One of the best things about New Zealand is that wine tasting is practically a hobby there. Wine tasting in the Marlborough region should be at the top of every wine-lover’s bucket list. Whether you have a few days or just an afternoon, you can still fit a tour of the famous Blenheim wineries, and try your favourite whites straight from the source. Here are all of your options to tour the wineries in Marlborough, New Zealand.
- How to get to Blenheim
- Where to stay
- Wine tours and companies I recommend
- Organising your own self-drive tour
- Joining or planning a cycle tour in Blenheim
- Wineries you must visit in Blenheim
- Our experience wine tasting in Marlborough
How to get to Blenheim
If you book an organised tour, the tour company will pick you up at your guesthouse if it’s in the town, or else at the Picton InterIsland ferry port if you’re coming from the North Island.
If you’re staying outside of Blenheim, you can get to the town by bus. Take the public bus from Nelson (1hr 45) or Picton (30 mins). The Picton buses leave right from the InterIslander pier which is very handy if you’re just arriving to the South Island and want to do a tour right away.
InterCity offers cheap $1 fares if you book in advance and there’s also plenty of accommodation in the area if you want to stay overnight.
Where to Stay in Blenheim
As you can imagine, accommodation in Blenheim is not cheap. Budget backpackers are better off getting the bus to Nelson after the tour and staying overnight there. Rates in Nelson are a lot cheaper than Blenheim. You can see where we stayed in Nelson here.
If you do decide to stay in the town, there are some really beautiful places you can stay. Here are a few of my favourites I have found online:
- Follow The White Wabbit – £85 per night. This charming, whimsical B&B is an eco-friendly option, and a quirky change from standard hotels. Accommodation options include The White Rabbit – a small retro caravan with a double bed, and Abby’s Shabby Shack – a ‘tiny house’ built using recycled and reclaimed materials.
- Botanica Marlborough B&B – £171 per night. This refurbished 1920’s house has stunning landscaped gardens where you can sit with a glass of wine after a day exploring the region. Rooms are plush, homely and comfortable – this place seems like a really cosy stay! This 5-star B&B gets rave reviews online and is within walking distance of the town.
- Chateau Marlborough – £174 per night. If you would rather stay in a hotel, this stunning 5-star hotel offers luxury self-contained suites with a gorgeous pool to cool off in after a day in the sunshine. Rooms are comfortable and cosy, with a little kitchenette so you can make yourself feel at home. This hotel won the HM Australasian Hotel of the Year awards 2018, and claims to offer ‘world class service’. The reviews online certainly agree.
Planning your wine tasting trip
You have three options for exploring the Marlborough wine region – organised tours, cycling tours, and self drive tours. I’m going to run through your options here, and let you know how to organise your trip and what to expect.
1. Organised Wine Tours
There are a whole variety of companies that offer a wine tours in the Marlborough region and most of these focus on the wineries in Blenheim.
Blenheim is small and contains a large number of wineries situated quite close together, so it’s easy to do a short day tour here. When choosing your tour, read a lot of online reviews to make sure that the company provides a good experience, and choose a tour that includes food!
Is a wine tour for you?
The upside to organised tours is that everyone can sample the wines. You can meet new people, you have a guide to tell you a little bit about the region as you drive through it, and it‘s a little bit less work because the tour company does all of the planning for you ( although on the flip side this also means you can’t choose where you go).
If you do choose a tour the company can pick you up at the Interisland ferry port in Picton or from Nelson and drop you back here at the end of the tour. There are lockers at the pier where you can leave all of your stuff for the day for just $2.
The downside is that this is a lot more expensive, and you actually don’t get to try as much of the wine. If you go to a winery yourself you will pay around 5 dollars to sample as many wines as you like, which is then redeemable against anything you purchase. For our tour we paid $95 each to try around five wines each in four different wineries, and none of this was redeemable against any purchases. This also didn’t include food.
Many wineries also don’t offer the full selection of their wines to members of tour groups but solo visitors are often able to try a wider variety. This might sound like I’m trying to talk you out of going on a wine tasting tour, but when you don’t have transport and you’re short on time it’s the only way you can do it!
