Hawke's Bay's Church Road Winery has taken out the top award at the prestigious Air New Zealand Wine Awards staged in Nelson on Saturday night.

Which was special enough - but what made it more exciting for chief winemaker Chris Scott was that it was a syrah - the variety he treats as his "baby".

But this is pretty much a case of wait, there's more.

The awarding of the Champion Wine of Show to the Church Road McDonald Series Syrah 2013 was only the third time in the event's 40-year history that a syrah has taken the top honour.

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And one of those previous occasions also went the Church Road way with their Reserve 2007 Syrah taking both top syrah and Champion Wine of Show in 2008.

Mr Scott said heading into this year's competition he had hoped the 2013 syrah would do well as it came from a great vintage, as well as being a variety he and his team had worked hard on.

"So we were pretty confident we could get something but to be honest it was definitely a big surprise to get Champion Wine of Show - that was just great news and yes, we are very happy with that," he said, describing the evening as a "great night ... and a late night".

The variety was relatively new for Church Road but Mr Scott said a huge amount of effort had gone into it. He said the win also underlined the unique source of the syrah - the Bridge Pa 'triangle'.

"That is a great sub-region for wine-growing which is getting more and more recognition, and this latest win has shown that."

He praised the work of now-retired Neil Watson, who had looked after the winery's Redstone Vineyard in Bridge Pa.

"The attention those syrah vines got was second to none."

Earlier in the evening the McDonald Series 2013 had taken out the Champion Syrah trophy and was described by Master of Wine and judging chair Michael Brajkovich as one of the weightier syrahs in the competition.

"It's a wine with lovely ripe black-fruit and floral syrah characters, and very well-handled subtle oak influence," he said.

"The palate is full-bodied, with rich berry fruit and firm tannins to fill out the finish and ensure a long maturation potential."

Mr Brajkovich said there were strong trophy contenders across the 16 classes, but the winners prevailed by having that "extra something special".

Hawke's Bay picked up five of the 18 trophies on the night, and eight gold medals - second only to Marlborough, and dominating chardonnay as well as syrah and merlot, cabernet and blends.

The competition saw 1407 wines entered.