Tonight is the night for the region's winemakers who are testing themselves against their peers at the 16th annual Hawke's Bay A & P Bayleys Wine Awards.

Nearly 400 entries encompassing a wide range of grape varieties and wine styles were presented for an 11-strong judging panel this year at the country's oldest regional wine awards competition.

The line-up of leading New Zealand and international wine writers and winemakers spent three days at the EIT's wine and viticulture centre late last month judging the entries to select the recipients among nine major awards, 15 category awards, and the Doug Wiser Memorial Trophy.

Chief judge Warren Gibson said the event was above all a celebration of Hawke's Bay's wine industry, whether people won awards or not.


Entries were accepted from wineries with wine made from 85 per cent Hawke's Bay grapes, and more than 90 per cent of the region's wineries, including multinational wine makers with vineyards in and out of Hawke's Bay, entered the competition.

For the winners, it was a platform to put some marketing into place and leverage the benefits, and Mr Gibson said that personally he felt the regional awards had more validity than some of the bigger competitions.

This year, he said he tried to encourage more winemakers to enter.

"I tried to bring in the producers who had not entered before to support the local industry and we have ended up with a good range of winners."

Attracting judges to take part was aided this year coming on the back of four strong vintages, he said.

"We have got from 2013 and even older and they're all very strong, this is probably one of the strongest shows we have had from a quality point of view - coupled with the skills of the winemakers."

The quality was also a result of the maturing industry in the region and the evolution of the knowledge of the winemakers, he added.

More than 400 people are expected at tonight's sold out event to be staged in a marquee at the showground's Waikoko Gardens, with guests able to view the night sky through a clear roof, creating the impression of dining outside.

The guest MC will be journalist, radio personality, author and columnist Kerre McIvor and, along with their wine, guests will enjoy a four-course menu presented by four of Hawke's Bay's leading chefs.