Exploring the Classic NZ Wine Trail: Drinking in Hawke’s Bay and the Wairarapa
Sharon Stephenson, Aug 02 2020
Is there a limit to the number of truffle panna cotta that can be eaten at one sitting?
I can confidently report there is not.
We’re in Hawke’s Bay, perched at the kitchen island of chef Gary Grootelaar who runs luxury lodge The Manse with his wife Dietske.
Grootelaar, who spent 13 years working at Michelin-starred restaurants in Europe, is serving us so much delicious food my stomach thinks its Christmas.
But as my late mother always said, every good trip starts with a good meal. Especially one that includes panna cotta served with shavings of local truffles that only hours ago were being dug up by a dog.
We’re embarking on the second-leg of the Classic New Zealand Wine Trail (CNZWT), 380km of the greatest hits of Kiwi wine that takes in some of New Zealand’s biggest wine regions – Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough and the Wairarapa – in addition to Wellington. It’s home to 80 per cent of New Zealand’s wine production (or around 230 wineries and 120 cellar doors).
Two weekends ago we ate and drank our way through the Wellington and Marlborough sections of the CNZWT and now it’s time for their northern cousins.
Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest wine region and with more than 98 wineries, there’s no shortage of places to sample crushed grapes. The Urban Winery, as the name suggests, isn’t set among idyllic grapevines, but in the industrial-ish enclave of Ahuriri. It’s the brainchild of revolutionary winemaker Tony Bish, the only Kiwi winemaker to exclusively produce chardonnay (no surprises his nickname is the King of Chardonnay).
If you’re lucky, you’ll get a tour of the winery where Bish makes wine in giant egg-shaped barrels, including a stunning French oak version, which will lead visitors of a certain age to crack Mork & Mindy jokes. You’ll probably take as many photos of the wine and the tasting room as you will of the Art Deco-inspired former National Tobacco Company building it’s housed in.
A trip to Lime Rock Wines in Waipawa is a must, not only to stock up, but also to chat to the owners who’ve been making wine for decades.
It’s not only the wines that will blow your mind at Smith & Sheth’s Heretaunga Wine Studio. Slipped into the back of the Porters Boutique Hotel in Havelock North, this is Napa-style glamorous wine tasting. Watch the video of New Zealand’s wine story on the enormous screen, sip some of the fine drops from this two-year old winery that’s part-owned by Steve Smith, founder of Craggy Range, and congratulate yourself on finding this place.
It’s a different experience at Lime Rock Wines, where visitors can see the grapes growing and talk to Rosie Butler and Rodger Tynan, who planted these vines 20-plus years ago. As the morning fog burns off, we drive to the top of the limestone hills, vines spread beneath us like a blanket, before sampling the fruits of the couple’s labours. I make a mental note to say thanks to the rental company for lending us a Lexus four-wheel drive