Travelling through New Zealand and like your wines? Then it’s a no brainer – you simply must carve out some time to visit one of the 11 wine growing regions in the country. While travelling through the North Island we decided to make our way to the oldest and second largest wine region in the country – Hawkes Bay. With more than 70 wineries, you will be spoiled for choice when it comes to mapping out your tasting days. The climate here is like France’s Bordeaux region. If you are a fan of bold reds you are in for a treat.
Before we set off to enjoy the grapes, we made a pit stop in the coastal, art-deco city of Napier.
We walked along Marine Parade, Napier’s waterfront promenade and visited Opposum World. A store that sells possum knitwear and has a small, taxidermy filled museum that outlines the destructiveness these little critters have on New Zealand. This is the crazy stuff road trips are made of. It was a fun time filler as we waited for the time to reasonable enough to kick off our wine tastings.
Agreeing it was wine o’clock we hopped in the 4×4 and made our way to further through Hawke’s Bay to Hastings. Unlike our private, chauffeured day trip to Napa, California (Destinations // Napa Valley), we opted to pedal our way around Hawkes Bay. We met at Ash Ridge Wines – home of On Yer Bike Winery Tours – got kitted out with bikes, helmets and a local wine trail map.
The almost 20km bike path allows you to visit several wineries as you cycle through the world-renowned Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa Triangle grape growing regions. The paths are made specifically for bikes and takes you through the surrounding vineyards, orchards and olive groves. As you have rented the bike for the day you can go at your own pace and enjoy the region’s gorgeous scenery (and wine) as you see fit. Best part about the day out for me? The tastings are FREE. No crazy tasting fees like our good friends in Napa. Just be sure to keep an eye out for the tip jars.
Our goal was to make it to all 7 of the wineries on the published tour map. Did we make it? Check out below to find out. *Hiccup*
Shortly after we set off on our cycle we arrived at stop #1 – Sileni Estates. Although they were only founded in 1997, Sileni are no small player on the New Zealand wine scene. In fact, they currently distribute their goodies to over 80 countries around the world. If you are into Greek Mythology, you may recall that Silenus was the god of wine Dionysus’ teacher and companion. Their followers, Seleni, were known for loving their food, wine and a happening time.
To kick off our good times, we tasted our way through their wide range of varietals and bagged a sweet bottle of their Late Harvest Semillon. While not typically a dessert wine drinker, it was too good not to take home. Oh yea – be sure to check out the homemade sweets. Like these little chocolate ducks that didn’t stand a chance when we arrived.
As we pulled into Alpha Domus, our second stop of the day, the wagging tail of miniature schnauzer Alfie greeted us. If there is anything I love as much as travel and wine, its pups. This local celebrity is featured in the Wine Dogs of New Zealand book. Well done Alfie, well done.
I love companies like Alpha Domus. Their wines are vinted onsite from estate grown grapes on a single vineyard. Our experience at the cellar door was fantastic and one I wont forget. It’s the vibe that you get when you are in a family run winery – the passion for the wine comes through both in the people that work there as well as in the quality of the juice. As we were sipping our way through their delicious wines it was explained that Alpha represents the first initial of the family’s names from their father through to the youngest brother; Anthonius, Leonarda, Paulus, Henrikus and Anthonius. Doesn’t get any more family than that, right?
There wasn’t a taste we didn’t enjoy. If you love a peppery Syrah you are in luck. Do yourself a favour and grab a bottle of the Barnstormer Syrah – wowsers.
I’m sure we would have LOVED stop #3 but they were closed on our Hawkes Bay day out. Like Alpha Domus, Abbey Cellars are a family owned vineyard with a single estate – so they only use what they grow themselves. It may have been a blessing in disguise – as I am not a fan of 100 percent oak barrelled wines (of which their reds tend to be).
We made our way past Triangle Cellars (Stop #4 but no longer operating as a business) and headed straight to Ngatarawa – one of New Zealand’s earliest boutique wineries – Ngatarawa.
Here is another family owned and operated winery. In fact, the Corban family has been coined New Zealand’s first family of winemaking. They set up shop in the historic horse racing stables of Hawkes Bay. Heading into the cellar for our tastings we couldn’t help but notice the beautiful grounds surrounding a gorgeous pond. That’s what its about right? Nice wine, sunshine, and strolling through gorgeous vineyards.
Like a lot of the vineyards in and around this area, the rich soil and climate lend itself to producing a wide variety of grapes. When it comes to Ngatarawa, it’s their Chardonnay that they are well known for. We aren’t big fans of Chardonnay – and still weren’t when we left the vineyard.
Throughout the day the moody clouds rolled in bringing with it a bit of mist and the occaisonla sprinkle. Of course, at this stage we didn’t care that it was raining – and made our way smiling all the way to stop #6 – Te Awa.
These guys were purchased by the well-known Villa Maria Estate in 2012 but still maintain the boutique winery feel. Under Villa Maria, Te Awa wines became known as the Te Awa Collection and the additional brands that Te Awa previously held – Kidnapper Cliffs and Left Field – were maintained.
What I was drawn to more than the wine, were the unique labels of the Left Field collection. They were designed by Aaron Pollock, a branding and advertising designer who I recognized from branding efforts with the Himalayan Trust. (Side Note: The trust was created by New Zealand’s very own Sir Edmund Hillary. It helps reduce poverty and strengthen the communities in the Everest region.) Each of the labels contained an imaginative combo of animal plus machine. Each of Pollock’s crazy creatures has a story and reflects the Te Awa’s unique wine making philosophy. You can check out all of the designs (and other works by Pollock) HERE.
Our seventh and final stop was at Trinity Hills. At this stage our taste buds were shocked and tasting was out of the window. We spent some time speaking with the very friendly team behind the counter and got to know a little bit about this well-known, mass produced brand. With a start that is said to have happened over a glass of Chardonnay in London in the late 1980’s, Trinity Hills is now one of the most visited in Hawkes Bay.
We ordered ourselves a glass of Sauvignon Blanc and propped ourselves up in their welcoming seating area. Unlike some of the other places we went over the course of the day, Trinity Hills had a small nibbles menu for us to peruse. One meat and cheese board later we sat back, relaxed and enjoyed the fruits of Trinity Hills labor. (See what I did there?)
Fat and merry we hopped back on our bikes feeling accomplished that we finished our circuit. We headed back to Ash Ridge Wines to drop off our bikes and headed back to our AirBnB for a lovely home cooked rack of good ol’ New Zealand lamb. It just doesn’t get any better than this.
If you find yourself in Hawkes Bay give the gang at On Yer Bike Winery Tours a call. They will sort you out. One of the great services they provide is going around to the wineries you visited and picking up any bottles you may have purchased. That means you can enjoy your day without worrying about carrying (or breaking) your purchased goodies.
Disclaimer: Please note that even though the bike paths run through vineyards and parallel to the roads, be sure to drink and cycle responsibly.