In Martinborough, all of the cellar doors (there are more than 25 of them) are within cycling or walking distance of the town square. This quaint North Island town – which is just over an hour’s drive from Wellington – is tiny in wine terms, but it has a big reputation. The region’s cool, dry climate and free-draining gravel soil are perfect for producing pinot noir, and though the first grapes for commercial wine production were only planted in the 1970s, by the 1990s multiple winemakers here were (and still are) producing some of the country's best drops.
Martinborough is less about huge, flashy wineries with extravagant wedding packages, and more about local-focused, family-run businesses and organic wine production. The town square, which is punctuated with glorious heritage architecture, oozes food and atmosphere. Go for a daytrip or stay overnight and explore the area over a leisurely couple of days. Here’s your hitlist.
Cycle through vineyards or go for a farmland walk
The best way to explore the region’s scenery is by bike. You can hire one for the day from as little as $40 ($37 AUD) through Green Jersey Explorer Tours, which, if you’re worried about logistics, has a free wine collection service so you don’t have to lug around your purchases.
The tasting room and cellar door at Poppies is an understated space where co-owner Poppy Hammond is often pouring the glasses herself, while Moy Hall is ideal for a tasting and a rustic lunch out in the vineyard. And here are two for the pinot noir fans: Ata Rangi (a family-owned organic winery that’s known for producing some of the country’s best pinot noir) and Palliser Estate (one of New Zealand’s premier wine brands).
If you still feel like stretching your legs, Rapaki Track is a one- to two-hour loop around Martinborough’s vineyards and farmland. At its highest point there are sweeping views over the green, scenic Te Muna Valley. Remember this is a working farm so keep an eye out for animals.
Prior to arrving in Martinborough, British chef Adam Newell worked with the Roux brothers at the three-Michelin-star restaurant Le Gavroche in Paris, and went on to lead the kitchen at Fulham Road Restaurant in London when it earned its own Michelin star. Now he’s heading up Union Square, a bistro-style restaurant at the Martinborough Hotel (a boutique hotel in the town’s centre).
Open for breakfast, lunch and dinner every day, it’s upmarket pub food here with a French twist that makes the most of the chef’s skills. If you stop by on Sundays you can dig into an epic roast.
Karahui Wine Bar and Eatery
Another option on the town square is Karahui Wine Bar and Eatery, which serves share plates, tapas and snacks alongside lots of local and international wines. The refined menu changes seasonally, but expect hearty dishes such as pork belly, apple, chorizo and kale, and confit duck leg with pumpkin and cherry.
Housed in the old brick Bank of New Zealand building in the heart of the town square, Karahui’s airy outdoor area is very popular in summer. You can even hire out the bank vault as a private dining room (the bank manager’s office will soon reopen as a wine and gin tasting room).
If you’re in the mood to sample all the region’s best wines in one place (plus a few cocktails to mix things up a bit), Mesita is a small but lively bar in town with a big wine list, where almost everything on the menu is from the region.
The revolving small plates menu served on Friday and Saturday nights is popular, and includes everything from oysters with cabernet sauvignon vinegar, to fried prawns with salsa. They also have weekly taco and burger nights – but you have to be quick to beat the locals to it. There’s often live music and events happening in the fairy light-draped garden.
Martinborough Brewery is a microbrewery that specialises in seasonal craft brews (this winter you’ll find the malty, lightly-spiced Festive Fireside Ale on the taps for a limited time).
Head brewer Eugene Black joined Martinborough in February 2022, having previously worked at Wellington’s The Occasional Brewer. This cosy brewpub offers small batches and prioritises quality over quantity, and the plan is to remain that way – you won’t find these beers anywhere else except in Martinborough and its surrounding restaurants.
If you’re staying the night, make your base Parehua Estate: a five-star country estate with cosy cottages and views of the region’s rolling green hills and wineries, plus lovely gardens of their own.
Just outside the town centre, there is a range of accommodation options available to suit different budgets and group sizes, and there’s also a bistro and wine bar on-site. For something special, book the Secluded Cottage, which has its own outdoor cedar hot tub overlooking the lake.
This article was produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Wellington NZ.