Hawkes Bay has been called ‘The Fruit Bowl’ of New Zealand since the 20th Century. It produces a thundering amount of stone fruit, apples and pears, but it’s also becoming ‘The Grape Vine’ too. With flat plains, surrounding sun-drunk hillsides, cool autumn evenings and Gimblett Gravels plains—which are, not surprisingly, gravelly soils—there are 33 cellar doors to visit. 'The Bay', as locals call it, is not famous for one type of grape variety (although some wine buffs peg the area as being the Chardonnay and Syrah Queens) and there is lots to try: Cabernet & Merlot blends, Syrah, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and an impressive array of aromatic white wines. It makes touring around this sunny wine-growing region plenty of fun if you like to quaff it all. Here are our top ten vineyards from small and family run, to a place to lose hours over lunch, to New Zealand’s oldest winery. All are accessible from the cycle trails, except de la Terre and Osawa - but be careful not to drink and ride!
If you like laid back atmos, a beautiful rustic setting, and a good view of Hawkes Bay then Clearview delivers on all three. Established in 1989, this family-run winery is in Te Awanga, a laid-back beach town set right near the bottom of 'The Bay'. Over the years they’ve collected memorabilia, which now festoons their interesting cellar door, housed in an old Ford Motor garage. The tasting experience is free (for up to three wines) and the food is tasty in their restaurant, The Red Shed. And then there’s Tim Turvey, the owner, who was a former pro surfer, photographer and pineapple farmer. He’d never made wine before purchasing the Te Awanga property. That was 30 years ago and now their awards are mixed in with the memorabilia on the walls. Clearview’s mostly known for their gold trophy-hugging chardonnay, and they have a Qualmark enviro rating for sustainability.
- Bookings essential for dinner, not for tastings.
On a fine day, Mission Estate’s a very agreeable place for lunch, or dinner. This historic building and vineyard is New Zealand’s oldest winery built in 1851 by French Marist missionaries who needed wine for communion (we’re thinking they had lots of communions...) Today, they still use some of the traditional wine making techniques gently mashed with modern and sustainable ones. The cellar door is in the restored seminary building and its the most visited winery in the country - so don’t expect an intimate wine tasting on a Saturday afternoon! Try the 2013 Mission Reserve Chardonnay or the Mission Reserve Central Otago Pinot Noir 2012 if you can. The restaurant, perched on the Taradale hills, is open seven days and the views of Napier match the excellent food.
Church Road wines appear on restaurant lists around the country. They know how to produce great wines and their winery tour is one of the best in town (according to locals) as you go down into the old wine cellars. Church Road is nearly as old as Mission Estate, being established in 1857, and it's got some good vintages under its belt - or barrel. But its fame was ignited when a young boy, Tom McDonald, took over in the 1920s, when he was only 19, and went on to produce New Zealand’s first commercial Cabernet Sauvignon, setting the benchmark for quality red wines from this country. It took Tom nearly 40 years of hard toil but he was ahead of his time. Now, the winemaking team’s headed by Chris Scott, who’s been there since 1998, and they follow great sustainable wine-growing and making practices. People stick to a good thing in wine circles. The cellar door experience includes tasting platters. They also have a restaurant open for lunch, seven days in summer. And it’s easy to find, on Church Road. They’re known for their Syrah, Cab Sav (of course) and Chardonnay, especially the TOM editions.
For amateur winemakers who’ve fantasized about packing in their other life for that of the small batch winery, then a tour with Tony and Kay Prichard will give you insight into what it's all about. They’ll tell you about the hand-crafted, earth-brick winery they’ve built, using mainly recycled materials. And how de la terre Reserve wines, which demand extra-special attention from Tony, are estate bottled and hand-labelled in individually numbered bottles. Tony was at Church Road for 15 years so he knows his wines, and grapes. De la Terre’s considered ‘far out’—a 20 minute drive from Hastings—which puts off the crowds and big wine bus tours. Be sure to try the Grande Reserve Tannat, Reserve Syrah and the Methode. They also serve wood-fired pizzas.
