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A Guide to the Best Wineries in Hawke’s Bay

What is it about this sun-drenched wine region on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island that makes wine critics swoon?

In partnership with Tourism New Zealand, we highlight six spots where you can find out for yourself.

Kiwis in search of a classic summer holiday have always been drawn to the North Island’s Hawke’s Bay, about a five-hour drive southeast from Auckland. Holiday-makers come for the sand, surf and idyllic coastal lifestyle, where the days are long and chances are the weather will be kind. But they also come for the wine, and with good reason.

Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest and second-largest wine region, with the first vineyards laid down in the late 1800s. Most wineries radiate out from the main centre of Napier, often set on north-facing hillsides, river valleys and terraces, or hugging the sea-sprayed coast south towards Cape Kidnappers.

Several sub-regions speak to the diversity of terroir that gives the region its distinctive character. Syrah, chardonnay, pinot noir and sauvignon blanc all attract plaudits, but the most notable varieties tend to be full-flavoured Bordeaux-style reds such as cabernet sauvignon and merlot. The French influence is reflected also in the menus of many of the cellar-door restaurants.

The silt and sand, deposited from the rivers that run from the mountains to the coast, have contributed to rich soils. While the maritime climate combines low humidity and rainfall (the latter due to the shadowing effect of the ranges to the west) and ample sunny days to ripen fruit that’s rich in tannins and carries just a hint of brine from the Pacific Ocean.

The region is perfect for wine-touring, with most wineries a short drive from Napier and interspersed with farm gates and cafes. Here are six of the best to check out.

The Urban Winery

Located in the historic National Tobacco Company building in Napier’s docklands precinct, The Urban Winery blends Art Deco architecture with artfully crafted wine. Winemaker Tony Bish specialises in chardonnay, and some deep complexity lurks within this simple remit, with tastings revealing stark deviations in the varietal’s flavour profile.

It’s the kind of venue where you could wander in for a quick tasting but then stay for hours, soaking up the atmosphere among the warm wood panelling and the elegant barrel room complete with its gigantic French oak “egg” barrel – an essential component of Bish’s many chardonnay secrets.

It’s not just chardonnay you’ll be drinking: the bar menu dives deep into Hawke’s Bay’s best wines and beers, matched to great food options. Order a savoury platter or check out the full tapas menu, which includes plates such as ginger and lemongrass dumplings, beef brisket sliders and a smoked ham and roast fig salad.

Craggy Range Winery

Craggy Range might produce its award-winning wines in vineyards across New Zealand, but its home is this Hawke’s Bay winery that focuses on syrah, merlot and cab sav (a terraced block a few hours south in Martinborough, near Wellington, produces Craggy Range’s pinot noir and sauvignon blanc).

You can choose from three different wine tasting experiences. The ultimate prestige tasting is the pick if you’re keen to push the boat out – it takes in the winery’s top-shelf prestige wines, and includes a guided tour of the underground barrel hall and fermentation cellars. And if you’re travelling with a group and feeling peckish (and you enjoy French food) you can order the artisanal plate, which includes beef tartare, cheese souffle, blue cheese dip, pork and fennel salami, duck and fig terrine, smoked fish and pate.

Craggy Range’s other major attraction is Craggy Range Restaurant. Headed up by Cutler & Co and Cumulus alumnus Casey McDonald, this fabulous fine diner sources local produce for dishes such as pan-fried gurnard with citrus braised fennel, almond cream, and an asparagus and octopus salad, and glazed lamb shoulder with a shallot purée, wilted greens and potato scroll. There’s also a fabulous, three-course shared menu that’s entirely vegetarian.

For a good representation of what Craggy Range does best, take home a bottle of its Gimblett Gravels syrah. Luxury accommodation is also available on the banks of the Tukituki River. The winery has been awarded gold by Qualmark, a Tourism New Zealand-owned quality endorsement program, for its exceptional standards in sustainable tourism and visitor experience. 

Te Mata Estate

The story of New Zealand’s oldest operating vineyard is by now the stuff of local winemaking legend. In 1886 Joseph Bernard Chambers inherited a portion of his father’s sheep station, known as Te Mata, near Havelock North. A French guest to the property planted an idea in Chambers’s head to try growing wine grapes, and after visiting wineries in Europe and Australia, Chambers did exactly that, laying a plot of pinot noir in 1892. Cut to 130 years later and Te Mata Estate continues to adhere to the classical winemaking style established in its early days, and still produces wine from those original vineyards.

