Home to 120 wineries and over 35 cellar doors, Marlborough’s 27,000 hectares of vines equates to roughly 30,000 rugby pitches. Sandwiched between the Wither Hills and the Richmond Ranges, Blenheim’s vine-wreathed carpet of the Wairau Plain is globally-acclaimed for its revered Sauvignon Blanc. But despite Blenheim’s blockbuster reputation in the grape stakes, it’s not just wine that this plucky region produces with such verve and finesse.
Blenheim’s thriving craft beer scene is growing from strength to strength. One of the popular boys on the block is Boom Town Brewing Company. Taking its name from Blenheim’s nickname ‘Boom Town,’ Clive MacFarlane established the brewery five years ago with a mission of producing craft beer by locals for locals. The Marlborough businessman has gone with the grain, shifting from fine wine to craft beer, after running the fine wine shop, Wino’s, for nine years. Underpinned by a sense of place, of local craftsmanship and fun and discovery, Boom Town creates crisp, smooth, easy drinking craft beers. There’s the Alabama APA, Whites Bay IPA, Marlborough Lager, Baby Boom Pale Ale – and the big-selling, Pelorus Pilsener. Released just before winter, Ship Cove Stout is well worth a try, too.
Locals were buzzing about the Boom Town Beer Garden last summer, a favourite go-to for fresh tap beers, sun and relaxed vibes in the warmer months. The garden is located behind The Alcove, which operates as a tap room, with a roaring fire and atmospheric Spanish-style courtyard. (This was formerly the cellar door for Giesens.) All of the Boom Town beers are on tap and there many glass pours to choose from. Children’s food options are available and there’s even an enclosed playroom just for them.
Further down the road, another new headliner to add to the craft parade is DNA Brewery, which operates alongside a glamourous new bar and restaurant venue, the Fancy Cow, with radiant views across the landscape. (Be sure to say Hi to the friendly Highland cow, Fanta.) DNA Brewery (Dave and Ant) was established by legendary brewer Dave Nicholls and creative oenologist, Ant Moore. Dave is one of the New Zealand craft scene’s pioneers. He told me that he first started brewing as a 14 year old! As a stickler for high standards, his classic beer styles are divine. I particularly enjoyed DNA’s Azacca Hazy Pale - bursting with passionfruit, while his Irish Red Ale is very malt forward with sweet toffee characters. I gleaned a top tip off Dave: Never leave your beer in the sunshine. Within minutes you can smell it emitting a slightly sulphuric aroma.
Fanta the Highland Cow at the Fancy Cow. Credit Mike Yardley
Rapaura Road is also home to the irresistible The Vines Village. Set among 4 hectares of lakeside grounds and gardens, this alluring hub encompasses a wine cellar, tasting rooms, café and assortment of boutique stores. There’s bike hire available too, if you want to tootle through the vines.
I enjoyed a great gin tasting at the Vines Village, sampling the delights of Elemental Distillers in the Gin Room. Sonia breezed me through the tasting, sparkling with charm and commanding knowledge. (They also have a very cool refill bottle service for Roots gin.) Founded by Ben Leggett and Simon Kelly this craft distillery delivers premium craft spirits and liqueurs with complete transparency of all ingredients, processes and production, from root to cup. Garnering accolades aplenty, Roots Marlborough Dry Gin is a crisp and robust ‘London Dry’ style gin, bottled at a bold 45% alcohol by volume.
Gin tasting at the Vines Village. Credit Mike Yardley
The Juniper is wild foraged from North Macedonia, while the New Zealand botanicals include Gisborne grapefruit, coriander seeds from Hawke’s Bay, organic Motueka hops, wild foraged gorse flower from Marlborough and Kawakawa berries from the Kāpiti Coast. Their Navy Strength dry gin (54.5%) includes the addition of organic Akaroa giant kelp and Hawke’s Bay hemp seed. As you do. They do a great line of Bitters, too. I had the pleasure of meeting Ben and hearing about their exciting developments of a gin garden and tasting room, set to open at Vines Village in the coming weeks.
