Dear Marlborough, New Zealand,
Last week, I was in a wine shop and saw your name on a Sauvignon Blanc label. I admit I was looking for it. I never liked white wine until I met you. I buy your bottles all the time now, bring them to dinner parties, drink them with my husband, drink them alone. It sounds like I’m stalking you, and maybe, it’s a good thing you’re 9,000 miles away.
Do you remember when we met in February 2012? It was your summer—my winter. I knew little about you. My husband, Rich, and I (my boyfriend at the time) drove from Nelson to see you. Our friends let us borrow their Bongo van. I can’t even remember why we picked you—there were so many other places our guidebook said we should go. On the way, we stopped at Nelson Lakes National Park. We jumped off a pier into the cold and crystal Lake Rotoiti, snowcapped mountains looming in front of us. Barely two hours later, we reached you.
The road through your heartland quieted us. As we drove, I couldn’t take my eyes off you: The dry brush along the pull-offs, the never-ending green of your vineyards, the hills beyond, and the mountains even more beyond. I don’t remember a single other vehicle behind us or in front. We were alone (or maybe you made us feel that way). We stopped to take your picture. The pictures are so quiet. No one can ever hear what’s in a picture, so I want people to know this. The most beautiful places silence us. I don’t even remember having thoughts, always the loudest force in me. I can speak for both Rich and me—we were nothing and everything that day with you.
We stayed the night in a B&B in Blenheim, ready to see more of you in the morning. Other tourists recommended we rent bikes and pedal from winery to winery, but we didn’t listen. Mostly because we thought it might rain (a rare kind of day for you). And really, when you’re drinking and eating cheese and nuts and charcuterie between the hours, who wants to exert themselves? We walked through several of your cellar doors—Cloudy Bay, Georges Michel, Villa Maria, Auntsfield. I was set on trying all your reds, your Pinot Noirs, but then, you changed me. You didn’t say anything. You showed me your whites in sparkling glasses. No one has shown me their whites before. Not like this. Your Sauvignon Blancs were smooth and not annoying and played jazz music. I don’t even like jazz; I just like my idea of it. Maybe your Blancs had hints of right ideas, and that’s what I was tasting.
We were in your Wairau Valley, created millions of years ago by the whims of glaciers and earthquakes. We drove down dusty roads to find your cellars, lush vines on either side of us. I remember thinking how well-loved you looked. There are people who pay great attention to your soil, who sell your wine in clean and understated buildings, who pass on their love for you across generations. Connoisseurs discuss the secret to your yellow-green and violet grapes. They talk about diurnal temperature variation—your long days of sunshine, your ocean breeze and cool nights. They talk about your stony, dry soil. They call your wine “aromatic” and “herbaceous.” They go on about your long ripening season, and I can’t help but wonder if this is why I like you so much—I fall for late bloomers.
We drank your beer, too. We stopped by the Moa Brewing Company. I remember playing darts there with Rich, the cute bartender, her friendly pours, the chats with other tourists. A couple there convinced us to drive to Milford Sound, thirteen hours away from you. We ended up making the trip, days later in the Bongo, with our friends in Nelson. I’m not sure we would have ever made it there if it weren’t for you. My love for Milford doesn’t take away from the love I have for you. They say certain things happen because you were at the right place at the right time. You were the right place, Marlborough.
I remember smiling a lot and not caring when it did rain later. Do you know how fun you are in the rain? Your rain was light and cold and disappeared, like you just wanted to show us, and that was it. I guess by then I wasn’t surprised by your surprises. I don’t make friends easily, let alone within a span of two days. What is it about you? I still talk about you.
I don’t know if I’ll ever see you again. Rich and I have been in love for a long time. I see you as a part in our mystery, an indelible setting in our story.