A ground-breaking Esk Valley red wine - arguably the most awarded in New Zealand - claimed new accolades at the Easter Show Wine Awards on Saturday.
Winemaker Gordon Russell, dubbed "Mr Merlot" lived up to the title, taking out champion merlot and merlot predominant trophies for the 2009 Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Merlot Malbec Cabernet Sauvignon.
The announcement was made during an annual awards dinner in Auckland on Saturday night.
"I came home in my work boots, all sticky with wine, and a few hours later I was up there in a tux," Mr Russell said. "I was very proud. It's a great honour."
The drop previously picked up an Air NZ Wine Awards trophy and seven gold medals at other wine shows throughout the country. Despite being from a good vintage, it was also a ground-breaking blend for the region and possibly the world.
"It's arguably the most awarded red wine in New Zealand history. It's got a high pedigree. It's the best we can do. The people who buy it know they are buying signature Esk Valley," Mr Russell said. "The wine itself is a merlot malbec cabernet sauvignon, when we first made it in 1992.
"We were certainly the first in Hawke's Bay, even the world, to incorporate a malbec - it was breaking new ground. I did it because I thought it was an opportunity to make better wine."
Since then other wineries had followed suit, making malbec a standard blend for the region.
"It's an interesting proposition to the rest of the world."
Mr Russell, who won the Easter Show's Winemaker of the Year in 2007 has been working for Esk Valley since 1990 and takes a hands-off, traditional approach with his wines. He would be celebrating the success sharing champagne with his work colleagues today. "It was me who collected the award, but there were a lot more people involved behind the scenes."
Esk Valley also picked up a gold medal for its 2012 pinot noir.
It was not the only local winery to be heaped with praise - along with Champion Wine of the Show, Winemaker of the Year and champion chardonnay, family-owned Villa Maria winery won cabernet sauvignon and merlot trophies as well as the Heritage Rose Bowl.
"It was quite a haul of gold medals this year, with 13 all up - we picked up a gold medal for each of our four regional chardonnays, so there are some really great ones to look for from this vintage," Villa Maria founder and chief executive Sir George Fistonich said.
"Interestingly though 2012 was a tough year in Hawke's Bay for cabernet sauvignon - to see this wine perform is testament to the great team we have who can make an exceptional wine even in the most challenging of years."
This was their 35th year as New Zealand's most awarded winery.