International wine connoisseurs sipped on Sauvignon Blanc, and celebrated Chardonnay yesterday - all while soaring through the air bound for Hawke's Bay.
A unique "Wine Flight" shepherding about 60 international wine media and experts flew into Hawke's Bay yesterday afternoon for this weekend's inaugural "Classic Reds Symposium".
This was the final event of a bustling fortnight, which included enjoying New Zealand wine at two consecutive wine conferences in Nelson and Wellington.
However, their route to Hawke's Bay was not straightforward - in just over two hours they flew over four wine growing regions, enjoyed three wines, and swooped as low as 5000ft.
As they passed over each region - flying first to Nelson, soaring above Marlborough, and whizzing over the Wairarapa - they enjoyed tastings of each region's finest.
Although the wine list did not include a tasting of Hawke's Bay wine - guests would enjoy plenty this weekend - guests spoke highly of the region they were flying into.
Showcasing the country's unique wine growing regions was the aim of the flight, NZ Winegrowers global marketing director Chris Yorke said.
"And to give guests a unique experience, because no other wine country in the world can do this," he said.
Although guests had come from a range of 14 different countries, Mr Yorke said it would not be normal for them to see numerous wine growing regions so close to one another, and near the sea.
"In a two hour flight being able to fly over four regions is quite unusual," he said.
"We wanted them to understand how close our wine regions are together, and to just get a really bird's-eye view of our wine regions".
The flight had been a year in the making for the association. Part of this had been selecting the trifecta of acclaimed wines which guests enjoyed.
Bob Campbell MW led guests on board through a tasting of wines from the regions, and the unique nature of each vineyard they came from.
As the Air New Zealand ATR aircraft soared over Nelson, guests sipped on Neudorf Moutere Chardonnay. Approaching Marlborough this was exchanged for a taste of Cloudy Bay Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc. Reaching the Wairarapa, guests enjoyed a final glass of Te Kairanga Chardonnay.
These wines were matched with a decadent lunch of three entrees.
The flight also hoped to raise the profile of the country's wine industry.
Air New Zealand's chief operations officer Bruce Parton said the flight continued the airline's long-standing work championing the international profile of New Zealand wine.
"The passenger list spanned 14 countries and included wine writers and experts with extensive commercial influence and the ability to reach millions through their respective publications and social media networks," he said.
"This experience will drive significant value for the New Zealand wine industry and inspire more travellers to visit our wineries for themselves."
It made an impact on Singapore sommelier Mohammed Fasil, who manages the wine programme at Luke Mangan - an international restaurant chain.
As he wrote tasting notes on the Te Koko Sauvignon Blanc, Mr Fasil said he was "enjoying exploring parts of New Zealand that I haven't explored before".
Seeing Blenheim's Cloudy Bay vineyard from above as he enjoyed its produce created a connection, he said, which made the flight quite a "personal experience".
Mr Fasil is no stranger to the country's wine - his wine lists predominantly contain wines from New Zealand and Australia - and lauded its produce.
"The amount of time that New Zealand has spent, and the effort in creating quality standards of wine compared to other countries is incredible. In 10 years, the quality will be even beyond some of the other wine countries."
Special clearance meant the flight cruised at an altitude of between 9000 and 11,000ft. This sometimes dropped to 5000ft as the plane passed over specific vineyards, with the pilot performing 'S' bends so passengers on both sides of the aisle could enjoy optimal views.
British wine journalist Jamie Goode - who has been "following the New Zealand wine scene for a while now" - praised the industry as the plane flew over Hawke's Bay.
He lauded the work of winemakers in Hawke's Bay, who he has been working with since his first visit to New Zealand in 2007.
However, while the region's ability to produce a diverse range of varieties was a benefit, Mr Goode said it also made it a "harder story to tell" for winegrowers.
"They need to tell their story better, that would be really good for the region."
Although other regions are known for a particular varietal, Hawke's Bay is said to enjoy a international reputation for producing some of the country's best wines.
Disembarking the plane at Hawke's Bay Airport guests received a full Art Deco welcome, including a performance from the Born to Move Encore dancers.
They spent yesterday afternoon visiting Hawke's Bay sights - including Te Mata Peak, before enjoying dinner at Havelock North's Craggy Range.
This weekend they will join other guests at the symposium, tasting their way through some of New Zealand's top red wines including Syrah, Merlot and Cabernet to deepen their understanding of the country's diverse regions and evolving wine styles.
Hawke's Bay is considered the country's leading producer of full-bodied red wines - with 88 per cent of the production of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes in 2016.
Event manager at Super Events, Elisha Milmine, said Hawke's Bay Winegrowers were proud to be hosting the two-day NZ Wine event.
"For the 26 New Zealand wineries involved this one-on-one time with the international guests coming from Sweden, Germany, Canada, USA, UK and Australia, is a great opportunity to form relationships, which is a foot in the door to international markets.
"Guests will be immersed in a relaxing atmosphere, truly stunning surroundings and given the opportunity to enjoy themselves while tasting exceptional wines," Ms Milmine said.
During the two-day symposium guests - chosen on an invitation only basis - will enjoy masterclasses and tastings at locations around the region, as well as panel discussions, keynote speakers, cultural performances and opportunities to meet winemakers while enjoying local produce.
The majority of the event guests will be accommodated at the newly-built Porters Boutique Hotel in Havelock North.