The phone rings…”Annie, the grapes are ready to pick! If you and Mike want to catch the harvest, come to Marlborough ASAP.” It was Joanne and Bruce Kerner on the line, our family friends that followed their dream to start a vineyard in New Zealand. Ever since Kerner Estate opened in 2000, I’ve been dying to visit them and help with a harvest. We were a four-hour drive and one island away when we got the call, so we dropped everything and high-tailed it to the Wellington harbor.
Pulling into the sea-drowned valleys of the Marlborough Sound, we knew the South Island of New Zealand was going to be epic. The legendary sound and adorable port town of Picton tempted us to explore, but they would have to wait, the harvest was calling! Joanne greeted us at the harbor with huge hugs, then like a Chinese fire drill we piled into the car, and continued our dash to Blenheim, home of Kerner Estate wines.
The Kerners’ bought nearly 100 acres along the Upper Wairau River on what used to be a U.S. Air Force strip and land the locals doubted could bear grapes. Their purchase seemed extra crazy considering they were moving halfway across the world and didn’t have any experience making wine, but we knew they could do it! Their neighborhood is now one of the hottest wine-producing regions in New Zealand and they’ve succeeding in making award-winning wines.
We pulled up to their home, surrounded by mountains and vines, and we were sure we’d found heaven. This guest house was our sanctuary for the week…to catch our breath from nine months of running around Asia and Africa, catch up on work, drink a plethora of delectable wine, and sit back and appreciate the beauty of New Zealand.
Nightfall hit and the harvesters were pulling in. Kerner Estate has traditionally hand-picked grapes, but with every vineyard peaking at the same time, they couldn’t find enough pickers so they called in these bad boys. Watch this video to ride the high-tech harvester and shake down some sauvignon blanc grapes!
The next morning we hiked around the property, through rows of vines, olive groves, and along the rivers that feed the vineyard. The beauty in their backyard was magical.
Once the harvest mania subsided, Joanne took us to the winery where the grapes are prepared for fermentation. The various stages of wine making take years and the Kerner grapes from crusher to cuvée to barrel to glass.
We’ve taken our share of our winery tours on the HoneyTrek but this was the real deal. With Joanne at our side we could peek our head around every corner, ask all our questions and sample just about anything. Our mouths went agape when we saw this cuvée with thousands upon thousands of crushed grapes, then the winemaker said, “Want to try it?” She punched a whole in the cap of pinot skins, and scooped a cup. She warned us that the juice was in the early days of fermentation and far from delicious, but wanted us to taste the wine’s evolution.
Our tour continued to a few of the Kerners’ favorite wineries, restaurants, and tasting rooms. Here we sipped some methode traditionelle sparkling wine at No. 1 Family Estate and ended our day with lunch at the lovely Hans Herzog winery. Besides the incredible wines, our favorite part was just listening to Joanne talk shop with the other winemakers.
We spent the rest of the week in Marlborough relaxing in the cottage (with wine), blogging (with wine), hiking (with stops for wine), and loving life (with really good wine). Our favorite ritual was evening hangouts in the kitchen, hearing the stories behind each bottle and reminiscing about a dozen Kerner/Collins family trips. So fun, we Skyped both my parents to bring them down memory lane with us.
As much as we could have happily stayed in Marlborough sipping Splendiferous, we had to see Marlborough Sound while we were in the area. We took a road trip around the Mau and Keneuru Sounds, doing switchbacks around the 4,000 square-kilometers of peninsulas and islands.
On the way home we stopped for lunch in the charming Picton and central port of Marlborough Sound. If you go, make sure to stop at Kiwi Takeaways for the black cod fish and chips—it’s the best we’ve ever had.
The sounds, mountains, and vineyards of Marlborough are gorgeous and only get better in the company of dear old friends.