Mark Robertson has been keeping a close eye on the Hawke's Bay wine industry since he left the region.

The Australian-based winemaker has a close connection with the Bay.

And now the former Raureka Primary School student is a judge for the oldest regional wine competition in New Zealand - the Hawke's Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards.

He spoke at a sponsors' function at Black Barn Vineyards last night after completing two days of judging.

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While working as chief winemaker at Matua Valley in 1999 Mr Robertson won "New Zealand Winemaker of the Year".

The local wines judged over the past two day, were "world class", he said last night.

He hoped wine makers would keep true to the flavours of the fruit.

Hawke's Bay was now on the world scene, it just needed to solidify its position and go from "strength to strength", he said.

Another international judge Chuck Hayward, a wine buyer from the United States, said the awards were an important way for local wines to gain wider exposure. International judges took note of the fine wine being produced and went on to champion it in their home countries, he said.

"It's an unparalleled investment."

There were about 410 entries this year, including a handful of first-time entrants, the third highest number ever.

Chairman of judges Rod McDonald said this indicated the industry was right behind the awards.

"We're coming off the back of a couple of really strong vintages so people are excited and seeing how they fare amongst their peers."

Mr McDonald said the talk of an El Nino summer, while not good for farmers was "sensational if you were growing grapes".

Entries for the awards, supported by Hawke's Bay Today, are accepted from wineries with wine made from 85 per cent Hawke's Bay grapes.

More than 90 per cent of Hawke's Bay wineries, including multinational wine makers, enter the competition.