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How did Marlborough Sauvignon become a global wine favourite?

How to Drink Better: Distinctive combination of green and exotic fruits took wine world by storm in the 1970s

Marlborough Sauvignon is one of our favourite wines. Every supermarket stocks at least half a dozen and often more. They range in price from €10 to €40 a bottle. So, what makes it so special?

Sauvignon blanc is one of the most popular grape varieties. Originally from France, it is widely grown in the Loire Valley, Bordeaux and other parts of France. The best-known names from the Loire are Sancerre, Pouilly-Fumé, and Touraine Sauvignon all of which are 100 per cent sauvignon blanc. But it is now grown all around the wine world, in Chile, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand. It prefers a cool climate that helps the wines retain acidity and freshness. Typically, sauvignon is fragrant and zesty with crisp, racy green fruits.

Marlborough is a wine region on the northern tip of the South Island of New Zealand. Unlike other parts of New Zealand, it is a relatively new vineyard. The first vines were planted there 50 years ago. Before that it was largely used for farming sheep and growing fruit. Then in 1973 a man called Frank Yukich, secretly bought 1,600 hectares of land in Marlborough. Yukich was the founder and part-owner of a successful wine company called Montana.

When he first announced his purchase to his board of directors, they initially refused to back him and almost fired him. However, he persevered, convinced that Marlborough had great potential and in 1979 produced his first wine. The wine was unique, hugely aromatic with masses of lime zest and exotic fruits. It took the wine world by storm, winning prizes at competitions, and thrilling the wine press and public alike.


One person who tasted it was Australian David Hohnen. He was part owner of Cape Mentelle, a wine estate in Western Australia more than 5,000 kilometres away. He was so taken by it that he flew to Marlborough, having already persuaded his backers to invest in a new winery which he called Cloudy Bay. The Cloudy Bay sauvignon soon became one of the most sought-after wines in markets all around the world.

Today the area under vine has expanded hugely. There are now more than 500 growers in Marlborough and 90 per cent of what they produce is sauvignon blanc.

Marlborough has a unique combination of soil and climate that allows it to produce a very distinctive style of wine. It has free-draining alluvial soils, a cool maritime climate, and a long growing season with huge fluctuations between day- and night-time temperatures. This allows the grapes to ripen fully while still retaining acidity.

What makes Marlborough sauvignon so distinctive is the combination of fresh green fruits and exotic fruits, a mix of ripeness and acidity that is appealing. It also helps that the general standard of winemaking is very high, so there are few really bad wines.