Hit the Hawke’s Bay Wine Trail

Sea, sun and Syrah are three good reasons to join the Hawke’s Bay wine trail. You can enjoy all three at some of the country’s best vineyard restaurants. If you need more convincing to grab your corkscrew and credit card try history, hospitality and a head-turning range of wine styles that’s more extensive than you’ll find in any other local wine region.

Hawke’s Bay has New Zealand’s oldest wineries as well as some of the newest. Tread the trail and you’ll find wine museums, wine tours and wine tastings that will open your eyes to the many vinous delights the Bay has to offer.

I’ve listed my top ten wineries but it was hard to make the cut with so many worthy candidates. Pick up a wine tour brochure from any winery or information centre and plan a route to match your taste and transport.


Black Barn

There are quite a few good reasons to visit Black Barn. A terrific restaurant (lunches only Wednesday to Sunday), a grower’s market (Saturday morning in summer), an art gallery, concerts in their very own amphitheatre and top-flight accommodation at thirteen different retreats in scenic locations around Hawke’s Bay. Oh, and on top of that Black Barn makes a smart range of red, white and sparkling wines from grape varieties best suited to the region.

The winery and restaurant are situated in an elevated position about five minutes from the upscale village of Havelock North. The restaurant, wines, art gallery, retreats and even the vineyards ooze classy good taste.

Wines you must taste: Unoaked Chardonnay (bone dry with masses of fruit flavour), Tuki Tuki Sauvignon Blanc (pure fruit flavours and gentle acidity), Malbec (big, juicy red) and The Reserve Red (classy wine with ageing potential).


Clearview

Clearview is a coastal winery on the road to Cape Kidnappers about 20 minutes drive from Napier. By Hawke’s Bay standards Te Awanga is a relatively cool wine district. Owner/winemaker, Tim Turvey, was warned that the area was too cold to grow grapes before he went ahead and established a vineyard, proving the doomsayer wrong in spectacular fashion.

Turvey doesn’t like wimpy wines. He makes an impressive range of flavour-packed whites and reds with strong varietal flavours and a solid influence of oak in appropriate styles.

The winery restaurant has an appealing informality. It flows from a classy/rustic building into the adjacent vineyard (weather permitting) and is highly recommended. Open seven days in winter and five in summer from 10am to 5pm.

Wines you must taste: Reserve Chardonnay (flagship wine), Black Reef Blush (full-bodied Rosé), Reserve Cabernet Franc (dense, ripe red) and Old Olive Block (Cabernet Sauvignon blend with attitude).


Craggy Range

Craggy Range is an ambitious and highly successful winery that’s been making top wine for around a decade. I’m an ardent fan of their “quality without compromise” approach to producing a selection of great wines from Hawke’s Bay, Martinborough, Marlborough, Wairarapa and Central Otago. Every serious wine lover should visit this magnificent winery in one of the most spectacular settings the Bay has to offer.

Terroir, the winery restaurant, is classy and sumptuous with a great menu and wine list. In summer it’s possible to dine al fresco on a lakeside terrace while winter is the perfect time to hunker down near the large open fire.

Accommodation is offered in extremely comfortable cottages nestled in the vineyard dangerously close to Terroir restaurant.

Wines you must taste: Too numerous to list although the flagship wine, Le Sol Syrah, is irresistible.


Elephant Hill

This recent addition to the Hawke’s Bay wine trail deserves “must visit” status. Established by wealthy German businessman, Roger Weiss, to take advantage of a spectacular coastal location and vineyard site fanned by cooling sea breezes.

The modern winery includes a stylish restaurant with views across a man-made lake and vineyards to the sea with Cape Kidnappers in the distance.

Elephant Hill makes lively, supple white wines with delicate fruity flavours reflecting a cool (for Hawke’s Bay) vineyard site. Reds are bright, fresh and shimmering with energy.

Wines you must taste: Viognier has been an instant success for its pungently fruity flavours although I particularly like Elephant Hill’s ethereal, pure Rosé and fruit-focused Chardonnay.


Mission Estate

Mission Estate is New Zealand’s oldest winemaker. It was founded by French missionaries (with the blessing of the Pope) who established a Marist Mission in the far north of New Zealand in 1838. They moved to Hawke’s Bay in 1858 where vines were planted for sacramental wines.

The very gracious main building was built in 1880 and moved to its present site in 1909.

