The Awatere Valley – by Jo Burzynska

Courtesy of Jo Burzynska – Monday May 10, 2010

Its swift flowing nature may have given Marlborough’s Awatere River its name, but on my first wine trip to the valley the same could not be said for the traffic we joined waiting to cross the single-track bridge that once straddled it. Not so many years later I sped across the new two-lane structure and on through a wine region in which change has proved as rapid its river’s waters.

Back in 1989 when the first vines were planted in the Awatere Valley, it was sheep rather than vines that largely populated this wild and windy place……. between the Wither Hills that separate it from the Wairau Valley to the north and the rugged Inland Kaikoura ranges to the south, the Awatere feels very different to its neighbouring valley.

This also extends to its climate, which is more extreme; cooler, drier and windier.

It may be tougher to grow grapes here, but this is probably lending the Awatere’s wines some of their characteristic intensity.

“The climatic conditions are harsher in the Awatere Valley than the Wairau and therefore the vines struggle a bit more,” notes Peter Clark of Clark Estate…..

Awatere wines have emerged as having their own distinctive style, often characterised by a flinty minerality and rapier-like acidity. They also tend to be a touch more restrained, with Awatere sauvignons displaying less upfront passionfruit notes and more herbaceous, tomato stalk and nettle characters.

Fans are often attracted by the freshness of Awatere wines, which, although possessing higher acidities than their Wairau cousins, are more often of a silky rather than searing nature. It’s something that could be down to the climate.