The team at Esk Valley was surely screaming "Yee Haa for syrah" at the 12th Annual Hawke's Bay Wine Awards held in Hastings last week when its Winemakers Reserve Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2010 scooped the Champion Wine of the Show trophy - outclassing hundreds of other entries.
Sacred Hill Vineyards celebrated a triple win in the A&P; Mercedes-Benz-sponsored awards, receiving Reserve Champion Wine of Show and Champion Red Blends (Merlot Dominant) for its Brokenstone Merlot 2010, one of my favourite New Zealand reds, as well as earning the Champion Museum Class trophy for its Riflemans Chardonnay 2007. "2007 was the vintage of the decade for our Riflemans Chardonnay. In another couple of years it will be close to its optimum," says winemaker Tony Bish, who was understandably chuffed to receive champion awards for the traditional wines Hawke's Bay is renowned for, including chardonnay and merlot.
Church Road also hit a hat-trick, scoring the 100 per cent merlot trophy for its McDonald Series Merlot 2010, its McDonald Series Marzemino 09 (it's a sexy Italian red variety) and the Premium White Varietals trophy for its McDonald Series Sauvignon Gris 2012. Cabernet fans should beg, steal or borrow to get their hands on the cabernet-dominant trophy winner, the Te Awa Cabernet Merlot 2009, while former All-Black front rower John Ashworth's Junction Body and Soul Pinot Noir 2011 took the Best in Class.
The team at Black Barn was ecstatic after hearing it'd earned Best in Class gongs for their 2012 Rose and 2010 Sparkling Blanc de Blanc's and it was fantastic to see two gold medals for Hawke's Bay sauvignon blanc arrive in the cabinet too.
The trophy went to the lovely Vidal Reserve Series HB Organic Sauvignon Blanc 2011 and the other gold went to the succulent Ash Ridge Barrel Fermented Sauvignon Blanc 2011. Owner Chris Wilcock also returned to the stage to claim the new Winery of the Year award.
I'm a sucker for chardonnay and was thrilled to see that the Villa Maria Reserve HB Chardonnay 2011 nabbed the top award for that class because it is simply (to quote my husband) "nom nom nom" ... and my favourite dessert wine of the year, the Osawa Noble Gewurztraminer 2011 took the Sweet Wine trophy.
Although viognier and pinot gris, didn't quite hit gold medal standard, the Best in Class awards were given to the Villa Maria Single Vineyard Omahu Gravels 2010 and the Mills Reef 2012.
Some might argue that we have too many wine competitions in this country for the size of our industry, but I'd disagree. As the wine industry continues to grow, producers should continue to test their wines and benchmark them against the competition.
Judge Peter Nixon (fine-wine buyer for the Dan Murphy's chain in Australia) agrees. "Regional wine shows are the lifeblood of the Australia and New Zealand wine show system, providing the opportunity to assess wines not just by varietal classes, but within relevant regionally-defined classes like Hawke's Bay chardonnay, Hawke's Bay cabernet/merlot blends and Hawke's Bay syrah. These are all well-established, proven regional trademarks.
The wines aren't just great New Zealand wines but world-class wines that deserve to be considered and promoted in the context of the region, not just on varietal merits.
"There were, of course, wines that didn't hit the mark, as in any show," said chairman of judges Rod McDonald, "however, the overall standard was very high and Hawke's Bay is delivering on the promise of its strengths. One aspect of the show we're looking to develop is the Museum class, where wines over four years old can be entered."
It was exciting to see three golds this year, for a chardonnay, a cabernet/merlot blend and a syrah, so we're definitely not just a one-trick pony. The class is building with time to become a very important one internationally as great wines are judged not only on their attributes today, but also on their ability to age and grow in stature.
I was curious to hear how the judging went because last year entries were dominated by strong 2009 and 2010 harvests, yet this year, the judges would see loads from 2011, which was a challenging, very tricky vintage. Turns out I needn't have fretted.
"The calibre of the 2011s (as evidenced by the fact that there was just one less gold medal than for the 2010s) proves that it was, in fact, a very good year," said judge Matt Dellar.
"It was wonderful to see that the efforts put into site selection, planting material, vineyard and yield management and sensitive winemaking in Hawke's Bay over the past 10 years are paying off, resulting in excellent wines from a difficult year."
Matt's only concern was that he'd like to see more wineries that don't traditionally enter wine competitions support their local industry by supporting their local show.
"It would be invaluable for winemakers within Hawke's Bay to have the opportunity to taste all of the region's wines under one roof, and learn from the judges' scores and comments," he said.