Who to book with
As I said we didn’t have a great experience with Marlborough Wine Tours so I wouldn’t recommend them. Here are a couple that we saw while on our tour and would recommend:
- GetYour Guide has many wine tours on offer in Marlborough to suit all budgets. There are so many options, from custom tours to group tours, with food and without. I would recommend checking these out and you have a better chance of finding the right kind of tour for you. Just remember to read reviews first!
2. Cycling Wine Tours
If you don’t have a car, then cycling tours are the best way to experience wine tasting in Blenheim. You’re given a bike and a map and it’s up to you to choose where you want to go and what you want to see!
Is it hard?
The wineries of Blenheim are quite close together and the roads are fairly flat so it won’t be a strenuous cycle. The scenery along the roads is absolutely breathtaking, so it more than makes up for the effort. I have to say I was extremely jealous every time we passed people on their bikes while we were doing our wine tour. The Marlborough region has the most hours of sunlight per year compared with any other region in New Zealand, but check the averages for the season you’re going. If you’re booking last minute have a little look at the forecast to see if you’re having a good day.
Can you eat?
You can choose to eat at wineries, or save money and bring your own food. Some of the cycle tour companies also provide you with a picnic that you can eat along the way, so you can pick up a bottle of wine after one of your wine tastings and have your lunch on a bench overlooking the vineyards.
3. Self-Drive Tours
Self-drive is the way Tim and I usually do a wine tasting. It gives you the freedom to choose where you want to go, lets you work with your own schedule, and even if you are the designated driver you still get to enjoy the beautiful views as you drive around and you can sit in the beautiful gardens eating all of the cheese.
Blenheim is a 25 minute drive from the InterIslander pier and 90 minutes from Nelson. You can pick up a map of the region at any winery or I-Site in the area to work out your route around the area. There are maps available online here if you want to plan your route in advance.
The scenery as you drive around the region is breathtaking, and there is plenty of parking at all of the wineries. If you want to stop for lunch somewhere in particular and you’re a large group then it might be best to book ahead if it’s a busy time of the year. It’s not always necessary and often you can just turn up. especially if there are just two of you.
The downside to self drive tours is obviously that one of you is unable to drink! But the benefit is being able have your own schedule and stop whenever you like. You can always pick up a bottle of wine and some cheese & crackers to bring home for the designated driver to have in the evening.
Wineries we loved
If you’re going to Blenheim, here are the wineries you absolutely have to try!
Hunters was our favourite winery in Blenheim – and not just because it was set up by an Irishman! The setting is really intimate, it’s smaller than some of the other wineries that we visited, and it has a beautiful back garden where you can sit in the sunshine and have your wine with a delicious cheese platter.
The two women from Hunters who run the tasting told us a lot about the history of the winery, about how the original owner came from Ireland to Blenheim to set up the winery and he is responsible for putting the Marlborough wine region on the map. Unfortunately he was killed in an accident a few years after setting up the winery so his wife took over running the winery and still runs it to this day with the rest of her family.
Wines you need to try at Hunters:
Bubbles, The famous Sauvignon blanc, and Gewürztraminer (it tastes like Turkish delight!)
This was the first winery we visited and is the busiest as it’s the first you reach when you drive from Picton. The setting of this winery is absolutely divine!
They have an indoor tasting area with tables in the conservatory, a garden with shaded tables surrounded by trees and vines, and then nestled in amongst the vines are individual tables that are surrounded by 6 foot tall vines for a really intimate setting. If you’re travelling as part of a couple this would be such a romantic setting for lunch – I’m sure you could book one in advance and surprise your partner! The cheeseboards here looked really good, and the wines were delicious. The people working there were really friendly and knowledgable about the wines and we were given a lot of different wines to taste.
Wines you need to try at Saint Clair:
Sauvignon blanc (supposedly the world’s best), Malbec.
This winery was a mixed experience for us but I would definitely recommend it if you are not on an organised tour. The gardens are absolutely magnificent and you can sip your wine whilst roaming around and reading the various song lyrics that are printed around the grounds However the tasting room is in the basement so if you’re on a group tour you’ll miss out on the beautiful views. It felt like a shame being stuck in a dark basement when it was so gorgeous outside.
