Alexia Santamaria enjoys the view and the exercise as she tours Marlborough's wineries on a bike.
They say you never forget how to ride a bike, and I'm glad because I was slightly daunted by the prospect of cycling Marlborough's vineyards. Having not parked my backside on a bicycle in more than 20 years I did wonder about the wisdom of re-initiating myself while sampling wine at multiple locations.
I needn't have worried. It's true, you never forget; and our guide Norm from Explore Marlborough Tours made it all so easy. He picked us up from our accommodation at Marlborough Vintners Hotel and fitted us with helmets and bikes. After a nervous wobble down the road I soon felt like I was 10 years old and riding a BMX again.
My focus was so much on the winery part of this adventure that I hadn't stopped to think just how pretty the cycling between would be. At moments it felt like being on the Route des Vins in France such was the expanse of vine - literally as far as our eyes could see.
Set against the contrasting backdrop of the sun-baked Wither Hills to the south and the moody Richmond Ranges to the north, it was stunning.
First stop was Forrest Estate Wines where we were shown around by the charming Carlos.
Forrest was started by two doctors, John and Brigid Forrest. Having worked in medicine and molecular biology, their approach to wine is one of always pushing scientific boundaries. But don't think weird medicinal tasting wine - this was anything but. Their Botrytised Riesling 2009, amongst other varieties, had me in raptures. Apparently I'm not the only one, judging by the awards and accolades.
Next was the gorgeous Seresin Estate, belonging to Michael Seresin, well-known cinematographer.
This is artisan winemaking at its purest. Everything is organically and biodynamically grown, hand-tended and hand-picked. The place had the most gentle energy about it as we wandered through the vines, noting the vegetable garden, the biodynamic preparation 500 fertiliser area, the chickens, the goats, and the horses who pull the organic sprayer. Call me a hippy but their Memento Riesling was one of the nicest I've had. I was sure you could taste the love.
Weaving out through the rows of grapes, we went on to Framingham Wines, home of some of the oldest vines in the region. Framingham is a wonderful combination of artisan techniques and commercial operation. They skilfully balance out the bottom line of an expanding wine making business with staying true to low impact, environmentally conscious production. They are 100 per cent sustainable and in conversion to organic.
My poor husband's bike was starting to get a bit loaded up as I refused to leave without a bottle of the beautiful 2010 Pinot Gris.
Obviously food was needed by now and the beanbags and relaxed outdoor area of Wairau River Wines provided the perfect stop for a lovely lunch and tasting. Wairau is a family-run business with everyone involved - apparently it gets crowded when all 23 of them are round the table. The wines were divine and it was hard to drag ourselves away.
My legs were starting to tire, but the ride to Herzog couldn't have been more worth it.
Words fail me a bit here; it's possibly one of the prettiest venues I've been to in New Zealand. The owners are Swiss and their European sense of aesthetic has resulted in the most beautiful cellar, restaurant, grounds and cellar door imaginable. You would swear you were in any of the great European winemaking nations such is the attention to detail and warm, country elegance.
Hanz Herzog uses old-world techniques, as his family has since the 15th century and it shows. Along with mainstream varieties he also makes: tempranillo, nebbiolo, arneis, marsanne, rousanne, zweigelt and gruner veltliner (which I fell madly in love with - oh well, at least it evened up my husband's panier).
It would have been rude not to visit one of the bigger players and Cloudy Bay was the perfect final stop. We enjoyed tasting wines we were familiar with, plus some of their others such as the Te Wahi range, that were new to us.
The charming tapas that accompanied our wines were delicious with all local figs, cured meats and cheese - an ideal end to our adventure on wheels and the beautiful grounds were made for relaxing.
Fortunately Charlotte, co-owner of Explore Marlborough, came and picked us and our bottles up to save us the cycle back. I would highly recommend this as a great way to see a variety of vineyards as I don't like to entertain the thought of what we might have managed, left to our own devices.
This is definitely not just for keen cyclists - if I can do it, anyone can. A fabulous way to really experience one of the country's most beautiful wine regions.