Sitting in a basin with hills behind, the Martinborough Terrace rises above the Huangarua & the main Ruamahanga rivers. Vineyards ring the scarp but none are planted on the lower terraces lying 5m below. Only 1km wide & 5km long, this limited growing area of alluvial gravels has lead to plantings in nearby Te Muna Valley, a terrace which shares many of the same attributes, along with other areas south of the township.
In 1978 soil scientists noted a direct parallel between Martinborough & Burgundy, with an almost identical mix of free-draining river gravels, temperature & rainfall. Like Burgundy, there are also a number of clearly delineated sub-appellations, each with differing soil types. Of all NZ's Pinot Noir regions, only Martinborough possesses such a variety of sites contained in such a small area, all producing award-winning wine.
Distinctive Sauvignon Blanc, along with Chardonnay, Riesling, Pinot Gris & Rhône-like Syrah are being produced, as with the other Wairarapa sub-regions. But it is Pinot Noir which has become the sub-region's flagship grape - Martinborough is NZ's most northern Pinot Noir region with some of the country's oldest vines, planted in 1980.
Geographical Indication - the NZ Appellation
NZ Appellations are used only to identify & guarantee grape origin - there is no restriction on what varietals can be grown nor on any vineyard techniques used, unlike in France. Currently the only sub-regions with this legally defined status are Martinborough & Gimblett Gravels, though as Central Otago evolves it is likely sub-regions there will also apply for appellation status.
Martinborough Geographical Indication, with its variety of soils, is defined by roads & rivers, unlike Gimblett Gravels which is clearly defined by a single soil type.
Roger Fraser (Murdoch James Estate): "What we now need to look for are the subtle differences in Martinborough's sub-appellations: for example, wines from the lime-rich soils of the Dry River Rd are noticably different to those grown on the gravels north of the town"