I’m going to preface this post by saying that I love wine and I love free activities, so combining the two was 372% up my alley. As a shoestring backpacker, a group wine tour was beyond my budget. But as it turns out, you can get happily tipsy without dropping stacks of cash.
New Zealand is home to some of the most palatable wines in the world, so it was a complete no-brainer that I had to visit some of the wineries and sample the goodness myself. With so many grape growing regions to choose from, my friend and I narrowed it down to Blenheim, as this was where we had received the most recommendations of where to go (and it certainly did not disappoint).
Now, unless you can find someone who will happily drive you around as the designated driver (which I could not), you’ll have to make do with walking. But don’t you worry, with the majority of these wineries being within walking distance of one another, you can get happily sloshed without any concerns.
The key to this is finding accommodation in the thick of it all; I stayed at an AirBnB in Renwick town which was ideal because I was a mere fifteen-minute walk from the first winery stop on my self-guided tour. Unfortunately, New Zealand roads are not particularly friendly, so we did find ourselves walking along a busy arterial road. Therefore, it goes without saying to employ caution when hopping from winery to the next.
Travelling on a budget doesn’t mean you’re limited by the activities you do, you just have to get creative. Remember to bring some cash with you as you’ll definitely want to buy a bottle or two of the scrumptious wines you soupçon. Free wine tasting in Blenheim made for an unforgettable experience - here’s how you can taste over 30 different wines without spending a cent.
Believe it or not, I am not boozed up in this photo!
So many wineries, so little time!
Where To Go
Forrest ($7 for seven or free for two tasters)
Disclaimer! We opted for the $7 taster “buffet” for 7 wines (split between two people). This was because it was raining heavily and we were soaked through to the bone. We wanted to stay indoors whilst we waited for the weather to clear - but it was a wonderful experience tasting seven delicious varieties of wine.
Forrest is a spacious and bright setting with both indoor and outdoor seating. The staff left you to your own devices, so you can really soak up the stunning surroundings. My personal favourites were The Doctors’ Riesling 2016 and Forrest Petit Manseng 2017.
ROCK STAR VIBES!
The atmosphere was wildly different from anywhere else on the self-guided tour. As I walked through the archway entrance, Alt-J blasting loudly on the speakers - talk about making an impression! Famous quotations are printed on the ground and there’s also a musician’s area in the basement filled with funky posters and instruments.
The wines, in my opinion were not the best that I tasted on the tour, but the vibes were memorable. Having said that, the serving sizes were hearty and we left Framingham feeling happily merry.
Originally starting as a family venture, Bladen wines is much smaller than any of the other wineries on the tour, but was one of the busiest ones we went to. The staff were very friendly and encouraged a very interactive experience with the other guests at the tasting. All grapes are handpicked, except for the Sauvignon Blanc variety. Bladen has an extensive tasting menu with six (!) wines available for sampling.
Wairau River (Free)
Wairau River offers a wide variety of wines to choose from. Though not on the tasting menu, I did manage to try some of the dessert wine (super sweet, super delicious!). Unfortunately, as it was during peak lunch hours, it felt as though the staff were too rushed off their feet to give comprehensive answers to the questions we had. Though cordial, the staff - dare I say it - lacked personality.
This is one of the few free cellar doors that has a restaurant, so if you wish to sop up some of the booze with food, Wairau River is the place to go.
No 1 Family Estate (Free)
Fancy but fun, this playful little cellar door has excellent staff who are extremely informative and bubbly (pardon the pun). No 1 Family Estate specialises in making sparkling wines, made by the methode traditionelle.
We were served two taster glasses of fizz (delicious). The alcohol content of these champagnes sure pack a punch and the glasses were filled to the top. Winner!
Though we weren’t the only visitors, the staff made us feel very welcome and never hurried us along. With so many varieties to sample on offer, I left Nautilus tipsy but happy. With six wines to try, including Pinot Noirs and Sauvignon Blancs, the showstoppers for me include the Grüner Veltliner 2017 and the Albariño 2017. Nautilus offer a cheese platter for purchase, so why not give it a go? Don’t let that wine feel lonely!
I’ve saved the best till last. Though this winery isn’t included on the self-guided walking tour, you simply must visit the Yealands Estate. Out of all the wineries we explored, Yealands shot straight to the top as most memorable. However, a car is definitely required in order to drive around the vineyard.
Once you go into the cellar door, you are greeted by friendly members of staff who usher you into the small cinema and pop a short film about the history of Yealands. In my opinion, this really does showcase the attention to detail and the ingenuity that the founder, Peter Yealands, has put into practice to make the winery a unique environment.
The Yealands Estate has some quirky characteristics that make it a truly memorable place. Committed to sustainability, the estate uses baby-doll sheep and kunekune pigs to graze the wine rows (Why? Because they’re too short to nibble the grapes and also provide natural fertiliser). In addition to this, classical music is played to the vines to encourage growth and Yealands is home to to New Zealand’s largest solar panel installation. Oh, and you can feed the chickens. Fantastic!
Now, on to the wines! Upon arrival, Yealands staff were extremely friendly and welcoming. They were generous with the serving sizes and offered a large selection of wines (all of which were delicious). The staff were extremely knowledgeable and even gave us recommendations of other wineries in the area to visit. It’s hard to believe that this entire experience was completely free of charge.
Rebecca Da Silva is a small business owner (seriously, she’s very tiny) and freelance writer. She is the founder of Zero menstrual cups and spends her time breaking the taboo around menstruation. Visit www.zerocup.co.uk to learn more about sustainable period products. Rebecca enjoys living out of a tiny backpack, calling new places “home” - for a short while, at least - and slow, long-term travel. You can follow her journey on Instagram @_becular or stop by her blog becular.wordpress.com.