Visiting Villa Maria in Marlborough-Part 2

This is the second of a two-part series about our wonderful time at Villa Maria‘s Cellar Door in Marlborough, New Zealand. Our host, winemaker Kathrin (Kat) Jankowiec, is talented, creative, knowledgeable and friendly. We couldn’t have asked for a better experience at the most-awarded winery in New Zealand.

And the wines are magnificent. Kat poured nine for us, ranging in price from $16-$43. Read on for more details. And then, head out to your nearest retailer that sells Villa Maria wine to pick up a few bottles. Of note, Ste. Michelle Wine Estates is a distribution partner for Villa Maria, therefore many wines are readily available in the U.S.

At the Cellar Door

We visited the Cellar Door in Marlborough at the beginning of harvest, so we were very fortunate that Kat took time out of her busy day to pour wine for us. Kat’s passion is apparent with every expression on her face as she talks about the wine she makes and loves.

Kat’s story also captured our attention. She taught in Germany, but more than a decade ago, she chose instead to travel around the world. She stopped in New Zealand, where she decided to earn some money working at a small, family-owned winery during harvest. It didn’t take long before she discovered she loved it and didn’t want to leave the country. After a few years, in 2015, she joined the Villa Maria winemaking team.

Speaking of harvest, Kat sent us an update this week with some great news about the 2019 vintage. “This season was a real treat. A near-perfect harvest supplied us with fantastic-looking fruit, and the weather gods were incredibly kind to us. I think 2019 is one of the most exciting Pinot Noir seasons from Marlborough. Definitely worth stacking up on, once they get released!”

The Wines

In the U.S., Villa Maria’s wines fall into four categories: Private Bin, Cellar Selection, Reserve, and Single Vineyard. As well, Villa Maria produces organic wines for all categories but Reserve. Kat poured us tastes of Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Rosé, Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from their Single Vineyard label and Cellar Selection.

Villa Maria Single Vineyard

Villa Maria’s single-vineyard wines showcase the unique terroir of the site where the fruit is grown. According to Kat, the winemaking approach is for minimal intervention, “allowing the wine to take its own path.”

Taylors Pass Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($26) This is a beautiful, crisp Sauvignon Blanc. Taylors Pass vineyard is in the Awatare Valley, where river stones reside under the vines. In addition, stainless steel tank fermentation results in clean flavors of grapefruit, lime, flint and grass. Not surprisingly, this was listed in James Suckling’s Top 100 New Zealand wines of 2018. (Also pictured: Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc, described below)

Taylors Pass Single Vineyard Chardonnay 2017 ($43)
This is 100% Marlborough Chardonnay from the same Awatere vineyard, where the soil sits on top of rocks. As a result, this is a mineral-driven style of Chardonnay. Aromas of brioche and citrus are followed by flavors of grapefruit, fig, oatmeal and minerality. Taylors Pass Chardonnay is an elegant, textured, complex and balanced wine. Pair it with chicken alfredo or salmon.

Taylors Pass Single Vineyard Pinot Noir 2015 ($43)
This is a beautiful wine that will be even more amazing once it ages. According to Kat, this is an “intensely ripe style” Pinot Noir that is not typical of the Marlborough region. The nose features dark cherries, violets, perfume and herbs, followed by dark berries, herbs, dark chocolate, spicy oak and the graphite minerality that is a hallmark of the stony soil in the Awatere Valley. We also tasted the 2013, which has the same aromatics and flavors, but the additional years result in better integration. Looking ahead, Kat said, “Both the 2013 and 2015 harvests were fantastic for Pinot Noir. The 2019 has the potential to blow those great vintages out of the water!”

Villa Maria Reserve

The Reserve category features distinguished wines of exceptional quality, displaying finesse and excellence. We didn’t taste any on this trip, but have certainly loved them in the past.

Villa Maria Cellar Selection

Cellar Selection wines are intensely flavored, complex, elegant, food friendly and good value.

Cellar Selection Sauvignon Blanc 2018 ($19)
This lovely Sauvignon Blanc captures the essence of Marlborough, with fruit from both the Wairau and Awatere valleys. This is considered a mid-tier wine from Villa Maria and according to Kat, “a good bang for the buck.” We agree. Opening with tropical aromas, the palate is juicy and grassy, with minerality, citrus, bell pepper, flint, and a salty brine. The Wairau Valley brings the tropical notes, while the cooler Awatere Valley offers herbal and stony characteristics. (Also pictured: Taylors Pass Single Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc, described above)

Cellar Selection Pinot Noir 2017 ($26)
This Pinot Noir also benefits from fruit grown in both the Wairau and Awatere valleys. Aromas of blackberries, black currents and a toasty hint of barrel oak lead into intense flavors of ripe cherries and raspberries, along with herbs, earthiness and a touch of minerality. A bit of smokiness from the barrels makes us think this food-friendly, approachable wine will pair well with smoked salmon, charred brussel sprouts or mushroom risotto.

Villa Maria Private Bin

The Private Bin label wines are widely available, featuring an excellent value and consistently good quality. We didn’t taste these on this trip, but we have enjoyed this label’s Sauvignon Blanc and Rosé in the past.

Cellar Door Only

Kat also poured these three wines that are only available at the Cellar Door.

The Attorney Single Vineyard Pinot Noir Rosé 2018 ($20)
We enjoyed this refreshing and fragrant rosé so much that we brought a bottle home. I wish we purchased more! Only about 1,300 bottles were produced of this certified organic wine. The Attorney Pinot Noir Rosé sources fruit from a Wairau Valley vineyard with deep clay soils owned by Villa Maria, but originally belonged to a New Zealand attorney general.

We shared our bottle with our friend and wine expert, Jenise Stone, who called it “possibly the most seductive Pinot Noir Rosé I’ve ever had. Heady aromas of mixed Mr. Lincoln and Sterling Silver roses and a touch of watermelon and orange blossom, and on the palate mixed light red fruits with dried apricots on the long finish. With all that going on, it was still crisp and precise with perfect acidity. Not just excellent: AMAZING.” We couldn’t agree more.

Seddon Single Vineyard Pinot Gris 2018 ($20)
Seddon Vineyard is situated on the southern bank of the Awatere River in Marlborough. Oh, how we wish this were available in the U.S. If you are a fan of Pinot Gris, you would love this one. There is a freshness and purity with underlying minerality. Aromatics of cinnamon, spice and floral notes lead into flavors of yellow stone fruit and a hint of ginger. This is a perfect summer sipper on the deck or lakeside.

R& D Sauvignon Blanc On Skins Marlborough 2015 ($16)
As the name suggests, this wine is from Villa Maria’s Research and Development label. According to Kat, “this is the biggest outlier of Sauvignon Blanc, pushing the boundaries and not typical of Marlborough wine.” In a blind tasting, you wouldn’t even know it is Sauvignon Blanc because of its funky, pungent nose and flavors of orange and peach. We love funk so, not surprisingly, we are fans.


As mentioned in Part 1 of this series, Villa Maria crafts excellent wine at affordable prices. Wines from 28 grape varieties are exported to more than 60 countries. Many are widely available in the United States, and we strongly recommend you try them.

Thank you, Kat, for the amazing experience at Villa Maria’s stunning vineyard and Cellar Door in Marlborough. We appreciate your time, warmth, passion and knowledge.

Thank you, Villa Maria. This visit was a highlight of our trip to New Zealand.

Margot and Dave