In 1879, local runholder John Martin purchased neighboring land Huangarua, subdivided it to form a new township which he named after himself. The township was shaped after the Union Jack ... with streets radiating out from a central square (many named after places Martin visited in 1875 whilst on a world tour)
The town provided a stopover for workers heading to the coast, so transport and accommodation became key industries, Martinborough was largely a rural service town for nearby farms.
The local Hau Ariki Marae and meeting house were founded in the early 1980's. They are affiliated with the Ngāti Kahungunu hapū of Ngāti Hikawera o Kahungunu. The meeting house is named after the Ngāti Kahungunu priest Tūpai, who travelled from Polynesia on the ancestral canoe Takitimu. Unlike in other towns, Māori retain a significant presence in Martinborough.
In the late 1970s grapes for wine production were planted near Martinborough, by the 1980's wine pioneers had discovered that Martinborough's soil and microclimate was perfect for grape growing. The wine industry has since had a dramatic effect on the town, transforming it from a quiet backwater into the capital of the region’s wine industry. The new industry today continues to provide huge economic stimulus to the region which has resulted in new restaurants, cellar doors, accommodation and activities to encourage visitors to the town.