If you can only include one lunch on your tour of Hawkes Bay vineyards then make sure it’s at Black Barn. Set under a pergola of vines with sand underfoot you feel like you’re in the South of France, and during winter the bistro-style dining moves inside the black barn. The winery was set up by a couple who ditched the flash advertising world of Wellington for the warm grape-growing world of Havelock North and soon became renown for bringing the first growers market to the region, which they still hold on the vineyard during warmer months. Their chefs and on site shop are also focused on supporting local produce. Black Barn’s small, sustainable boutique winery produces 4000 cases a year and most are sold through their cellar door. While there, try the Sauvignon Blanc or the 2014 Reserve Chardonnay.
One of the big hitters of Hawkes Bay, the concrete East Berlin-esque design of the Trinity Hill compound has won architectural awards, and attracts tour groups (by the bus load). The location in the infamous gravelly soil of the Gimblett Gravels, produces wines that have won awards too, and attracts some of the big hitter winemakers. The tasting room is flanked by barrels, so while you work your way through the reds Trinity Hill is famous for, soak up the sweet smell of fermentation. Their emphasis is on the classic Bordeaux varieties and Syrah for red wine and Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc for whites. If you have to choose try the Cabernet blend or Syrah, ideally the 2014 Homage Syrah. Their Pinot Gris is also good.
If the mighty peaks of Te Mata aren’t impressive enough, wait until you try their wines. They are generally on the pricey side but that comes with having a good reputation. Te Mata has produced some of New Zealand best reds over the years, of which there have been many vintages. Established in 1896 the original stables were converted into buildings, and that’s what you get to see today albeit done up nicely. There’s no food at Te Mata and make sure you try a selection of their famous reds, the Coleraine, and the 2014 Cape Crest Sauvignon Blanc. If you’re lucky Buck, the winemaker, might be around to tell you all about the history of his famous nose, and those reds.
All the vineyards in this list follow sustainable wine growing practices but Stonecroft are also fully certified organic (no nasty sulphate headaches!). They’re another small, family winery producing some tasty wines from the Gimblett Gravels district and they have the oldest Syrah vines in New Zealand. It’s also a good place to try the Californian Zinfandel and their popular Gewürztraminer. Run by an Irishman, Dermot, and kiwi, Andria they are very passionate about what they do and you’re in luck if you get either of them in their cellar door, only open in summer.
People go to Abbey Cellars for the good vibes just as much as the wines. During the weekends in summer they support the local music scene, serving up fine tunes alongside simple but good tasting platters and pizzas. As this is on the Bridge Pa Triangle Wine District, it’s popular with cyclists meandering along the limestone cycle ways. They were accredited as a sustainable vineyard in 2009, agreeing to protect the environment and integrity of their production. Abbey Cellars also have a craft brewery so you can take your pick, wine or beer (or both) if you find yourself here on a sunny afternoon in summer.
A Japanese civil engineer with a love of wine visited Australia, New Zealand and the US before settling on a sheep farm in Hawkes Bay to build his dream winery in 2006. Taizo Osawa had the help of local viticulturalist, Rob McDonald, then winemaker of the year, to establish his vineyard and plant 11 varieties of grapes. Taking a holistic approach, Osawa believes in biodiversity, letting plants, insects and birds all play their role in producing the right, ripe grapes. The most renowned varieties are their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay but if you’re planning a white table dinner party and want a sticky then hunting down their Prestige Collection Noble Gewürztraminer will give you one of the best in the country.
We said we’d include ten options but Selini Estate's snuck in as our bonus vineyard because of their fine selection of local and imported cheeses controlled in their cheese larder. Because, you know, wine and a cheese platter go together like coffee and chocolate. And on that subject, they also sell a fine selection of delicious chocolates in their gift shop, which you can lose time (and cash) in after tasting the wines. Their cellar door has won ‘Cellar Door Of The Year’ numerous times but that does attract the large crowds - be warned. Selini’s 2014 Estate Selection Peak Syrah did very well internationally in 2017. And be sure to try their curious Vine Hopper – a fruit wine blend of an IPA with Sauvignon Blanc that is a golden colour with a good head and ‘hoppy notes with a good lingering Sav taste’. You can also access Sileni along the bike trails.