THE GREAT AMERICAN VACATION
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People mostly come to Blenheim (pronounced bleh-num by the locals) for the wine. There are dozens of wineries in the area, some with stylish cellar doors and restaurants, and Blenheim township is developing fast, though it still has a small-town veneer.
In 1973 the Montana (pronounced Mon-taa-na here) company paid two Californian wine authorities to investigate local grape-growing potential on a commercial
scale. Both were impressed with what they found. It was the locals who were skeptical—until they tasted the first wines produced. After that, Montana opened the first modern winery in Marlborough in 1977, although there had been fledgling efforts over the past 100 years by pioneering wine growers. The region now has more than 100 vineyards and wineries. The Marlborough Wine and Food Festival held in mid-February each year celebrates the region's success in suitable style.
Don't bury your nose in a tasting glass entirely, though; the landscape shouldn't be overlooked. The vineyards sprawl across the large alluvial plains of the Wairau River, lined by mountains. From many points you can see Mt. Tapuae-o-Uenuku, which, at 2,885 meters (9,465 feet), is the highest South Island mountain outside the Southern Alps. Blenheim is a 30-minute drive from the Marlborough Sounds to the north, and 90 minutes from the Nelson Lakes National Park to the west. Walk off your winery excesses in the Wither Hills Farm Park on the southern side of town, where you can climb through open farmland for a wide view across the Wairau Plains.
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