It’s A Family Affair

G’day. Wednesday 9th Feb.

The heavy artillery was exploding all around us as we tried to make the beach-head and secure the gun turrets. To my left a huge crater appeared with a deafening BOOM! ……Being woken early by gas compressed bird scarers to keep them off the vines can be fun. For some people. Some of the time. At least the goats were quiet.

With that bright and early start I had a great day and learnt a lot about what makes Marlborough so special.

As a pilot for Air New Zealand Micheal Tiller had noticed on his regular flight path into Blenheim airport something special about one particular parcel of land on a north-facing slope. It appeared to be a frost-free zone even on the chilliest of mornings. On closer inspection he discovered a distinctive soil and climate and was confident the site would produce something special. Today the vineyard is known as Isabel Estate and is one of Marlborough’s best family-owned wineries.

Michael and Robyn, his Australian wife, run the show with the four kids who run the winemaking, the vineyards and the sales and marketing side. The Estate is run organically, without being all hippy and Woodstock about it. OK – the fish-based fertiliser really stinks but the vines love it! Time with Michael and Brad in the vineyards and the winery showed me a family operation with real desire to produce quality, hand crafted wine whilst looking after the land and environment. When I can I’ll post a link to their website to show you Brad’s brilliant invention for mowing the grass and weeds under the vine rows. Clever stuff. The 2006 Pinot Noir was the pick of their wines for me – spicy and perfumed on the nose with great depth of fruit and silky texture. They also make a great Savvy, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and a lovely dessert wine.

The Isabel Estate winery and cellar-door

Michael and son Brad, in the Isabel Elevation vineyard

Isabel's own special organic preparation recipe!

 Dutch-born Ruud Maasdam at Staete Landt winery gave me a great lesson in the geography and soil differences in the valley and how we get such a variation in styles of wine from one place to another within the region. First planted in 1998 the estate grows 7 different varieties, the grapes are now getting to ripeness and keeping the birds off the juicy sweet grapes is a major task at this time of year.

Netting over the vines to keep the birds away

Ruud had also arranged the evenings entertainment including a fascinating blind tasting of 15 Kiwi Chardonnays which showed a general leaning towards a quite rich,oaky style but for me the better wines had a nice zip and zest of acidity to balance that richness. Wines of the tasting for me were the 2008 from Neudorf over in Nelson, about an hour west of Marlborough and Ruud’s own 2008 The Map Maker which was like a good Chablis.

Tomorrow I’m with Wither Hills winery and then hopping onto the Inter-island ferry over to the North Island to visit Martinborough and Hawkes Bay. Don’t see much chance of sleeping in………..


  • Jorrit
    Saturday 12th February 2011 9:38 am

    Great stroy Tony. Enjoy the rest of the trip!

  • tony
    Wednesday 23rd February 2011 5:21 am

    Hi Tony, a pity about our neighbours’ noisy gas guns! I meant to warn you about them. We gave up that antiquated practice years ago in favour of more environmentally (and neighbourly) aware, bird netting. Sexy black fish-net stockings for grapevines. R

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