John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

Wine: Vine times in the Bay

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Chardonnay grapes before the harvester, Hawkes Bay. Photo / Warren Buckland
Chardonnay grapes before the harvester, Hawkes Bay. Photo / Warren Buckland

Hawkes Bay winemakers continue to delight with wines of truly international quality. This should come as no surprise - a significant number of producers have been plying their considerable skills there for decades, nurturing vines that have been in the ground for the same time. Healthy vines with 30 or 40-plus years are usually, if not at their peak, then heading towards it, delivering superb fruit into the hands of experienced vintners.

It's an unbeatable combination and Hawkes Bay is blessed (as a rule) with a benign climate in which grapes thrive. A high number of sunshine hours, warm summer temperatures, autumns without too much rain ... but just to keep everyone on their toes, rogue frosts can suddenly strike at the most inopportune times.

However, when everything lines up climatically, you can be assured of a sublime vintage.

The soil profiles are diverse and lend themselves to a range of distinctive styles for a number of varietals - for example, chardonnays with either a lean minerality and complexity in a more chablis-style or your classic New World stone fruit flavours with a toasty oak edginess.

Hawkes Bay vines are planted in fertile soils or free-draining shingle, or something in between and the region's growers have been around long enough to know what clones work best where. The result is a region brimming with confidence.

The classics still dominate: cabernet sauvignon, merlot, chardonnay and, increasingly, syrah. There are also pockets of sauvignon blanc, some very smart gewurztraminers, pinot gris, pinot noir on the cooler hilly sites and very successful experimentation with tempranillo and some of the country's best cabernet franc.

Hawkes Bay was an early starter when it came to wine tourism and there are many cellar-door tasting rooms and superb vineyard restaurants, some with wonderfully rustic, comfortable accommodation.

The wine trails are easily followed and, as well as tasting lovely wines, you are likely to meet some of the wine industry's colourful characters.


2009 Squawking Magpie Stoned Crow Syrah - $40

This wine has won a slew of gold medals and deservedly so - it's rich and concentrated with oodles of cassis, plum, spice, blackcurrant, liquorice and a whisper of oak. All you want in a great syrah.

2011 Black Barn Reserve Chardonnay - $49

From the people who do excellent accommodation, have a great bistro and make lovely wines - the perfect trifecta. Here, hand-picked grapes produce a seamless lemon, floral and mineral mix of restrained flavours. Perfect with roast chicken.

- NZ Herald

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