Martinborough Terrace Terroir
Dawn and Neil had been looking for a site for a quality vineyard as early as 1979 and it was clear that Martinborough was the place to investigate. According to friend and soil scientist Dr Derek Milne (later founding partner of Martinborough Vineyard), the virtue of this locality was its 30-year record of the lowest rainfall in the North Island and a heat summation appropriate for growing quality cool-climate varieties such as Pinot noir, Riesling and etc. From the available data, the low rainfall area was limited to a tiny locality roughly 5 km in radius, and a study of soil maps revealed that the deep, free-draining gravels they sought within this were restricted to an even smaller part.
By 1986 there were five vineyards and wineries in existence - all planted on the gravels of Martinborough. The pioneers (Ata Rangi, Chifney, Dry River, Martinborough Vineyard and Te Kairanga) decided they would like to define and demarcate the terroir they had adopted, just as such areas are described and mapped in France and Germany, with the expectation that the wines produced from within this area would show similarities reflecting their origin. The crescent-shaped area lay along the edge of the river terrace formed by the Ruamahunga and Huangarua rivers about 20,000 years ago. This is now at the northern side of the township. It was about 1,000ha in total (according to my estimate, about 600ha was available for planting), and was comprised almost completely of free-draining gravels with the same very low rainfall and similar aspect, temperatures, wind-run and so on, and was therefore felt to be homogenous from a viticultural point of view. From 1986, wines made from within this area were given a seal of origin by the 'Martinborough Winemakers Association', and in 1991 the area was named 'The Martinborough Terrace Appellation' to distinguish it from other types of terroir which were being explored nearby. Authentification of the defined area was administered by the 'Martinborough Terrace Appellation Committee' according to a set of rules and regulations descibed as 'Martinborough Terrace Appellation of Origin System'. Many hundreds of wines have borne the seal of origin, although nowadays the physical seal tends not to be used, simply because modern labelling machinery cannot easily apply it. I have no doubt other terroirs will be similarly identified and promoted, and will add to the diversity and quality of wines in the coming years.
The boundaries of the Martinborough Terrace (previously the 'Martinborough Delineated Vineyard Zone') was precisely and legally defined in 1986 and can be summarised as:-
a)...that area receiving an average of less than 800mm annual rainfall over the period 1940-1980 based on rainfall normals contained within NZ Met. Service Misc. Publ. 145 & 185.
b)...which also fell within a particular area defined carefully in terms of trig points etc. and contained 80% or more of the technically defined free-draining soils.
c) Nevertheless, it was also allowed that the area could be expanded to include neighbouring areas which yielded fruit similar in quality and style over five successive vintages from 5+ year vines or which corresponded to the rainfall and soil type definitions of the existing Terrace. It is hoped that neighbouring areas will examine their situation and join the Appellation as time goes on.
People did, and still do, affirm there is a particular 'Martinborough style' in wines from this tiny appellation. The few wineries from the 'Martinborough Terrace' who entered their wines in national and international shows have enjoyed a disproportionately high rate of success - particularly with Sauvignon blanc and Pinot noir. By 2002 there were around 25 brands originating from the Terrace, with the numbers continuing to increase. The number and variety of quality wines from this tiny area confounds all expectations. Who would have expected world-class Pinot noir, Sauvignon blanc, Riesling, Gewurztraminer, Pinot gris and Syrah to be produced side by side? Martinborough has become an internationally respected wine area and reference to the 'Martinborough Terrace' terroir by winemakers, locals, winetasters, authors and international commentators persist. Properties within it's boundaries are also greatly sought after. Acknowledgement of this terroir is perceived to have real significance in the understanding of our wine, and for so many it has become a very special place.