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So far, the 2011s show plenty of promise and some pretty terrific wines and values. At the top of the list, not surprisingly, is Saint Clair. Saint Clair winemaker Matt Thomson is passionate about Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, and he's exploring the region in depth with the Pioneer Block series, which focuses on select parcels and vineyard sites. I like those wines very much but the reserve bottling is truly the standout - aromatic and elegant, and wonderfully delicious.
Pioneer Block 4 Sawcut Pinot Noir
The Sawcut vineyard, is located in a pioneering grape-growing region, the Ure Valley, about 50 km south of the Blenheim town ship (or half way between Kaikoura and Blenheim). It has exceptionally high limestone soils, which reflect in a chalky, mineral character to the wine. The vineyard has a unique microclimate with the number of degree growing days equivalent to if not higher than Blenheim in most years.
The three Pioneer Block 4 wines from the Ure Valley (Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir) carry the name, Sawcut.
About 8km up the Ure Valley is the world renowned Sawcut Gorge walk, (included in the "100 Best Walks in New Zealand"). The walk is up the bed of the Ure River, which is narrow and ends up with walls up to 50 metres high on either side. You then walk through the "Sawcut" out onto another large open area. A fabulous display of native flora and fauna, and a variety of geological structures are to be seen on this walk.
Pioneer Block 5 Bull Block Pinot Noir
This vineyard is situated in Hawkesbury Road, in Omaka Valley – south west of Blenheim on gentle, even northern slope.
The area has warmer days, cooler nights and aged silt loam soil with clay loam sub-soil. This all contributes to the power and intensity of the berries.
Other Pioneer Block 5 wines which also carry the name Bull Block include Pioneer Block 5 Bull Block Pinot Gris.
Pioneer Block 10 Twin Hills Pinot Noir
This vineyard is nestled within the Omaka Valley. The Maori translation of Omaka is river between two hills which is where the name Twin Hills originates from.
Pioneer Block 12 Lone Gum Pinot Noir
Named after the solitary tree on the site in Dog Point Road, south of the small township of Renwick, the Lone Gum Vineyard enjoys free-draining alluvial soils in a slightly warmer part of the Marlborough grape-growing area.
The lone gum tree that sits in the middle of the vineyard is lit up at night and has been the subject matter of beautiful photos by local photographer Kevin Judd.
Other Pioneer Block 12 wines which also carry the name Lone Gum include Pioneer Block 12 Lone Gum Gewurztraminer.
Pioneer Block 14 Doctor's Creek Pinot Noir
Doctor's creek vineyard situated south-west of the town of Blenheim has a Northerly aspect with devigourating clay soils . Doctor’s Creek , named after the original land owner, a well known doctor in the area , flows through the adjoining vineyard . Neal and Judy’s Ibbotson (Saint Clair owners) have successfully experimented with top grafting Pinot Noir (using Dijon clones) in this vineyard where the clay under the sub-soil provides some intense and interesting flavours. Other key varieties planted in this vineyard but on different soils are Sauvignon Blanc and Riesling.
Pioneer Block 15 Strip Pinot Noir
This vineyard is in the Lower Waihopai Valley directly west of Blenheim. Owned by Neal and Judy Ibbotson the clay based soils provide a vigour-moderating environment conducive to growing top quality Pinot Noir. Named Strip Block after a unique, narrow strip of devigorating clay soil at the base of the southern foothills.
Pioneer Block 16 Awatere Pinot Noir
The Awatere label is named after a north-facing hillside vineyard, overlooking the Awatere Valley. 25 kilometres south of Blenheim. Sloping clay soils provide the ideal low vigour required for the production of high-quality Pinot Noir.
Pioneer Block 22 Barn Block Pinot Noir
This vineyard is at the foot of the Wither Hills in Dry Hills Estate, south east of Blenheim. Named Barn Block after the vineyard which is alongside the home and luxury accommodation, Maison Grange (French for Barn House). The soils are deep, vigour moderating clay, perfect for producing top quality Pinot Noir.
Pioneer Block 23 Master Block Pinot Noir