Heading south from Auckland we made our way into Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand’s second largest wine region. Situated on the east coast around a bay of the same name, the region contains a diverse range of landscapes that shape its vineyards. Its Mediterranean climate lends itself both to a range of outdoor activities as well as producing world class wines and great produce. For the wine traveler, this means you can expect great wine, excellent food and sunny weather to take it all in. Join us on our trip into a select set of the regions 80+ wineries.
As in our previous article about Northland and Auckland, we approached the area as a normal wine traveler showing up unannounced to cellar doors. Talking to the wineries and other wine travelers that we met along the way lead us to some great experiences and really shaped our journey through the region.
The main towns in the area of Napier and Hastings make a great base for exploring the region. Napier’s signature is its art deco styling that was introduced after a 1931 earthquake devastated the town. Each Feburary it hosts a festival celebrating the style in which the entire town shows up in period costumes. Interesting to check out if you are in the area. For our trip, we choose a suburb of Napier simply as it was within walking proximity to some of the wineries.
Since the region’s geography is diverse and its wineries are spread around, we grouped them by proximity. In some cases the sub-regions are gaining fame on their own and are represented on the bottle in place of Hawke’s Bay. If you are coming into the region from some other travel destinations such as Lake Taupo, you will likely start north of Napier and make your way into the city.
Linden Estate – Coming into the region from the north one of the first wineries that you will run across in Linden Estates. We stopped by as we spotted their signs on the road and we were very lucky that we did. Their cellar door offers great wines as well as some good advice on approaching the region. If you are hungry, they have a restaurant overlooking the vineyards (Lunch: Wed-Sun Dinner: Fri, Sat). They also offer winery tours if you arrange prior to your visit, which can help those who want to learn more about the wine making process. Overall a great stop.
Esk Valley – With it’s beautiful views of the valley below and the ocean in the distance, the view from Esk Valley alone is worth the stop. Its tasting experience is set up for smaller groups, and cellar door manager Sue Cranswick was very helpful in explaining the regional differences. We met some travelers who were on a quest for the best of New Zealand’s Pinot Noir and for them it warranted a stop. Stop in for a more personal tasting experience.
Mission – Located in Napier, Mission Estate is one of Hawke’s Bay’s largest and oldest wineries. Set in an old missionary, the estate grounds are beautiful and refined. Though it’s one of the most visited wineries in the country, their cellar door staff made us feel at home and made an effort to educate us about their wines and history. We didn’t find this level of professionalism at some of the other larger wineries, so I think they are doing something special with their cellar door. They have a full restaurant open all week for lunch and dinner as well as and farmhouse accommodations. We would recommend visiting towards the end of the day and having a glass of wine in their beautiful gardens overlooking the area as the sun goes down.
Te Awanga Coast
The Te Awanga sub-region is located close to the bay and Cape Kidnappers which gives it a relaxed coastal feel. We saw a lot of people riding bicycles from winery to winery, which makes for a great and easy self guided trip. The three wineries that we visited all have differing takes on Chardonnay, so it’s interesting to visit them in succession to compare for yourself.
Elephant Hill – Driving down Elephant Hill’s palm long tree lined driveway and arriving at modern building feels slightly intimidating. The building has a very European feel which seems at first like a sterile office building, but once inside that changes. Standing in the cellar door, you can see it’s all about the vines and the building itself fades away. Its restaurant would be a great place for a classy romantic dinner overlooking the vineyard. Their cellar door is open for tastings seven days a week and has a surcharge of 5 NZD for tastings, refunded on wine purchase or if you dine with them. Seems like they can get busy, so plan your visit accordingly.
Clearview – In contrast to their neighbor Elephant Hill, Clearview feels familiar and comfortable. It’s a family run winery and is set amongst a garden that supplies its restaurant. It would make for a comfortable afternoon with the family as they have a play area for the kids and a pétanque court. Everything feels very open and their restaurant does some tasty food. Of course the wine is also great. Highly recommended for a stop.
