For Villa Maria founder and owner Sir George Fistonich and the team last night's Hawke's Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards were as good as it could get.

On the group's website it is noted they are "New Zealand's most awarded winery" and that was emphatically underlined at the 15th annual event, which drew about 450 guests to the Waikoko Gardens.

Bayleys general manager Greg Hornblow said he was proud to be a sponsor of the awards.

Chairman of judges Rod McDonald speaking at the 15th annula Hawke's Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards.
Chairman of judges Rod McDonald speaking at the 15th annula Hawke's Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards.

"We are the greatest wine region in our exceptional country."


Famed comedian Jeremy Corbett from 7 Days was the special guest MC for the evening.

A clean sweep of the five champion wine classes, including Champion Wine of Show, along with six of the 15 trophy classes, was the reward for Villa Maria's stable of wineries, and the delight was obvious.

Apart from the Hawke's Bay wines, which did the job, there was the additional touch that Napier's Nick Picone is the Villa Maria group's chief winemaker.

The Champion Wine of Show for 2015 went to one of the seven wineries which come under the Villa Maria umbrella - Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Hawke's Bay Chardonnay 2014.

It was the third year running for the Villa Maria group, and chardonnay, in taking the top award.

In 2013 another of its brands, Vidal, picked up the honours with its Reserve Series HB Chardonnay 2012 and last year Villa Maria Keltern Chardonnay 2013 got the nod from the judges.

Those wins underlined what the company's viticulturist Oliver Powrie said. "Hawke's Bay has got a history of making fantastic chardonnay."

Unfortunately, for Esk Valley winemaker Gordon Russell it was the second time he had not been able to make the awards when the words "Esk Valley" were read out.

In 2012, the Esk Valley Reserve GG Syrah 2010 took the Champion Wine of Show - and he had been out of town, as he was last night.

Getting the news would be sweet though as he and Villa Maria had now done the business in the two most recognised varieties - syrah and chardonnay.

Esk Valley also got judged Champion Commercial White Wine for its Hawke's Bay Pinot Gris 2015.

The Reserve Champion Wine of Show went to Villa Maria's Cellar Selection Hawke's Bay Syrah 2013, Champion Commercial Red Wine went to Villa Maria Reserve Gimblett Gravels Hawke's Bay Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2013, and Champion Export Wine of Show was awarded to Villa Maria's Cellar Selection Hawke's Bay Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. Chairman of judges Rod McDonald said the exceptional vintages of 2013 and 2014 made final decision-making a real challenge.

"It makes it much tougher because the average quality is really high - so for finding things that stand out it is that much harder.

"You can be assured these wines are world class."

He said the judging was carried out to full international standards. "So a gold here is the same as a gold awarded in London or Shanghai."

After seven years in the chairman's role he was now standing down.

"It has been a lot of fun and it's been great, but now it will be good to see someone else take on the role," he said. "Next year I can just turn up and not have to get up and make a speech."

For other winemakers it was a night of firsts, with the first trophy for a pinot noir in Hawke's Bay going to Sileni Estate for its Exceptional Vintage Pinot Noir 2014.

First time entrants Marlborough-based Saint Clair Wines picked up a Best in Class award for its Hawke's Bay Premium Viognier 2014.

The Sileni crew had reason to celebrate after the winery was judged to be the House of Travel Hawke's Bay Cellar Door of the Year for the third time.

Best Student Wine went to Harminder Singh while Lucas Percy picked up the Hawke's Bay A&P Society Young Vintners Scholarship.