A fruit distillery provides an alternative to Marlborough's usual wine tours, writes Nellie Tuck.

At the end of an industrial road, on the outskirts of Blenheim, you'll find one of this country's best-kept secrets. For more than 25 years, the Prenzel fruit distillery, the first of its kind in New Zealand, has been creating unique food and beverages.

I walk through the tasting-room doors and try to take everything in. The shelves lining the walls are bursting with infused oils, dessert toppings, infused salts, vinaigrettes. There are also liqueurs, cocktail mixers, fruit brandies, spirits, wine concentrate, limoncello and schnapps.

Limoncello? Schnapps? This should be Europe, not small-town New Zealand.

I'm greeted by owner Hugh Steadman who opened the distillery in 1989 with wife Chris.

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"It's a lot quieter now though," he tells me as he stands behind the bar, watching me take in his delicacies.

"All the tourists used to do a trip around the town, and we'd be last on the list. They'd have a great time with us, you'd see them all head off with their Prenzel bags back to the ferries. Now they don't come out this far."

More fool them, I think to myself.

"Now, what would you like to drink, my dear?"

Down to business. And why not head for the good stuff: sour apple schnapps, thanks.

It is sweet, but not overly, with lovely notes of tart, green apple: dangerously good.

Hugh's eyes sparkle like a proud parent. He talks about how the tasting-room guests often help him create new products, and brings out his Southern Star Vodka.

He's pouring it before I can say anything. Naturally, I stall a bit at the thought of a vodka shot. When I finally get up the courage, I'm pleasantly surprised at how smooth it is, with a very slight citrus tang, and none of the after-bite I was dreading.

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"It's filtered 304 times, it takes a couple of days," Hugh adds.

They really do know their stuff.

Same goes for the limoncello. I've only had the Italian lemon liqueur twice before, once in Italy and once in New Zealand. You can guess which one I'd vote for. But third time's a charm, I guess. It really has a punch to it and I'm beginning to understand how Prenzel really can kick it with the big boys of the distilling world.

The distillery started with a small mobile still, "Alouette" from Mulhouse, France, where stills were outlawed in an attempt to simplify the collection of alcohol duties.

She's now retired, taking pride of place in the tasting room.

Next door, Hugh shows me the larger operation in place now, and today there's a beautiful garlic aroma in the air. Sure enough, at the end of the production line sits a freshly made batch of garlic-infused oil.

Hugh points to the roof. "I think this warehouse was made from any odd bits and pieces they could find at the time. The rafters are made from the old Picton railway station."

Back in the tasting room, I sample another of his creations, Marlbrouk (Malbrook is the French name for Marlborough), a hand-crafted liqueur unique to Marlborough. It is a silky sauvignon blanc wine, aged in oak barrels and fortified with French brandy.

He has kept it quiet so far, but hopes wineries throughout Marlborough will pick up Marlbrouk and create their own versions, using their own grapes.

And as I've done before, I take a sip and am impressed at the smooth subtle flavour combinations.

It's the attention to detail by the husband-and-wife duo that makes you feel like you're trying true European delicacies, made the traditional way. So next time you find yourself in Blenheim, or travelling through, why not do something a little different from the usual wine tour? Trust me, your taste buds will thank you for it.

CHECKLIST
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies daily from Auckland to Blenheim.

Details: Prenzel combines European tradition with New Zealand flavours, creating fruit brandies, liqueurs, schnapps, infused rice bran oils and sea salts, gourmet vinegars and more.