A late summer wedding in the Hawkes Bay last month provided me with the perfect opportunity to visit a small selection of wineries, put names to faces and sample some impressive drops. The wines of the Hawkes Bay, and in particular the Gimlett Gravels area in recent times have captured the attention of many wine writers and enthusiasts who hail the red wines, and particularly the Syrah of this region as the next great NZ wine variety set to follow the success of Malborough Sauvignon Blanc and Central Otago Pinot Noir.
This attention is well deserved and is by no means an overnight success. Wineries such as Te Mata, Trinity Hill, Vidal and Church Road have worked for decades to refine and craft their wines, gathering a huge following and seducing the noses of many a critic along the way.
With only 1.5 days, a 1.2l rental car and over 60 cellar doors, I was challenged to explore the length and breadth of this area whilst keeping my palate alive. I decided to focus on producers located in and around the famed Gimblett Gravels area, both big names and boutiques. A spare afternoon before the wedding meant that attracting participants for the first round was easy. Following a very kiwi cafe lunch in Napier (think bacon and egg pie) we devised a plan to drive along the coast to Cape Kidnappers, rewarding our exertion with a wine tasting in the Te Awanga district. With full stomachs and weak resolve we stumbled at the first hurdle and soon found ourselves turning off the road and into a road with a very large bronze elephant in the distance.
Founded in 2003, Elephant Hill vineyard has attracted even more attention to Te Awanga as a wine making district. Once inside, Nicola walked us through a selection of their estate produced whites and reds complimented by a quick tour of the winery and exquisite tasting room. I skipped quickly through the whites but paused to savour the Viognier which we agreed was a very good example of this varietal rarely found on its own in New Zealand. The reds were vibrant and slightly fruitier than I expected, the 2009 Merlot produced from estate grown fruit showing well already. However I was miffed to miss out on tasting their 2009 Syrah which Bob Campbell had recently written effusively about.
Next on the list was Clearview estate, an established producer in the Hawkes Bay. Renowned for their premium estate produced red and white wines, we were floored by their range –from Sauvignon Blanc and Sauvignon Gris, through to red such as Old Olive Block and Enigma which are based on the traditional Bordeaux varieties. This spectactular range had the unfortunate side effect of inspiring palate fatigue amongst my co-conspirators, so, giving Craggy Range a miss, we decided to retire for the day.
Conveniently, our place of abode was also a winery of sorts. Neil, a viticulturist turned winemaker, runs Vigne cottage situated amongst the vines just outside of Napier. Down the road is Sacred Hill, the vineyard to whom he previously sold his fruit before deciding to go it alone and start producing his own brand of single vineyard Chardonnay, Bordeaux Blend (Merlot, Malbec, Cab Franc) and Syrah.
Whilst opening a bottle of his 2009 Chardonnay, Neil told us the story of his wines which he plans to sell under the name ‘Parched Hills’ which immediately had me thinking that I should design an iphone app which automatically generates NZ vineyard names. Geographical naming conventions aside, the 09 chardonnay was a promising first vintage a green and golden apple nose which showed a good balance of barrel richness and acidity. We enjoyed the Bordeaux blend with a BBQ dinner, observing a long lasting Hawkes Bay sunset which cast a pink and orange palate of colours through the vines.
- Stay at Vigne Cottage