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Marsden’s Legacy to New Zealand Wine

July 2nd, 2008-- by Sue Courtney

When you are touring the vineyards of Northland, New Zealand, you really should put a day aside to take a boat cruise around the Bay of Islands Maritime Park, especially if you haven’t cruised the area before, or, like me until recently, you haven’t done it for years.

In the last New Zealand instalment we visited Waitangi and from here you can even walk the mile or so to the cruise departure points at Paihia (see map below).

There are many cruise options to choose from - leisurely yacht, comfortable catamaran or the adrenalin-pumping, jet-powered ‘Excitor’ with half day, full day and overnight cruises, some with the famous ‘Hole in the Rock’ included if weather conditions permit. And if you are lucky, you may be escorted some of the way by the playful dolphins that frequent the bay. But for wine lovers, it’s also a chance to familiarise yourself with some of the names and features that you will come across when you visit top Northland winery, Marsden Estate.

The name Marsden is entrenched in the region’s vinous history, for it was the missionary, Samuel Marsden, who is recorded as bringing the first grapevines to New Zealand in 1819 on his second visit here. He planted 100 grapevines and 185 fruit trees in Kerikeri, close to the inlet and near where the Stone Store and Kemp House stand today. Look for The Landing restaurant and the old pear tree near the car park. This is believed to be one of Marsden’s fruit trees and the oldest fruit tree in New Zealand. But there is no sign of any grapevines here now. And Marsden the missionary didn’t make wine.

Marsden Cross - photo by Sue CourtneyMarsden first arrived in New Zealand on the 22nd December 1814, landing at Rangihoua Bay on the Pukera Peninsula, where on Christmas Day he gave the first Christian Church service in New Zealand. You can get here by road and walking track but most cruises will take you past this site, where you will see the Marsden Cross (pictured right) that has been erected to mark this historic place. The celtic design of the cross has been adopted as the ’logo’ for Marsden Estate’s wines.

One of the striking features you will see while cruising is the Black Rocks, inhabited only by birds and bugs. It is this group of volcanic rocky outcrops that lends its name to the outstanding Marsden Estate Black Rocks Chardonnay, marsdenlabel.jpg a wine that seems to be a magnet for gold-coloured wine show medals. The most decorated vintage to date is the 2006 – acclaimed the overall Champion Wine at the 2007 International Chardonnay Challenge held in Gisborne, New Zealand.

Marsden Estate is planted with a range of grape varieties suited to the Northland climate. And of course the grapes grown on the Marsden Estate property are used to make the wines. There is Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, Pinotage, Syrah, Chambourcin, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Malbec.

The 2004 Cavalli, a blend of Cabernet, Malbec, Merlot and Cabernet Franc is a soft, juicy, perfumed red made in a medium bodied style. This is named for a group of islands, a little further north. It was a bargain price of NZ $14 a bottle when I visited in April 2008.

Everyone is talking up Syrah in Northland but I also say don’t dismiss the Chambourcin. It is a hybrid grape that is so suited to the region and with Rod McIvor at the helm of the winemaking team, the deep and densely coloured Marsden Estate Chambourcin 2005 (NZ$24) is modern and clean yet still has a touch of rustic charm.

Also recommended is Marsden Estate Pinot Gris.

Marsden Estate - photo by Sue CourtneyMarsden Estate is on Wiroa Road, towards Kerikeri airport, and is open from 10am to 5pm daily. There is a major roundabout at the State Highway 10/Wiroa Road/Kerikeri intersection – turn left if approaching from the south, turn right if approaching from the north, keep ahead if approaching from Kerikeri.

Wine tastings at Marsden Estate, at the time of writing, are free. Wine for sale ranges from NZ$14 to NZ$35. The popular vineyard restaurant serves local produce in a Mediterranean style, with indoor and outdoor dining overlooking the grapevines and a little lake.  It is open for lunch every day, and for dinner on Friday and Saturday nights. Bookings are recommended.  Check out

Map of the Bay of Islands with sites specific to this article

Bay of Island Map with sites relative to Marsden

© Sue Courtney, July 2008

Tags: New Zealand · Sue Courtney

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