What Makes Hawke's Bay Perfect For Wine-Growing?

Wine writer Lois Fidler explains what makes Hawke's Bay the ultimate region to produce spectacular wine.

Main Image (above): Te Mata Estate's Coleraine House

With breath-taking landscapes that range from mountain peaks to wide, sun-drenched, sandy beaches, it’s no surprise that Hawke’s Bay has recently been named the 12th Great Wine Capital of the World – in good company with elite wine regions, including Bordeaux, Rioja, Mendoza and Napa Valley.

This prestigious award recognises the region’s industry, heritage, educational opportunities, and wine tourism experiences. More than 100 wine producers call this diverse region home, from small-batch boutique operations to some of New Zealand’s most internationally recognised brands.

As the country’s oldest and second-largest wine region, Hawke’s Bay produces some of New Zealand’s finest wines in a wide range of styles to excite any wine lover.

Setting The Scene

Hawke’s Bay’s temperate climate, high sunshine hours and long growing season make the region as favourable for visitors as it is for grape growing. Historical deposits from ancient riverbeds have contributed to the region’s diverse range of more than 25 different soil types, including sandy loams, clay pans and arid, alluvial gravels. 

Thicker-skinned, later-ripening varieties, such as cabernet sauvignon and syrah, enjoy the arid inland sub-regions, whereas more delicate grapes can be grown in high-altitude sites or close to the moderating influences of Hawke’s Bay’s glistening coastline. 

Craggy Range Vineyard
Image: Craggy Range Vineyard.

What Tickles Your Fancy?

Hawke’s Bay can grow a wide range of grapes thanks to its diverse terroir, from classics such as chardonnay, syrah, merlot and cabernet sauvignon to lesser-known international varietals. Even the most seasoned of wine aficionados might be intrigued to try the likes of freisa, tannat, arneis, barbera, teroldego and marzemino, to name just a few. 

Whether you’re a traditionalist who enjoys seeking out a glass of something familiar or a wine maverick keen to try a more adventurous drop, there’s a wine for everyone with an endless range of varietals and styles on offer.  

A Region With Heart

Hawke’s Bay draws winemakers from all over the world, and the region is home to a tight-knit and supportive winemaking community. 

This was made clear when Cyclone Gabrielle hit the area in February 2023, causing unthinkable destruction to homes and businesses. The Hawke’s Bay wine community rallied around those producers who were most affected, holding fundraising events, offering help and support wherever needed, and even washing bottles that were rescued from the silt. 

For a tiny handful of producers, the after-effects of Cyclone Gabrielle will be felt for many years to come, but Hawke’s Bay has continued to thrive and is welcoming visitors as usual. The best way to support the region is to buy, sip and visit. Look out for Hawke’s Bay drops at Liquorland (the staff are always happy to recommend a bottle), and if you’re visiting the area be sure to stop in at a winery or two. 

Mission Estate
Above: Mission Estate Vineyard. 

See For Yourself 

Home to more than 200 vineyards, 76 wineries and 35 cellar doors, Hawke’s Bay is the ultimate destination to delight your palate. Whether you’d prefer to enjoy a bottle of wine and a cheese platter served at a rustic getaway among the vines or push the boat out and make the most of the region’s world-class fine dining experiences by staying in a luxury lodge, there’s something for everyone. 

Booking a wine tour is one way to make the most of your time in the area, with guided wine tours available to drive you around the best spots. Or pick up a wine map and take in the views as you meander through the region’s cycle paths. Summer is the perfect time to visit – the weekend markets showcase the region’s produce, and wine and food festivals are on throughout the season. 

Heritage and history blend with the new, as many of the region’s boutique producers hold regular wine and food pop-ups among the art deco architecture of Hastings and Napier. A few dates to time your visit to are: Harvest Hawke’s Bay (25 November 2023), Bridge Pa Wine Festival (20 January 2024) and the F.A.W.C! Food & Wine Classic Hawke's Bay (15 to 24 March 2024). See you there!

Wonderful Heritage

Hawke's Bay is New Zealand's oldest winemaking region, with more than 170 years of heritage. While the area is known for producing exquisite reds, chardonnay is the region’s most-planted grape variety. Chardonnay lovers can enjoy full-bodied, opulent styles grown in the hotter inland areas of Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa, or opt for a vibrant and fruit-driven drop from the cooler sub-regions. 

Prime Production

Once a forgotten corner of Hawke’s Bay housing drag-strips and warehouses, the Gimblett Gravels is now a premium winegrowing sub-region covering 800 hectares. After a large flood in 1860 exposed the gravelly soils of the Ngaruroro River, the area’s arid soils were found to be perfect for grape-growing, with the first vines planted in the 1980s. This unique area now produces some of Hawke’s Bay’s finest red wines.

Unique Places

Te Mata Estate was originally part of Te Mata Station, a large pastoral land-holding established by English immigrant John Chambers in 1854. A homestead and stables were built on the property in the early 1870s. After returning from France, John Chamber’s third son, Bernard, had the idea to plant vineyards on the north-facing hills around Havelock North. In 1892, Bernard Chambers planted vines on three parcels of hillside land above the homestead and began converting the original stables to ferment and mature these first Te Mata Estate wines. Today, Te Mata Estate still uses those same three vineyards. “Te Mata Estate is 100% Hawke’s Bay and it’s been our home for over 125 years”, says Te Mata Estate CEO Nick Buck. “It’s a special place, with the unique attributes needed to produce the world’s greatest wines. We’re incredibly proud to have Hawke’s Bay on every one of our labels, and to see those on the world’s finest tables.”