The oldest and largest regional wine awards in the country were launched last night at a lavish affair at EIT in Taradale.

About 50 people sipped on sav, syrah and chardonnay to officially open the Hawke's Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards, 2015.

Steve Smith, Master of Wine and one of New Zealand's most respected wine industry leaders, will return to the judging panel.

"After a decade, it's great to be back. I'm thrilled to be joining a judging team again for an exceptional year on the back of three outstanding Hawke's Bay vintages," said Mr Smith.

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Hawke's Bay was in for some of the best wines the region has produced which was the culmination of three big factors, he said.

"Hawke's Bay has had three year-on-year-outstanding vintages, we now have mature vineyards which were planted in the late 90's and early 2000's coming to the fore, and we have garnered the best of more than a decade of growth in building on the experience and skills in our local winemakers and vintners."

The Craggy Range co-founder and director was instrumental in establishing the Wine Awards 15 years ago as the country's first regional competition, and led the judging panel for five years.

He will be joined on the panel by first time judge to the awards John Belsham, who brings years of experience as panel judging chair of the Air New Zealand Wine Awards along with Mark Robertson one of Australia's leading winemakers and international judges.

There are 400 plus entries expected to submit their finest wine for the awards. The awards are part of the five major events organised by the Hawke's Bay A and P society.

A and P Society president Richard Chambers said the launch was a great opportunity to thank their naming sponsors.

"We want to enhance the promotion of wine industry, it's part of what we do in the rural sector."

He said he is very proud of the fact Hawke's Bay vintage can hold its own on the world stage.

"I work with some fantastic people who work tirelessly building towards our grand finale dinner in October which encompasses the awards."

The awards dinner will be held on the 20 October 2015 at the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds.