With an average of 2220 annual sunshine hours, Hawke’s Bay is billed as the fruit bowl of New Zealand. But it is one fruit in particular that gives this sun-filled sweeping region a big gold star on the map
With more than 72 wineries and 123 independent grape growers, it’s safe to say that in addition to being the nation’s fruit bowl, Hawke’s Bay is arguably the wine glass of New Zealand – filled with beautiful nectar rich in flavour and in history.
History in a glass
With beginnings in 1851 when Marist missionaries first planted vines on the alluvial terrain near Napier, Hawke’s Bay is the oldest wine region in New Zealand. By the early 1920s, Mission Estate Winery, Te Mata Estate Winery, Vidal Estate and Glenvale (now Esk Valley) were all established in the region. Nearly 100 years on, these are well-respected names in the winemosphere and are continuing to produce wines which please palates worldwide.
Despite its history with wine, Hawke’s Bay is no dinosaur when it comes to keeping up with the ever-expanding demands for sustainably produced wine. The region’s winemakers have been pioneers with their innovative approach to irrigation management, frost protection, on-site treatment of vineyard waste and spray practices.
In 2016 the statistics talk – 94 per cent of Hawkes Bay’s wine is certified sustainable and 6.8 per cent is certified organic.
Lay of the land
Hawke’s Bay hosts three main wine growing areas: coastal areas, hillsides and alluvial plains. Each area is home to distinctive land qualities that significantly enhance and impact on local viticulture and wine styles in the region.
The gravely coastal areas of Bay View and Te Awanga enjoy a more pronounced oceanic climate and are celebrated for their beautiful chardonnay and early-ripening reds.
The hillsides around Havelock North and the rural Maraekakaho district south west of Hastings are predominantly planted with red varieties – the north-facing slopes are helpful in reducing the risk of frost. These zones are famous for their rich, aromatic wines.
Criss-crossed with gravel beds, winding rivers and free-draining soils, the alluvial plains stretching out from Havelock North and Napier to include Taradale, Bridge Pa and Meanee are diverse in both their foundations and their fruit production. These sprawling areas are known to produce some of the best wines the region has to offer.
The nature of Hawkes Bay’s benign climate plays a vital role in its success as a diverse wine region. High sunshine levels and wind protection from surrounding high country allow for a wide spectrum of varieties to be produced, much to the envy of other regions with more homogenous climates. In 2015, the Hawke’s Bay vintage produced 36,000 tonnes of wine with three key players making up 54 per cent of the vintage: chardonnay, merlot and syrah.
Hawke’s Bay chardonnay: Chardonnay from the fruit bowl of New Zealand certainly showcases the tastes of its terroir. Rich in texture and laced with strong notes of ripe stone fruit and citrus, Hawke’s Bay-made chardonnay is highly regarded on the white wine scene. While oaked Hawke’s Bay chardonnay has dominated the market for years, more recently Hawke’s Bay unoaked or fresh chardonnay is ramping up in popularity.
Hawke’s Bay syrah: This variety is perhaps the most celebrated drop from the region. Wine-lovers across the globe have become infatuated with its rich, plum tones and peppery kick - qualities which have been likened to wine from the Northern Rhone region in Southern France.
Hawke’s Bay merlot: Luscious, fruity and complex, merlot from Hawke’s Bay is adored for its balancing of traditional structure with a pure fruitiness which other regions struggle to match.