On par with Madrid
Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest wine region and the country’s second largest. At 39.4° South, it’s equivalent latitude in the Northern Hemisphere is Madrid in Spain. However its maritime climate has been compared to somewhere between Burgundy and Bordeaux.
The region is a thriving destination for wine tourism, with many winery tours available. The Bay has a large choice of restaurants and cafés, most of which proudly use local produce. Interestingly, Hawke’s Bay is also home to the highest number of Sustainable Winegrowing NZ (SWNZ) accredited wineries.
Hawke’s Bay soils and climate
The region covers a large area between Napier, Hastings and the warmer climate of Havelock North. Hawke’s Bay enjoys a reputation for some of the country’s highest sunshine hours. An annual average rainfall of 803mm provides adequate water, but wet weather during the growing season can be a problem. Grapevine plantings start north of Napier in the hot Esk Valley, continuing through the slightly cooler Dartmoor Valley, then onto the famous Gimblett, Ngatarawa and Maraekakaho Road areas. Hawke’s Bay boasts a number of soil types and climatic conditions. Vines have been planted everywhere, from the windswept coastal plains overlooking the Pacific, to the foothills of the Ruahine and Kaweka Ranges.
It is New Zealand’s largest red wine region, accounting for 88% of the country’s production. It is best-known for big, bold reds crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot. European reds like Tempranillo, Montepulciano and Touriga Nacional are also showing promise.
Once New Zealand’s most planted red, with Hawke’s Bay leading the way, Cabernet Sauvignon planting has now been well and truly overtaken by Merlot in this region. In good vintages, Hawke’s Bay Cabernet is ripe, elegant and rich, with classic blackberry, mint and cedary flavours.
Merlot ripens more consistently, with the best Merlots and Merlot-based reds yielding generous, warm berry-fruit and chocolate flavours. Malbec is often blended with Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon to create Bordeaux-style blends of great structure, character and longevity.
While the Aussies call it Shiraz, New Zealand refers to this varietal by its French name, which is Syrah. More elegant and European in style, Hawke’s Bay Syrah impresses, with dark berry and distinctive spice and pepper character refinements.
Pinot Noir from inland vineyards at cooler, higher altitudes produce flavours of cherry, berry fruits, plum, florals and spice, to more savoury, earthy examples, with soft, supple tannins and great flavour richness.
Chardonnay is the region’s flagship, most-planted white varietal, and varies from sophisticated and fruit-led to big, bold and mouth-filling. Hawke’s Bay’s best display elegant stonefruit and citrus, with excellent aging potential.
Sauvignon Blanc and other varietals
Hawke’s Bay produces Sauvignon Blanc that is more softly-spoken than its cousin from Marlborough. You’ll also find elegant Riesling, spicy Pinot Gris and aromatic Gewürztraminer. Some wineries have had great success with Viognier, Semillon and Chenin Blanc. Even California’s darling, Zinfandel, has proven its worth in very hot years.