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In 1973, New Zealand's biggest wine company, Montana, was looking to expand. While land in the established vineyard region of Hawke's Bay was going for NZ $2000 an acre, land in Marlborough, a drab pastureland at the northern tip of the South Island could be had for as little as NZ $250 an acre. Rolling the dice, they bought 14 farms totaling 4000 acres, and set about planting Muller-Thurgau which at the time was the most popular New Zealand varietal. On a hunch, after tasting New Zealand's first ever Sauvignon Blanc, a Matua Valley 1974, Montana took another chance and planted 60 acres of the Marlborough property to the varietal. The rest, as they say, is history.

The resultant wines were unlike anything the world had ever seen before. Marlborough Sauvignon had "out-Sancerred" Sancerre. Amazingly crisp and vibrant with an extraordinary herbal pungency, these were wines that couldn't be ignored. They were polarizing, and met with critical acclaim or revulsion, but they certainly demanded a reaction. These first wines led to a planting boom, and Marlborough is still growing at a breakneck pace, while the world is awakening to the wines. Why did this hitherto unknown region prove so successful?

Marlborough has a unique geographic position, which has allowed it to overcome the pitfalls which had plagued New Zealand viticulture on the North Island. First and foremost is the issue of rain. Like the Northern regions, western storms are broken up in the mountainous interior, but unlike the Northern Regions, Marlborough is sheltered from the autumnal cyclones by the southern tip of the Northern Island to the east. This allows vintners the luxury of a lengthy ripening season, as the fruit can hang well into April and even May. Indeed, the region, from February to April (New Zealand's harvest period), is drier than anywhere else in the country, and the critical month of March is Marlborough's driest of the year.

Marlborough is also the sunniest place in New Zealand, helping with ripeness, while acidity is preserved by the cold maritime summer nights. Finally, unlike the other regions, the soils are fairly infertile and very stony, helping to retain heat and affording excellent drainage. The drainage is so good in fact, that irrigation is essential.

Today, Marlborough is home to many wineries and others on the North Island are sourcing Marlborough grapes. Despite the continual increases in plantings, however, these quintessential Sauvignons have been under increasing worldwide demand, often resulting in increasing prices. (Wine/Appellations)