Marlborough bike ride
A bike ride around vineyards and tasting at cellar doors can leave you feeling both virtuously exercised and indulged. Charmian Smith rides the Golden Mile in Marlborough.
You have to be careful on the roads in the late afternoon, a Marlborough winemaker told me a few years ago. We were passing a few wobbly cyclists heading back to their accommodation after a day biking the wine trail.
Cycling round wineries, tasting wines and luxuriating in a long, vineyard lunch is an enjoyable way to spend a day in any wine region, but it can be a bit hazardous if you have to ride on the side of a main road.
However, recently wineries and other businesses around Renwick and Rapaura Rd have been promoting Ride the Golden Mile cycle route, some of which is off-road or on quiet roads, but there is still a stretch, albeit with a painted cycle lane, along Rapaura Rd which is frequented by trucks travelling between Nelson and Picton. Their passing turbulence can be discombobulating to an inexperienced cyclist.
Some of the cycle hire firms in Rapaura Rd or Renwick, at each end of the six kilometre trail, thoughtfully offer a pick up and drop off service so you don’t have to drive afterwards. Some also offer tandems and tricycles, and baskets to carry your purchases away with you.
We had our own bikes with us so we left our vehicle up Jeffries Rd near Hans Herzog at the start of the trail one fine but not too hot Marlborough morning in late January.
You could spend the whole day at Herzog with some 29 varieties from albarino to zweigelt to explore and a bistro for lunch. There’s also accommodation for those who find it hard to leave the cluster of charming white cottage buildings and have enjoyed too many of their precise and expressive wines.
We restrained ourselves and after tasting a few cycled down the quiet road to the Rapaura Rd corner and Vines Village, a cluster of tourist shops, including Whitehaven’s cellar door. After tasting their fresh, user-friendly wines it was time for coffee at the adjoining cafe.
A few hundred metres along Rapaura road is No 1 Family Estate’s petit tasting room with a couple of stylish methode traditionelle bubblies – now known as Methode Marlborough. From a family making wine in Champagne, France, for many generations, Daniel Le Brun came to New Zealand some 40 years ago. Their small family estate, run by him and his New Zealand wife Adele, now involves their children, Remy and Virginie, who have grown up in the industry.
Further up Rapaura Rd, near the corner with State Highway 6 from Nelson, are three cellar doors, Giesen, founded 40 years ago by three German brothers, and Nautilus, both of which offer lunch platters, and across the road Wairau River where we headed for lunch.
Wairau River’s Australian-inspired mud-brick tasting room with deep verandas is bright inside, reflecting its lively, fragrant wines. Book a table for lunch, advised the tasting room staff, then do the tasting and decide which wine you want to drink with lunch – excellent advice as it turned out, and we enjoyed a lazy lunch on their shady lawn next to the vines.
From the corner with State Highway 6 the cycle trail leaves the road and wends its way along a lane to Forrest Estate. There’s a relaxed atmosphere, grass and sun umbrellas and some fascinatingly different wines to explore here. The Doctors’ series offers stylish, lower alcohol wines – don’t miss the riesling – and the range includes unusual varieties such as a fragrant albarino, a lively chenin blanc and an exotic petit manseng as well as the typical Marlborough offerings of sauvignon blanc and pinot noir. For a wow factor, try the 2017 botrytised riesling.
Across the highway and a few metres down the quiet Conders Bend Rd is Framingham, famous for its range of rieslings of various ages, vineyards and styles, from dry to noble, as well as (of course) sauvignon blanc, pinot noir, and a delicious gewürztraminer oozing rose petals.
Seresin is some way further on down Bedford Rd, but we decided it was time to return – they recommend you limit yourself to five wineries and we’d done seven!
Some wineries offer free tastings although most have a charge which is waived if you buy a bottle. Besides those listed in the brochure, there are several other interesting cellar doors along this route, Staete Landt, Huia, Te Whare Ra and Mahi among them, some of which are regularly open and others you have to make appointments for.
With our bags full of purchases, we cycled back along the off-road trail, crossed Rapaura Rd and, instead of braving the highway traffic again, we took the alternative route along the river stopbank behind the vineyards, back to our motorhome – and a welcome cup of tea.