Wine regions: Hawke’s Bay

Appears in

Oxford Companion to Wine

Oxford Companion to Wine

By Jancis Robinson

Published 2006

  • About

Hawke’s Bay, around the town of Napier is one of New Zealand’s older wine regions and certainly one of the best. Complex soil patterns and mesoclimates make it difficult to generalize about the wines of such a diverse region, particularly when they are made by such an eclectic group of winemakers. Situated on the east coast of the North Island, 215 km/130 miles south of Gisborne and 323 km/194 miles north of Wellington, Hawke’s Bay frequently records the country’s highest sunshine hours. The terrain varies from coastal ranges that rise to 1600 m/5,300 ft to wide, fertile plains consisting of alluvial and gravelly soils. A high water table and fertile soils can result in excessive vine vigour over much of the plains. In other parts of the region, deep, well-drained gravel soils encourage water stress and many vines require irrigation during long, dry periods. In pursuit of wine quality, vineyards were established on free-draining soils of lower fertility, at least from the mid 1980s. For ease of cultivation, vines have been almost exclusively planted on flat land, despite the allure of nearby limestone hills which may offer superior aspect and drainage. A collective of local grape growers and winemakers has identified an approximate 800 ha of deep shingle soils as an ideal area for the production of high-quality wines, particularly Syrah, Merlot, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The defined area has been named Gimblett Gravels, a district name that now appears on some of Hawke’s Bay’s better red wines.