The buildings pay homage to nearby Napier’s art deco heritage (with a nod to the original Chambers homestead’s art nouveau style). A basic cellar door experience costs $10 (refundable on wine purchase) and includes tastings of five current releases, while the $45 showcase tasting brings out premium wines for a hosted experience overlooking the vineyards. The ultimate experience is the $120 VIP tour, where you’ll visit the historic vineyards and enjoy a private tasting of both current and cellared vintages.

If you’re looking for something to take home afterwards, Te Mata Estate’s 2018 Coleraine was awarded 96 points by Wine Enthusiast magazine for its cellaring credentials.

Elephant Hill

Elephant Hill’s contemporary styled, sea-green copper cellar door immediately captures the eye.

This fabulous winery sits on the Te Awanga coast, between Napier and Cape Kidnappers, with its fruit drawn from three different Hawke’s Bay vineyards. The diversity of terroir means deep and complex flavours for the blended wines, while single vineyard drops reflect a more site-specific character. The Airavata syrah is a showstopper – a flagship example of how good Hawke’s Bay syrah can be – and the Sea sauvignon blanc is a crowd favourite, while the winery’s estate range represents great value.

Visit the cellar door from Thursday to Monday for wine tastings and take your time with a platter of local produce from artisan caterer Jo Deitch (vegetarians are well looked after – just mention it when you order the platter). Tastings consist of four or six wines from the current release. And if you find the surrounds too good to leave, accommodation is available in a luxury lodge encircled by vineyards, with a swimming pool and views across the Pacific Ocean.

Te Awanga Estate

Close your eyes and dream of a perfect summer holiday by the sea. Now open them and find yourself at the cellar door at Te Awanga Estate, on the sun-kissed deck of a casual timber shack overlooking the Pacific Ocean.

There’s not a hint of pretension or stuffiness to be found at this welcoming winery, 20 minutes south of Napier, where you can relax on the lush lawn and enjoy live music on an outdoor stage while sipping award-winning wines by local winemaker Rod McDonald.

The estate specialises in syrah and chardonnay, but the wine list runs long so be sure to sample widely. The Wildsong chardonnay is made from fruit grown at the base of the Ruahine Ranges – a great place for hiking – and has intense fruit flavours matched to that classic chardonnay creaminess. The Stuff & Nonsense pinot noir, meanwhile, has a playful dig at the idea you can’t make good pinot in Hawke’s Bay.

Pizza rules the lunch menu and reflects the casual vibe (take it onto the grass and take in the view). Try the Fun Guy with mushrooms and caramelised onions.

You can extend your stay at the Vineyard Apartment (sleeps two), situated above the cellar door and boasting balcony views of the shimmering ocean. A bottle of wine and a free wine tasting is included with every booking, and you can order food from the cellar door or fire up the provided barbeque – it’s the authentic kiwi “bach” experience, but in the middle of a winery.

Church Road

This century-old winery sits on the urban outskirts of Napier in the suburb of Taradale, but its park-like setting evokes rural New Zealand at its finest. The cellar door was voted best in New Zealand in 2019 and features a stone building surrounded by a hectare of tranquil, tree-dotted grounds. It’s another Qaulmark gold recipient, in recognition of its best practice in sustainable tourism.

One of the oldest wineries in Hawke’s Bay, Church Road has always championed big, full-bodied reds reminiscent of Bordeaux. The French connection was bolstered a hundred years later when two winemakers from France visited and introduced traditional French techniques, including fermenting the reds in French oak vats and ageing them in French oak barriques. Today the chief winemaker is Chris Scott and the range centres on syrah, merlot and cabernet blends, pinot gris and chardonnay.

The flagship range is known as Tom, named after Tom McDonald, a talented teenager who was winemaker here in the late 1800s. You can combine a tasting flight with a tour of the underground museum, emerging back into the sun for lunch under a shady magnolia tree. There’s also a separate behind-the-scenes tour that will demystify the sometimes bewildering craft of winemaking and teach you a few tricks that Church Road employs to produce top-quality drops. A more direct experience is called Legacy and Winery – a one-hour tasting of pre and current release wines that includes a tour of the barrel halls and museum. Just remember to book in advance because only one of each tour operates daily.

The winery’s kitchen taps plenty of local produce for a sophisticated a la carte menu from head chef Grant McHenry. Start with the ginger-caramel pork belly or beetroot-cured salmon before moving on to market fish or an eggplant schnitzel with artichoke sauce and house-made baba ganoush.

STORY CREDIT

This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism New Zealand.

Words by
Ricky French

Published by
Broadsheet AU Travel
March 2022

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GETTING HERE

Air New Zealand operates daily non-stop flights to Napier from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, with connections across the domestic network.

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