There are over 4700 producing hectares planted in Hawke’s Bay, with 71 wineries and 172 independent grape growers. Most of Hawke’s Bay’s wineries produce less than 200,000 litres per annum and are family owned providing a true boutique experience.
Hawke’s Bay is one of the hottest and sunniest areas of New Zealand. Sheltering inland ranges and a maritime influence provide a perfect balance. Hawke’s Bay’s warm maritime climate provides a long growing season, low rainfall, and high sunshine hours.
With more than 25 soil types, from clay loam to limestone to sands and gravel, the region offers a tremendous diversity for wine styles. Add to that a choice of sites from coastal to inland foothills, altitudes from virtually sea level to several hundred metres and Hawkes Bay is a region with limitless grape growing opportunities.
Currently 50% of production is white wine and 50% is red wine. Chardonnay and Cabernet Merlot varieties combined make up 61% of the annual vintage.
Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Merlot wines are described as having “luscious ripe fruit flavours that acquire complex structure and elegance with age”. The region’s red wine blends show true synergy in creating a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Both Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot dominant blended wines are championed in Hawke’s Bay although tend towards a higher component of Merlot. Assemblage choices are dependent on individual vineyard sites and conditions. Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Merlot wines combine the best of Old World structure and the New World purity of fruit flavour.
Hawke’s Bay Syrah is produced in a classic European style and described as “dark, weighty, intensely varietal with plum, fresh raspberry and black pepper flavours”.
Hawke’s Bay table Pinot Noir plantings reach into cooler more elevated sites within the region as opposed to sparkling Pinot Noir which comprises 8% of the annual regional vintage.
Hawke’s Bay has consistently produced New Zealand’s leading examples of Chardonnay and has 30% of New Zealand’s total producing hectares for this variety. Hawke’s Bay’s Chardonnays are rich, complex wines with distinctive flavours of citrus and ripe stonefruit. Unoaked or “natural” Chardonay is also growing in popularity.
Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc is 16% of the annual regional vintage and provides an alternative style retaining the freshness typical of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc while exhibiting ripe tropical fruit flavours.
Individual wineries have had great success with Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Pinot Gris, Riesling, Semillon, and Chenin Blanc. Other, more experimental varieties include Arneis, Verdelho and the red varieties Montepulciano, Sangiovese, Tempranillo and Zinfandel.
A Pioneering Spirit
Hawkes Bay, a pioneering winemaking region, has for many years made a significant contribution to the New Zealand wine industry in terms of both quality and quantity.
Hawkes Bay is home to New Zealands oldest winemaking establishments. The Mission Vineyard was founded by the Catholics Society of Mary in 1851 and remains under the same management today and Te Mata Estate, the oldest winery still operating in New Zealand, has been erected in stages since the 1870s. The Church Road Winery is another of the early Hawkes Bay wineries, which was built in the late 1890s.
The region continues to be at the forefront of the New Zealand wine industry, exploring new varieties, producing a greater range of high quality wines and extending the New Zealand wine experience.
Some of New Zealand’s earliest table wines were made from classic grape varieties by wealthy Hawke’s Bay farmers during the 1890s, at a time when others were making rough fortified wine.
Te Mata Estate planted its first vines in 1892, after the owner’s interest in wine was sparked by a French guest. The old brick stables, erected in 1872 and later converted into a winery, are still used today for cask storage.
Mission Vineyards is New Zealand ‘s oldest surviving wine producer. More than 150 years ago, French missionaries of the Catholic Society of Mary planted their first grapes in Hawke’s Bay, to make sacramental and table wine. Excellent wine still flows there and each year the Mission is also the venue of a popular international concert.
Just along the road, the Church Road Winery (belonging to Montana) houses New Zealand’s best wine museum.
A Winemakers Climate
Hawkes Bay has some of New Zealands’s highest sunshine hours, providing the region with a key advantage for successful grape growing. The growing seasons are generally low in humidity with continued heat through until April which is ideal for late maturing varieties such as Cabernet sauvignon and Riesling.
It has a relatively dry climate with the rugged Kaweka and Ruahine Ranges offering good protection from moisture carried by the prevailing westerly winds. The wide range of soil types in the region offer Hawkes Bay another prime viticultural asset. In recent years the focus for the new planting has moved to inland areas on the margins of the Heretaunga Plains, which offer low vigour vineyard sites.
The Hawkes Bay climate is perfect for all the premium grape varieties. Chardonnay and the Cabernet Sauvignon blends from Hawkes Bay are clear leaders in the New Zealand wine industry, with Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling and sweet dessert wines also commanding high recognition.
The excellent climate and growing conditions have allowed the successful development of all the classical grape varieties to a very high degree of quality.
A power-packed drop
Hawke’s Bay makes many of the country’s greatest chardonnays. Go out to the coast at Te Awanga, have lunch at Clearview Estate and try their power-packed Reserve Chardonnay. But watch your step – the owner boasts its alcohol level is never below 14 percent, which reflects how ripe the grapes get. After lunch, go for a long stroll along the beach.
Few would disagree that Hawke’s Bay makes New Zealand ‘s best merlot-based reds. You can buy some excellent reds here for $20. The other exciting red wine is syrah – dark, robust and spicy.
A dramatic newcomer in Hawke’s Bay is Craggy Range, at the foot of Te Mata Peak – a $40 million investment, with stunning wines and a French country-style restaurant, Terroir, which was voted one of the world’s 75 hot new restaurants by Conde Nast magazine. Sileni Estate is also worth a visit with two restaurants, a gourmet food store and a cooking school.
On your bike
It’s easy to get around the flat terrain of the wine country, and two popular cycling tours – On Year Bike and Bike About – wend their way through the vineyards, olive groves, ostrich farms and orchards.
There are many wine festivals and vineyard events here each year – Hawke’s Bay Harvest, the Napier Wine and Food Safari, and a wonderful charity wine auction, which offers a unique range of Hawke’s Bay wines that are not commercially available.