The caps were off and the glasses filled, albeit just a little, as 11 leading members of the national and international wine industry set off yesterday on the path to determining which 22 wines and their creators will pick up the plaudits at this year's Hawke's Bay A&P Bayleys Wine Awards.
The judging is taking place at the EIT's Centre of Viticulture and Wine and among the judging line-up are two international judging guests, Dr Sue Bastion from Adelaide and Patrick Comiskey from Los Angeles.
Chairman of judges and Trinity Hill chief winemaker Warren Gibson said that when putting the team together he wanted to ensure word about the high standards being achieved within Hawke's Bay wine making reached the country's biggest export market.
Through strong demand for Marlborough sauvignon blanc and Otago's pinot noir wine exports to the US were running near the half-billion dollar mark.
"By leveraging off New Zealand's growing popularity in the United States we have a huge opportunity to educate and increase sales for Hawke's Bay wine and get them just as excited about our chardonnay, merlot/cabernet sauvignon and syrah wines," Mr Gibson said.
The region had also been set in a fine position by mother nature after enjoying four exceptional vintages in a row.
"From the 2013 reds coming of age to the young and fresh early 2016 whites the region is showcasing an outstanding range of wines."
Mr Gibson said as well as championing Hawke's Bay's impressive wine story the annual awards were also crucial for supporting future growth, expanding knowledge and providing education opportunities for the region's wine industry.
The international judges would also be spending time meeting and working with winemakers and students during their visit.
Dr Bastion, who owns a small winemaking business, has been a wine researcher and educator for 14 years and is a regular judge at leading events in Australia.
She has written more than 60 scientific, peer-reviewed publications on viticulture, oenology, and sensory and consumer science.
Mr Comiskey, who is the wine writer for the Los Angeles Times and several leading magazine publications, is an instructor in wine business at the University of California.
The other judges are Hawke's Bay's Rod Easthope, Ant McKenzie, Richard Tollenaar and Yvonne Lorking, Marlborough's Huw Kinch, Emma Jenkins from Taupo, Murray Cook and EIT students Lucas Perry and Lydia Hartshorne.
This year's awards, now in their 16th year and the largest regional awards event in the country, will see a few changes.
One is in the scoring system which used to be based on a possible 20 points.
That had now been set at rankings using 100 points which fall into line with international standards, and this year's show will be the first in the country to use the system.
All wines which secure a gold medal rating will go into the competition for the overall Champion Wine trophy in the varietal classes.
There will also be a new class in the form of the Langley Twigg Hawke's Bay A&P Society Champion Wine of Provenance. This class recognises wines which reflect their region, lineage and longevity.
The awards dinner will be staged at the Waikoko Gardens at Showgrounds Hawke's Bay on October 18.