Europeans, who some would argue are some of the planet's best life-enjoyers, have been combining cycling and fine wines for many years across vineyard-quilted regions of France, Italy and Spain. But it seems only recently the rest of the world is beginning to catch on. With a mild, sunny climate, clay-rich soils, magnetism for outdoor enthusiasts, and a creative contingent of innovative, risk-taking winemakers, the Nelson region of New Zealand's South Island has a similar ingredient list to that which has proven so successful in the commonly cycled wine regions of the Mediterranean. Thus sprung to life Tasman’s Great Taste Trail, a cycling route lined with enticing treats that presently stretches about 75 kilometers from Nelson to Kaiteriteri along sparkling coastline leading up to the Abel Tasman National Park (coastal route) and another 22 kilometers to Wakefield along the rail route.
The end product (scheduled to be completed in the next two years) will span 175 kilometers of golden sand beaches, gently undulating green hillsides, roadside fruit stands, locavore-friendly open air cafes, craft breweries, and vineyards, glorious vineyards. The Stoke to Brightwater or Richmond portion can easily be done as a day trip with The Gentle Cycling Company (guided or freedom rentals). Ambitious riders can do the full Nelson to Kaiteriteri route over two days with plenty of choices of organic, biodynamic vineyards, artisan food, art galleries and cozy accommodation to make even the most discerning environmentally conscious traveler happy. Owner Rose Griffin started Gentle Cycling in a repurposed sheep-sheering shed in 2009 before the Great Taste Trail even existed, and she is a firm proponent of the "life is a journey, not a destination" school of thought, a philosophy embodied perfectly in the trail itself.
The rail route section of the trail from Nelson or Stoke to Brightwater is a popular day trip. At under 30 kilometers round-trip, it can be completed in an afternoon. Just make sure to leave plenty of time for stops to sample the area's bounty—that's sort of the whole point. The first 10 minutes or so of the ride are a bit urban and uninspiring, but the trail soon rewards with lushly fruiting orchards of apples, pears, feijoas, plums and berries, as well as more charming little boutique vineyards than you could safely visit and still ride a straight line home.
Te Mania and Richmond Plains
Heading southwest out of Stoke before long the grapevines are nearly brushing your legs. Lining the path on both sides are mainly the chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc grapes for which the region is known. Start with the shared cellar door of Te Mania and Richmond Plains, some of the first vineyards you'll encounter on this section. Richmond Plains is the first 100% organic, biodynamic vineyard in the Nelson region.
A unique sculptural installation greets you outside the entryway to the tasting room—"The World's Biggest Grapevine Rugby Ball," created to celebrate the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand. Te Mania's voracious appetite for sport and bold, delicious wines is echoed in their limited release "Big Balls Syrah," christened in honor of their beloved All Blacks. The vineyard's chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc are all certified organic.
Sharing Te Mania's tasting room is talented, passionate winemaker Lars Jensen, owner of Richmond Plains. Winner of multiple awards at the New Zealand Organic Wine Awards, Jensen has earned the reputation as one of the top organic biodynamic wine producers in New Zealand. The vineyard's logo is a spiral of korus, or unfolding ferns, designed to symbolize new beginnings and unfolding life. This logo is an apt translation to art of Jensen's ideology—"learning the pleasures of living in harmony with nature and enjoying its bounty is food for the soul."
Richmond Plains crafted the first and only biodynamic-certified white wine in New Zealand in their award-winning 2014 Blue Moon Sauvignon Blanc, which displays lovely notes of passion fruit and lime. The vineyard also offers accommodation in a quaint cottage a short walk from The Grape Escape Cafe. The cottage has grapevines at the doorstep and bookings include a complimentary bottle of wine.
Another 10 kilometers or so along the trail after two scenic river crossings, a horse paddock and endless rows of grapevines is another wonderful boutique organic vineyard called Kaimira on Livingstone Road in Brightwater. Co-owner June Hamilton has been dedicated to making the "lightest possible footprint" in this certified fully organic venture since 1997.
Arising from humble origins (the winery was originally a kiwifruit-packing shed), the vineyard is now producing some of the top organic wines in the region (handpicking over 70 percent of the grapes) and exporting to the United Kingdom, Australia and China. One of Kaimira's partnerships is with Zealandia, an eco-sanctuary just outside Wellington. Some of Kaimira's esteemed wines from their Estate collection are featured at Rata Cafe at Zealandia and the vineyard supports the project's conservation efforts.
Further along the trail in the Kaiteriteri direction, Mahana in Upper Moutere (formerly Woollaston at Mahana) is worth checking out for its five-star organic wines, particularly the "Clays and Gravels" Sauvignon Blanc and rotating seasonal food menu. Winemaker Michael Glover is rated one of the top 12 vintners in Oceania and he displays an admirable dedication to minimal input viticulture, a type of low-yield sustainable winemaking developed by the acclaimed d'Arenberg label in South Australia. In this process, there is little to no irrigation, minimal spraying, and—most importantly—zero fertilizer to ensure quality as well as environmental responsibility. Unlike many of the vineyards in the area, Mahana is open year-round seven days a week and also offers luxurious accommodation in a vineyard-side villa.
A Break From Wine
Bored with grapes? Golden Bear Brewing Company in Mapua, run by enthusiastic hop-lover Jim Matranga (an expatriate Californian), is a welcome respite from viticulture overkill. Their Seismic Pale Ale is creative Nelson craft beer at its finest, in a region known as the "Craft Beer Capital of New Zealand". The Free House in Nelson is another must-stop for brew aficionados. It’s housed in a former Dutch Reform church, which owner Eelco Boswijk connects back to his relationship with the product, saying "we don't exactly worship beer, but we do hold it in great reverence."
One of the beauties of the Great Taste Trail is that it can be easily split up into sections done as day trips from Nelson, Motueka or Kaiteriteri. The trail begins at Nelson Airport and boasts views of the Western Ranges, the Waimea Estuary and the stunning Tasman Bay. It includes a custom-built bridge over Waimea River to Rabbit Island and an option to hop on the ferry to Mapua, where the trail continues from Riwaka to Woodstock along the west bank of the Motueka River. Kina Beach Vineyard's Old Schoolhouse Cottage and Ruby Bay Vineyard's scenic cottage are two more options for overnight accommodation close to the halfway mark between Nelson and Kaiteriteri. Spend a day or a week tasting what the bountiful alluvial soils of Nelson can produce. Then pedal it all off and start again...
Julia Reynolds is a travel writer, adventure enthusiast, and serial nomad living (mostly) in the Hawaiian islands. She is currently on a one-year trip around the world, avoiding air travel when possible and traveling slowly over land and sea. Some of her best travel experiences to date have been kayaking the Napali Coast of Kaua'i, diving the isolated atolls of Belize, and rock climbing in the Krabi region of Thailand. Her worst travel experiences have been getting robbed in Guatemala, breaking her back in Thailand, and breaking multiple bones in a mountain bike accident in Alaska. She still loves the places where the worst experiences occurred.