Winsor Dobbin presents the latest in a series of guides to the leading wine regions of Australia and New Zealand.
Slow-paced Hawke's Bay, which includes the towns of Napier, Hastings and Havelock North on the east coast of New Zealand's North Island, is the oldest winemaking region in the country, with the first vineyards established in 1851 – long before Kiwi wines became fashionable worldwide.
But the wines (among them some of the country's best reds) are far from the only reason to visit this dramatically beautiful area with its wild river valleys and sculptured, terraced vines.
Napier, sleepy but dotted with enough cafes and restaurants to please even the fussiest gourmet, is well known for its many art deco buildings, which were built after an earthquake flattened much of the city centre in 1931. Five years ago, Napier was nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage site.
With climatic conditions similar to Bordeaux, Hawke's Bay is the second largest wine region in the country – behind Marlborough – and produces 90 per cent of the merlot and cabernet sauvignon and 25 per cent of the chardonnay. The region is also home to several outstanding cellar-door restaurants.
The best known wines from the region are made from syrah (which Australians call shiraz) grown in a small subregion known as Gimblett Gravels.
There are more than 90 wine producers – and 35 cellar doors – in the Hawke's Bay region, which also features a wild coastline that is home to the renowned Cape Kidnappers golf course, regularly ranked among the world's top 50.
Best cellar doors
Church Road was established in 1897 and is one of New Zealand's most historic wine producers. Be sure to pay a visit to the atmospheric cellars. There are twice-daily winery and wine museum tours, and visitors can also enjoy a platter of local produce in the attractive gardens. Regular rock concerts are held here. Open daily.
Crossroads is part of the fast-growing empire of New Zealand wine entrepreneur Peter Yealands. The small but friendly cellar door is open daily and visitors can buy a range of local gourmet produce to create a picnic.
Craggy Range sits at the base of Te Mata Peak, Hawke's Bay's best lookout point. The winery has an excellent restaurant, Terroir, or you can retire to the extensive grounds with a bottle and a picnic basket. Like many other wine estates in the region, Craggy Range also offers luxury accommodation.
Clearview Estate at Te Awanga is one of the region's most relaxed cellar doors, open for tastings daily and famous for long lunches in a vineyard setting.
Mission Estate at Taradale was established in 1851 – making it New Zealand's oldest winery. In addition to tastings, there are tours twice daily and an on-site art gallery and top-notch restaurant featuring fine dining.
Also try De la terre, C J Pask, Esk Valley, Moana Park, Elephant Hill, Sileni Estates, Te Awa, Te Mata, Trinity Hill, Ngatarawa and Vidal.
Where to eat
Mister D only opened in May but has already attracted a loyal local following in downtown Napier. The bar-cafe and restaurant, open for breakfast, lunch and dinner, describes itself as "a little bit country and a little bit rock'n'roll". Open daily and for dinner on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.
The Old Church, the main building of which dates back to 1863, is one of Hawke's Bay's most popular restaurants. Chef Richard Highnam is a former head chef at Auckland hot spot Kermadec and landed in Napier last year. Lunch is available Wednesday-Sunday and dinner Tuesday-Saturday.
Black Barn Bistro, outside Havelock North, was named joint winner of best New Zealand winery restaurant last year. A lunch hot spot, the eatery is surrounded by vines – and in summer a table on the verandah is much sought after. Local produce is the speciality here and the menu changes with the seasons.
Te Awa, a single-estate vineyard in the heart of the Gimblett Gravels region, is one of Hawke's Bay's biggest tourism magnets. It has both a top-notch cellar door and a fine-dining restaurant serving modern European cuisine.
Elephant Hill is an impressive new winery and restaurant complex on the beautiful Te Awanga Coast, producing estate-grown wines and offering an impressive dining experience. The views of the Pacific Ocean and Cape Kidnappers are spectacular, and lunches are served daily and dinners nightly during high season.
Also try Pacifica, Deliciosa, Clearview Estate, Opera Kitchen, Vidal, Clifton Bay Cafe and Bar, Milk & Honey, Fox on the Quay and rustic Roosters Brewhouse.
What to drink
Te Mata Coleraine, a Bordeaux-style blend, is arguably New Zealand's most famous red wine. Also make sure you try some of the famous syrahs from the Gimblett Gravels and the Tom reserve wines from Church Road.
Where to stay
Overlooking the waterfront, the Crown Hotel, in the Napier suburb of Ahuriri, is one of the chicest local addresses, with three different room styles, including art deco suites dating back to 1932.
Milk & Honey Restaurant, which is separately owned but part of the same complex, features good Italian food. From $199 a night.
Black Barn has 14 different properties for nightly rental, ranging from vineyard retreats to beach hideaways. All properties have luxury furnishings, bedding, fabrics, kitchenware and amenities, and range from an eight-bedroom mansion to a two-bedroom turn-of-the-century cottage in the heart of the vineyard. From $390 a night.
The Landing is a chic bed-and-breakfast venue with three funky suites and a choice of continental or cooked breakfasts. There's a lounge with giant television, a deck with panoramic views, a lap pool, barbecue area and broadband internet. Rates change seasonally but start from $159 a night.
Millar Road offers stylish vineyard accommodation in two self-contained, purpose-built villas and a luxury retreat on a property in the hills above the Tuki Tuki Valley. Facilities include a 15-metre lap pool, high-tech entertainment systems and laundry. Villas from $400 per night. Packages available.
The Farm at Cape Kidnappers is one of New Zealand's most exclusive luxury lodges. A drawcard for golfers and gourmets, The Farm also holds regular winemakers' dinners featuring some of the great names in Australian and New Zealand wine. From $1000 to $12,500 a night a couple, including pre-dinner drinks, hors d'oeuvres, a la carte dinner, full breakfast, complimentary minibar and use of lodge facilities.
Also try County Hotel, Mangapapa Petit Hotel, Old Church Villa, Pebble Beach Motor Inn, Asure Colonial Lodge Motel, Best Western Fairley Motor Lodge, The Nautilus Napier.
Napier celebrates its art deco heritage each February when locals dress up in 1930s gear, drive vintage cars and listen to jazz. The 15-year-old Harvest Hawke's Bay Food and Wine Festival was not held this year and no date has been announced for next year.
New Zealand's oldest farmers' market is held at the Hawke's Bay Showgrounds in Hastings every Sunday morning. Alternatively, visit the New Zealand National Aquarium in Napier or take a guided art deco walking tour. The bustling harbourside suburb of Ahuriri is a lively nightlife area full of cafes, restaurants and bars. There are more than 20 golf courses across the region.
Animal lovers should visit the gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers, while Hawke's Bay has more than 360 kilometres of coastline. Whale and dolphin sightings are frequent.