Rod McDonald– A small and modern place situated a bit off the road, which makes it somewhat of a hidden gem as it’s away from the large tour bus envoys and cruise ship goers. They have about four tables and do some small platters if your hungry. If I was a local to the area this would be my place to go as they have friendly staff, some great wines and loyal followers. The cellar door is seasonal and only open during the summers. As of posting, they will be open till the end of April, reopening in October. Go head out now for a visit!
Gimblet Gravels & Havelock North
The Gimblett Gravels is the most famous of the sub-regions, noted for gravely soil mixture and warmer climates that produce rich Bordeaux style blends. While it’s a relatively small area, it’s common to find some of the top wineries in the country sourcing grapes from its vineyards.
Trinity Hill – Located in the heart of of the Gimblett Gravels wine region Trinity Hills was our first stop. Their beautiful gardens surrounding the winery make a great place to picnic and enjoy the day. Their cellar door is modern and showcases their barrel room. Cara, who was running the cellar door was friendly was informative in explaining the reasons why the gravels are exceptional in the area. I had first tasted their wine at the Shanghai Wine 100, an event that covered in a prior video, where one of their wines won a medal. For me, it’s always rewarding to see where the wines we drink comes from and connect with the people behind them.
Craggy Range – Larger wineries can be polarizing for many people. Craggy Range is a large, beautifully designed, and very professional winery. The architecture and grounds are worth visiting and walking around. The staff in the tasting room were equally professional and knowledgeable and the wines were of high quality. If you are visiting, maybe try near the end of the day when the tour crowd has moved on, and then follow with dinner at their full service restaurant Terrôir. Overall, we had a great experience, and for its size the staff were very personable. A tasting fee applies here and varies depending upon what you select.
Ngatarawa – While not technically in the Gimblett Gravels, they are only a few minutes drive from Trinity Hills in a separate sub-region. The cellar door is set in an 114 year old building that was originally the Ngatarawa Racing Stables. The grounds are beautiful and Karen at the cellar door was very friendly and made sure we didn’t miss the historical elements surrounding the winery. Though we didn’t realize it upon our visit, Ngatarawa wine is among one of the most widely available wines we found throughout New Zealand. They are also open for picnics and if you don’t want to bring your own they also offer smaller platters.
Central Hawke’s Bay
Junction Wines – Recommended by a loyal guest at Rod McDonalds, our last stop in Hawke’s Bay was definitely our most memorable. They won a cellar door of the year award recently and we’ve come to find that this is a great indicator of both great wines and of where you should be stopping as wine travelers.
It’s a small operation and very family orientated. The husband and wife team of John and Jo are themselves worth the visit. For rugby fans, they have a living room of rugby memorabilia as John played front row for the All Blacks. Jo runs the cellar door and when we turned up looking around to see if someone was around (we didn’t call ahead of time) she greeted us and made us feel as if we were friends stopping by for a visit. As soon as we sat down at their outdoor tables for a tasting in the garden we were quickly introduced into one of the Junction’s part-time staff, Bruce. Likely the only winery worker happy to work for bread, Bruce is a beautiful Pheasant that wanders the vineyard’s and greets visitors upon arrival.
Their wines are outstanding and some of the most interesting we have yet found in New Zealand. The area of Central Hawke’s bay is really set out from the other wineries, and when I visited Junction I didn’t even realize that they were still considered part of Hawke’s Bay. I think there definitely needs to be a few more wineries in their area, though that might just be their little secret. Highly recommended.
Regional Breakdown & Tips
Where to stay: Napier, Hastings
Wines To Search For:
White: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc
Reds: Pinot Noir, Syrah, Bordeaux Style Blends, Cabernet Sauvignon
- Pick a specific sub-region and rent some bikes to visit a few wineries for the day.
- The region has a good mix of larger and more family run wineries and they all offer vastly different experiences. Work in a bit of both.
- There are many day tours that you can join to remove the driving aspect. We will have some recommendations shortly.
This is the first article covering many wineries and regions at once. Lets us know if there is anything specific you want to hear more about; wines, food, activities, etc. Leave a comment and we will integrate your suggestions into our upcoming articles on Marlborough and Central Otogo!Tags: New Zealand