Mission has a museum, a great restaurant with outside dining, and an art and craft gallery stocked with works by local artists and artisans. In February each year the winery stages a popular concert hosted by acts that have included Ray Charles, Kiri Te Kanawa, Rod Stewart and Dionne Warwick.

Wines you must taste: Wines in the flagship Jewelstone range consistently deliver top quality although the second tier Reserve wines often represent exceptional value.


Church Road

Church Road was originally owned by wine personality and one of Hawke’s Bay’s pioneers of wine quality, the late Tom McDonald. It was purchased, renovated and reopened by Montana Wines (now Pernod Ricard NZ) the country’s largest producer with the aim of creating a winery that would produce top Hawke’s Bay wines.

Visitors are encouraged to take a guided tour of the winery (11am and 2pm daily), visit a fascinating wine museum with relics dating back 3000 years and taste Church Road wines between 10am and 5pm (closed most public holidays).

Wines you must taste: Church Road’s Cuve Series wines offer a treasure trove of vinous delights – my favourites are Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Merlot. Two exceptional Reserve wines are Chardonnay and Syrah.


Te Awa

“Te Awa” is an abbreviation of Te Awa o te atua which means “River of God”, a reference to the subterranean streams that flow deep below the stony soils of the Gimblett Gravels district. The winery was established by the Lawson family in 1992 and purchased by Julian Robertson, an American who was recently made an Honorary Knight Companion for his services to business and philanthropy. Rumour has it that Robertson was so impressed with a meal he had at Te Awa’s restaurant that he bought the company. That rumour gains strength from the fact that the food at Te Awa is spectacularly good – at least on the few occasions I’ve dined there.

Te Awa’s wines have always been good but are expected to become even better after a recent serious investment in talented winemakers and equipment.

Wines you must taste: Te Awa makes one of the country’s best examples of Pinotage, an unusual red grape variety that reminds me a little of a robust Pinot Noir with a rustic edge. I particularly like their Merlot, Cabernet Merlot and Chardonnay.


Te Mata

Te Mata was established in its present site in 1892 using brick cellars dating back to 1872. It has been a leading light in the development of quality winemaking in Hawke’s Bay. When Te Mata produced its first Cabernet Sauvignon/Merlot blend under the Coleraine label in 1982 it inspired others to follow in its footsteps. Since then Te Mata have quietly steered pioneered varieties such as Viognier while refining the development of more mainstream styles. Anyone familiar with Te Mata’s wines regard a visit more as a pilgrimage.

The winery offers luxury accommodation in a studio and flat near the winery and in a Cottage on its Woodthorpe vineyard.

Wines you must taste: Te Mata is best known for the stylish, Bordeaux-style red, Coleraine, although my own favourite is Bullnose Syrah, a wine that nods in the direction of the northern Rhone. Elston Chardonnay is their “must try” white.


Trinity Hill

Trinity Hill is one of Hawke’s Bay’s most innovative wineries with a range of wines extending beyond the mainstream with reds that include a very successful Tempranillo from Spain, Touriga Nacional from Portugal and Montepulciano from Italy. White varieties include Arneis from Italy and Alvarinho from Portugal.

The winery is in the Gimblett Gravels area, the source of grapes for its most celebrated wines. The cellar door is a modern, cavernous area with plenty to look at and, of course, buy.

Wines you must taste: Homage is the winery’s flagship label offering assured quality of the very highest level. Homage Syrah is always outstanding although Homage Chardonnay and The Gimblett, a Merlot/Cabernet Sauvignon blend, are as good in my view.


Vidal

History, a great restaurant and top wine selection are three good reasons to visit Vidal. Founded in 1905 this historic winery has since been embraced by the expanding city of Hastings. It gained the country’s first vineyard bar licence and opened its popular restaurant in 1978. This consistently good eatery is open seven days a week from 11.30am until “late”. I highly recommend it.

Vidal makes wine in two price levels: the Reserve Range includes a Chardonnay, Viognier, Pinot Noir, Merlot/Cabernet and Syrah while the price-friendlier Estate Range features a similar varietal mix with the addition of Sauvignon Blanc (including an organic Sauvignon Blanc), Pinot Gris, Riesling and Rosé.

Wines you must taste: My two favourites are the prize-winning Reserve Viognier and dense, powerful Syrah. Any wine labelled with “Reserve” will not disappoint while the Estate wines generally represent excellent value.


First published in KiaOra Magazine – Mar 2010.

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