Also at the Vines Village, check out the recently arrived Cheese and Cheers venue. This charming operator showcases an extensive range of New Zealand craft whiskies, and international brands, paired with three matching cheeses and bread. Order up a whisky tasting flight, with assorted cheeses. Cheers!
Just off Rapaura Road, on Jackson Road, pay a visit to the leafy, lawned surrounds of Moa Brewery. Open Thursday through Sunday, it’s a wonderful venue and the food trucks will accentuate the ambience over summer. 30 years old this year, Moa was founded by Josh Scott, son of legendary winemaker Allan Scott. Last year, Moa Brewery Company was acquired by the effervescent and enterprising Stephen Smith, who has embarked on a new chapter of Moa being a family-owned Kiwi independent. What I particularly like about their range is that they have kept their products affordable, accessible and sessionable, while also broadening their repertoire.
A stellar example of that is their Apple & Rhubarb Cider. Exuding a seductive red hue, the delicate tart flavour of this crisp cider sings happy summer days. It’s like the cider equivalent of a glass of rosé. Hazy IPA’s are all the rage in New Zealand and Moa’s sessionable hazy, at 4.9% alcohol, is the easy-drinking Motueka Hazy IPA. Motueka and Wai-Iti hops deliver citrus, apricot and peach characters. Also worth a try is their Milk Chocolate Stout which is brewed in collaboration with Lewis Road Creamery. The dessert beer! And don’t miss their fabulous ginger beer, Ginger Bomb. Another summer must.
In the treasury of distinctive hospo spots in Blenheim, Dodson Street Beer Garden is a fan favourite. In 1858, Henry Dodson established a brewery and the malthouse was housed in the same building where you’ll find this venue. It’s the oldest commercial building in Marlborough and Dodson Street Beer Garden proudly boasts one of the largest selection of craft beers and ciders on tap in New Zealand - 24 at last count. More key features are the authentic German cuisine and salivating pizza selection. I love the old-timey beer hall, the trove of memorabilia and the ebullient spirit of its enterprising owner, Dietmar Schnarre.
Lunch on the run? Hot-foot it to Scott Street where Sammies has injected a Melbourne-style sandwich shop into the heart of town. All ingredients are made in-house where possible, crafted from local produce. I sunk my teeth into a Coronation Chicken gourmet sandwich which was supremely good. Sammies takes its name from the boss and local chef Sam Webb. Across the road, come nightfall, he also operates Frank’s Oyster Bar and Eatery. Beyond delicious oysters, this beloved Blenheim establishment also excels in plating up modern, shareable dishes from Marlborough’s best local ingredients, from tempura oyster tartare to confit lamb shoulder.
Scenic Hotel Marlborough enjoys an unbeatable locale, perched on the edge of Seymour Square. Immaculately maintained with resplendent flower beds and crowned with the war memorial clock tower, this would have to be a hot contender as New Zealand’s most photogenic town square. Not only is the Scenic Hotel Marlborough is perfectly positioned in the heart of town, but this stylish property features superb facilities including spa, pool, sauna, restaurant and bar. You’ll enjoy free WIFI, spacious air-conditioned guestrooms with flat-screen SKY TV and super-comfy beds, swathed in their signature Kiwi-made wool and down bedding. The hotel is also pet-friendly.
The onsite Savvy Restaurant & Bar is open each day, offering modern à la carte dining, showcasing the best local produce and an excellent selection of Marlborough wines. My day’s adventures were fortified with a fantastic buffet breakfast, while for evening dining, their pan-fried Hoki dish, served with fragrant herb rice and purée de lentil, was de…licious. Attentive, outgoing and welcoming staff all combine to make this a winning place to stay. www.scenichotelgroup.co.nz
From the sensory pleasures of the Marlborough Sounds to the cultural head-turners, wines, craft producers and dining heroes of Blenheim, plan a flavourful fling with the Top of the South. Make your first port of call, the region’s official website for the latest visitor tips and insights. https://marlboroughnz.com
Mike Yardley is our resident traveller on Jack Tame Saturday Mornings.
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