The Hawke's Bay wine region is the oldest in New Zealand and the 2nd largest in vine area and wine production. Located on the East Coast of the North Island, Hawkes Bay is also New Zealand's leading producer of red wines.
Grape vines were first planted in 1851 by Marist missionaries - though the first record of commercial wine sales date back to 1870 when a volume of mostly dry red wines was sold by the Mission Estate. By the early 1920's several wineries had started to develop a solid foundation for the region to build upon, then in 1937 the opening of Brookfields Vineyards still a pioneer to this day - and many more acclaimed names from the 1970’s on. Hawke’s Bay covers a total area of 1.4 million hectares with 350km of Pacific Ocean coastline.
Vineyards are concentrated around the two main cities of Hastings and Napier within sheltered inland ranges, although more vines are being planted in carefully selected sites across the region. Most of Hawke’s Bay’s wineries produce less than 200,000 litres per annum and are family owned providing a true boutique wine experience - all sharing a commitment to making great wine.
Hawke’s Bay enjoys a very sunny climate, with average temperatures somewhere between that found in Burgundy and Bordeaux. The maritime influence tempers the hot summer days and allows a long growing season. The surrounding high country offers wind protection - though frost can be a risk in some inland sites. On occasion cooler, wet weather can pose problems during the growing season - but the free-draining soils help to reduce its affect.
The regions red varietals combined planting produce over 80% of New Zealand's production of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah. With Hawke’s Bay also specialising in rich and complex Chardonnay wines accounting for approximately 30% of NZ’s total producing hectares. Currently 57% of the regions wine production is white and 43% red wine. Over thousands of years, 5 major Hawke’s Bay Rivers have formed valleys and terraces creating over 25 different soil types from clay loam, limestone to sands and free draining gravels and red metal. The altitude within Hawke’s Bay ranges from sea level to several hundred metres inland. Warm north-facing hillside slopes, river valleys and terraces and coastal areas provide a range of low vigour vineyard sites suitable for a diversity of grape varietals.
Hawke’s Bay is best known for its Bordeaux-blend reds and Chardonnay - though aromatic white wines are consistently good and Syrah is increasingly impressive, with new varietals continually being trialled. The sub-regions include: ‘Havelock North’ - which has more sandy loams over clay pans while ‘Hastings’ is surrounded by loamy-clays. Red metals and famous arid, stony ‘Gimblett Gravels’ are notable and the surrounding rolling hill country is clay and limestone-based. Bridge Pa contains the oldest soils on the Heretaunga Plains. These are distinct as they consist of low fertile, free draining alluvium deposit, eroded ash, loess and underlying sediments.
As of 2013 Hawke’s Bay had 5093 hectares of vines planted in the region: Cabernet & Merlot make up 1477ha, Sauvignon Blanc 1004ha, Chardonnay 995ha, Pinot Gris 493ha, Syrah 311ha, other vineyards produce; Gewürztraminer, Viognier, Riesling, Semillon, and Chenin Blanc. Other experimental varieties include Arneis, Montepulciano, Verdelho, Sangiovese and Tempranillo along with Rosé and Dessert style wines. In 2013 the Hawke’s Bay wine area had 77 registered wineries (out of a national total of 698) and over 145 independent grape growers, accounting for 11% of the New Zealand’s wine production in tonnes.
Hawke’s Bay has a well-established wine tourism and activities which showcase the region’s agriculture and cuisine along with the international renowned art deco architecture (mainly in Napier) and artisan producers. The region offers a wide variety of cellar door experiences as well as regular food and wine festivals. Hawke’s Bay enjoys a significant international reputation for producing some of the best red and white wines.