The second region I visited was Hawkes Bay, which was on Tim’s itinerary in 2014. However, a lot has happened since then, with the region’s reputation increasing internationally, loads of investment and most recently Covid and Cyclone Gabrielle providing some challenges.
I stayed in Napier, the beautiful city with an Art Deco centre preserved since it was rebuilt after a catastrophic earthquake in 1931. At the height of the tourist season it was buzzing with people admiring the architecture, playing on the huge esplanade, and enjoying the café culture – everyone in New Zealand is a coffee expert! Its neighbour Hastings while not so picturesque is equally buzzy, and the Hawkes Bay region has a very prosperous feel. This is despite Cyclone Gabrielle devastating some regions, as phenomenal rainfall swelled rivers that burst their banks and swept down narrow valleys. And then a huge amount of rain continued to fall, making the 2023 vintage a very challenging one, with production down significantly as much as a result of spoiled grapes as drowned vines. The prospects for 2024 look much better – drier, and much hotter than recent vintages.
There are a number of vine growing sub regions in Hawkes Bay, of which the Gimblett Gravels is probably the most famous – Tim visited Trinity Hill back in 2014.
I visited Bridge Pa, which is next door, and home to the most ancient soils in the region, with a number of top producers. Te Awanga is on the coast to the south of the region, with stunning views across the surf to the cliffs of Cape Kidnappers. Havelock North includes the spectacular Te Mata peak, which lowers over Craggy Range (Tim visited in 2014). Near the suburb of Taradale in Napier is where New Zealand winemaking started: The Mission winery, which in 1851 was established by French missionaries as part of a mixed farm, its beautiful colonial building occupies a glorious spot overlooking the region, and wine has been made by ever since.
My visits to wineries were fairly brief as I was trying to cover a lot of ground, but I tasted some great wines. Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc are the leading whites, but there are plenty of aromatics and several wineries are making a real push for Viognier.
Syrah is the leading black grape (and Hawkes Bay is the leading producer of Syrah in New Zealand), but Bordeaux Blends are also a focus, with a surprising amount of Malbec on offer.
The final area I visited deserves a special mention. Most of us in the UK would be familiar with the Esk Valley brand, but the Esk Valley is actually the most northerly of Hawkes Bays sub regions, and was particularly badly hit by Cyclone Gabrielle. I drove up the valley along the highway towards Taupo, and realised what a huge catchment area it was. Waters swept down carrying trees and mud, and spread them around as they reached the flat land at the bottom. The Linden Winery, which I visited, was under over a metre of water, and literally had to dig their vines out of silt. Neighbouring orchards were wiped out, and while nature is growing back quickly, there is still a huge clean up operation, with mounds of silt still sitting by the river bed, and abandoned homes that cannot be reoccupied. In true plucky Kiwi spirit the winery (the only one remaining in the valley) is making wine, open for business and very positive about the future!