Marlborough’s ‘bucketlist’ vintage cycling experience

Grapes and cyclists make a rare mix when New Zealand’s most unusual cycling event comes to a colourful climax.

The Forrest GrapeRide, which takes recreational riders on a journey through the world-renowned Marlborough wine region, celebrates its 10th anniversary in 2014.

The first weekend in April will see 2,500 local and international riders converge on Marlborough to ride in one of the seven categories of this ‘bucketlist’ event.

Virgin Grape Crush

While it’s the 101km scenic loop through some of Marlborough’s most picturesque vineyards that draws riders to the three-day event, the festivities, food and wine also help to keep them coming back year-on-year.

The highlight event takes place at the conclusion of the main race, when spectators focus on a peloton of female riders who get to help turn grapes into wine.

A hundred female riders are selected at random to crush three tonne of pinot grapes in a huge custom built vat. This unusual tradition is known as the ‘100 Virgin Grape Crush’ and has made the Forrest GrapeRide a rather unique event on the annual cycling calendar.

Each grape-crusher is presented with a t-shirt to wear during the crush, but it’s not deemed to be the real thing until it is stained with the juice of the pinot noir grapes.

Returning riders are rewarded each year with a bottle of the famous limited edition 100 Virgins Pinot Noir.

Forrest Estate

Forrest Estate Winery, in the heart of the stony Wairau River Valley, operates on 120-hectares of vineyards spread across the Marlborough region. The innovative winery produces wine using several grape varieties, including classic sauvignon blanc, pinot noir and the lesser known Petit Mensang.

Forrest Estate’s owners John and Brigid Forrest (known collectively as ‘The Doctors’) left behind careers in molecular biology and medicine to establish the Marlborough vineyard in 1988.

Wine making is described as a perfect blend of art and science, but it seems the addition of cycling has proved a successful formula. As one of the pioneers of the fledging Marlborough wine industry, their backyard is now home to award winning wines along with the South Island’s biggest cycling event.

Scenic Journey

The course follows a 101km loop through the Marlborough region, in the north-east of New Zealand’s South Island.

Marlborough enjoys year-round sunshine, a diverse natural landscape of extensive coastline, and huge stands of untouched native forests. This makes it the perfect backdrop for the event.

Riders traverse historic New Zealand towns, award-winning vineyards, gentle farmland, and a section of the stunning Marlborough Sounds coastal area.

The event offers categories to suit all level of cycling abilities including a gentle 42km taster course, the classic 101km main event, and a 202km magnum course. To celebrate the 10th anniversary, a 1010km mammoth ride (10 laps of the 101km circuit) will also attract elite riders.

Cycling destination

While Marlborough is best known as New Zealand’s premier food and wine destination - thanks to its high production of wine, meat, seafood and speciality crops - the high sunshine hours and relatively gentle topography also lends itself perfectly to cycling experiences.

With over 40 cellar doors located within a 10km radius of the main town centre of Blenheim, a ‘sip and cycle’ experience is a popular activity. Visitors can hire a bicycle or join a tour, spending the day visiting cellar doors to sample world class wines, local produce and fresh seafood.

Marlborough is also home to the Queen Charlotte Track, an iconic walking track which is now also one of the 22 ‘great rides’ that form the New Zealand Cycle Trail. The track can be experienced by foot, mountain bike or sea kayak over one or several days. The 70km track passes through a wide range of landscapes from lush forest, historic bays and skyline ridges.

Forrest GrapeRide 2014

The Forrest GrapeRide stands and ends at Forrest Estate Winery, Renwick, Marlborough. Start times for 2014 are:

  • 1010km Mammoth 10 Lappers - 11.00am, 3 April
  • 505km Ultimate 5 Lappers - 2.00pm, 4 April
  • 202km High 5 Magnum - 6.00am, 5 April
  • 202km Tandem Riders - 6.00am, 6 April
  • 101km Konica Minolta Speed Bunnies - 8.15am, 5 April
  • 101km Recreational riders - 8.20am, 5 April
  • 42km Nissan Taster Course - 9.15am, 5 April

Fast facts: Marlborough food and wine

Marlborough produced 92% of New Zealand’s 2013 sauvignon blanc wine (75% of New Zealand’s total 2013 wine vintage).

Marlborough is home to more than 150 wineries, 551 grape growers, 23,232 hectares of planted grapes and 40 cellar doors.

More than 70% (65,000 tons per annum) of the native Greenshell Mussels exported from New Zealand are farmed in their natural environment of the Marlborough Sounds.

The Marlborough Sounds has 1500km of coastline, accounting for 20% of New Zealand’s total coastline.