The Wairarapa wine region is in the south of New Zealand's North Island, only an hours drive north of Wellington.
While a relatively small region, producing only around 1% of New Zealand's wine, the area offers a great range of styles and varieties including Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Syrah. The region’s vineyards tend to be planted on high alluvial terraces in deep stony and free draining soils and with low rainfall, high sunshine hours and cool nights, offer great conditions for the beautiful Pinot Noir that is a focus of many in the region.
There are three main sub-regions in the area; Martinborough, Gladstone and Masterton and on both of our visits, we have chosen to stay in the town of Martinborough, which is within short walking distance of most wineries in the region. Cycling between wineries is also very popular with a hire shop in town. You can even arrange to have your purchases transferred back to your accommodation so you don't have to ride around with them all day!
The cellar doors in the region tend to be smaller boutique operations which make for some great personal experiences whereby you will often be dealing directly with the owners and/or winemakers who will be more than happy to take you through their range of wines.
There are also has some fantastic dining options in the area, including at a number of the cellar doors, and we had great meals at Cool Change Bar and Eatery, Cafe Medici, Paddock to Plate, The Martinborough Hotel and The Vineyard Cafe at Margrain.
Other attractions in the area that we found interesting were the Putangirau Pinnacles (signage in the park was a little lacking and we got a bit lost, but quite spectacular to look at once you find them!) and the Cape Palliser lighthouse and seal colony, where the seals are literally just laying on the side of the road. We also explored Greytown, which is another nice town in the region.
A couple of points of note from our visits:
During our first visit in mid October, many of the restaurants were either still closed for winter or only open on weekends, so please check before you go. Another warning we received from locals during this time of year was that the pass between Martinborough and Wellington can sometimes close with black ice or snow and many people have missed their planes as a result. Just be aware of this during winter and make sure you aren't trying to get to Wellington with any time pressures (there is a long way around taking 3 hours).
During our second visit in mid-March it was harvest time, which is a great time to visit any wine region, but obviously a very busy one for those that work in the industry. Opening and closing times of cellar doors may therefore be impacted as a result, so it is best to check in advance when planning your visits.
This is a compact region that is extremely easy to get around and packs a big punch in terms of food and wine offerings and we have thoroughly enjoyed both of our stays in this area.