Framingham hosts a big music festival each year before the harvest and many smaller festival through the year. If you’re interested in music and wine you might want to check out their website and see if they have any events on when you’re there.
Wines you need to try at Framingham:
Dry Riesling, Pinot Noir
Some wineries that we didn’t visit but were recommended to us are Brancott Estate and Cloudy Bay.
Our Experience Wine Tasting in Marlborough
Tim and I went on an organised wine tour which we booked with Marlborough Wine Tours. We chose them because they had tours that started at convenient times for us, and their TripAdvisor reviews were good. I don’t like giving bad reviews to companies, and this doesn’t happen often, but I’m going to be honest with you and say that I wouldn’t recommend this company based on our experience.
Our tour guide, was uninvolved and uninterested with interacting with the group and was just there to drive us from A to B and encourage us to buy a lot of wine. We weren’t given the option to eat anything for the entire 6 hour tour so we were absolutely starving by the time we finished. We ended up not finishing a lot of our drinks because they were really going to our head between the heat and hunger. The tour also went on longer than expected so we almost missed our connecting bus to Nelson that evening.
**UPDATE October 2020: Marlborough Wine Tours have let me know that our guide is no longer with them, and has moved to the ‘Bubbly Grapes’ tour company – you can read their reply below this post!
We paid $95 / £50 / €56 for a four hour wine tasting trip (although it ended up lasting 6 hours). We took the boat from Wellington to Picton and were picked up right at the pier by our guide and dropped back there to get our bus once the tour was finished. There were 8 people on our tour so it was a pretty small group, which I liked.
The wineries we did go to were absolutely gorgeous and I would 100% recommend going wine tasting in Blenheim! It was so gorgeous and the wines were delicious, but I just couldn’t recommend booking with that company.
I hope this post was helpful and thanks for reading! Have you been on a wine tour in Marlborough before? What was your experience like? Comment below and let other readers know!
Amazing.. !! this is a real good reference for my upcoming projects!
Just want to point out that Kat now works for Bubbly Grape Wine Tours not Marlborough Wine Tours as you have described in your blog. As you have pointed out her attitude didn’t suit the principles of the new owners of Marlboroughwinetours.co.nz – Marlborough Wine Tours reviews have improved significantly with a new team of great wine tour guides.
Thanks for letting me know, I have updated my post!
The post by the owner of MWT implies that Katrina Canton lacks priciples and has a bad attitude toward customers. By association it also implies that by employing her as a driver/guide, Bubbly Grape Wine Tours also lacks these qualities and doesn’t care about its customers.
It is my opinion that the comments from the owner of Marlborough Wine Tours are defamatory to both Katrina Canton and Bubbly Grape Wine Tours.
As a point of difference that might show readers how much we care about exceptional experiences for our customers, Bubbly Grape Wine Tours, with Kat as an employee, has 1011 Five Star Trip Advisor reviews compared with the 541 of Marlborough Wine Tours – and were the 2018 recipient of thew Luxury Travel Guides Wine Tour Operator of the Year for New Zealand,
Thank you for sharing your information. I came to Auckland and have taken wine tour package from Wine Trail Tours. It is very good experience.
I would like to reply. If as you say a 4 hour trip turned into 6 I would have made sure that there would have been an option for a food stop as I am not a irresponsible person where alcohol is involved. I would very much like to know when your tour was.
Once the new owners took over Marlborough Wine Tours I was aware within a week that I would not be able to work for these people as Jess was a control freak and a bully.
I have many great reviews and am proud to be able to show visitors around our beautiful region and tell them about the fantastic varieties of wine that we make here as well.
As a human being I am allowed off days the same as everyone and feel that this may have been one of those times for which I am truly sorry that you had a bad experience because of me.
Kind Regards Katrina Canton
Seriously? Only an idiot would be taken back to Picton to catch a bus that goes back to Blenheim on the way to Nelson.
Tastings at Framingham do not take place exclusively in the cellar and in almost all cases take place in the garden or the tasting room.
I have no doubt that your extreme desire for attention and control was the real reason why the tour took longer than it should have.