I had to fly from a freezing Queenstown, up to a torrential-rain Auckland before finally landing in a sunny, hot Napier; the capital of the Hawke’s Bay region.
The hotel was right on the sea-front Marine Parade road and feeling a bit hungry, I went for a wander. I stumbled on the packed-to-the-rafters, crazy Restaurant Indonesia, run by a mad-but-friendly Dutch guy. If you’re in town try it!
The following day we started early with our first visit being Mission Estate in the Taradale Hills. Mission Estate is the oldest established winery in New Zealand, set up by pioneering French missionaries back in 1851, who with blessing from the Pope, sailed to the Pacific from the The Society of Mary in Lyon. The current winemaker is Paul Mooney who has been making the wines for over 30 years. Paul learnt from his mentor Brother John, a monk who trained in Bordeaux during the 1950s.
Mission Estate Winery has a fascinating past, surviving everything from floods to earthquakes to fires. They even had to move the huge house by cutting it into 11 sections and rolling on logs to its current location on top of the hill!
The wines are great, too. I recommend the 2010 Saint Mary’s Syrah and The Avenue Cabernet/Merlot: ripe, juicy and with a freshness making it very easy to drink.
We said our goodbyes and headed north to Eskdale to meet Gordon Russell at Esk Valley Winery. The first thing you notice as you turn into the small area of Glenvale is the terraces of vineyards that surround the winery. Again the winery has quite a history with the first vines being planted by Englishman Robert Bird back in 1933. The winery has changed little and winemaker Gordon Russell as been at the helm since 1993. Apart from some stainless steel vats for the white fermentations he still uses the original concrete open-top fermenters for the reds!
Gordon gave us a personal tour from vineyard to winery and we got rather carried away tasting barrels. We eventually made it to the actual tasting room where a big tasting of the bottled wines awaited us. I absolutely adored the wines and the energy that Gordon puts in makes them real gems. I was completely blown away by his Chenin Blanc and when I get back to France I will make one like his for sure! The Chenin is small volume and only sold in NZ but I urge you to try the Sauvignon Blanc available at Laithwaite’s.
Before we left we went back into the maze of barrels. In every corner turned or behind each door opened there were batches of wine. However my favourite moment was when Gordon made us move off the rug in the tasting room which he whipped away to reveal a secret trap door. Sure enough, as we descended into the dark there were more barrels!
Tomorrow we head to the famous Hawke’s Bay vineyard area, The Gimblett Gravels.