868 bottles were made – that it can only be bought at the cellar door.

It’s one good reason to visit Martinborough. Especially if, after picking up your bottle, you can head out of town to Wharekauhau Lodge, a luxury retreat on Palliser Bay that is owned by the American billionaire Billy Foley who also now owns Martinborough Vineyard. The road there is beautiful even on a cold summer’s day but the beach is forbidding rather than pretty: black, unprotected from the vicious pull of southerly Antarctic swells, framed by distant misty mountains and covered in driftwood as white as bones. A few rickety signs giving tsunami evacuation instructions make it extra-cosy to be swinging away from the ocean, uphill towards the welcoming fires and airy, cream rooms of Wharekauhau (it’s pronounced faray-cow-how).

You can clay pigeon shoot here, go quad-biking, or hiking on the many nearby trails. Or you can sit in the bath in your marble bathroom, admiring the view out to the sea, with a glass of extremely good wine in your hand.

For a taste of the Martinborough Vineyard without leaving the UK, selected branches of Majestic carry Martinborough Vineyard Pinot Noir 2011 New Zealand at £27.50 (single bottle price) or £24.75 (mix six price). It’s a beautiful wine, perfumed and structured, and not over-blown.

-Source: Luxury     Photo: Grant Sheehan