mission estate winery driveway in winter

A Taste of Hawkes Bay & Martinborough (Part 1)

August 2018

I recently drove down to Hawkes Bay and Martinborough wine regions to catch
up with some of the latest cellar door experiences. If you plan to visit either of
these regions then hopefully you will find this report interesting.

Hawkes Bay

This area is most well known for Bordeaux blends, Chardonnay and Syrah but there are also very good wines made from Sauvignon Blanc (different style to those from Marlborough), Pinot Gris, Viognier, Gewurztraminer, Pinot Noir (from the higher inland sites), Tempranillo and some other lesser known varietals. Wine has been produced here since the mid 1800’s (Mission Estate where French missionaries made wine initially for themselves), and also has the oldest commercial wine operation established 1896 (Te Mata Estate although only under the current ownership since the 1970s). Several more companies started to produce wine commercially in the 1920’s including Vidals, McDonalds and Glenvale (now Esk Valley).

Hawkes Bay is NZ’s second biggest wine producing region with a bit under 9% of NZ’s wine (ie 33,700 tonnes of grapes picked in 2017). There are several sub regions within Hawkes Bay with the most well-known being Gimblett Gravels, Bridge Pa Triangle, Havelock Hills, and Te Awanga.

Cellar Door Visits

Te Awa

This producer is owned by Villa Maria and the cellar door currently offers tastings of both Te Awa and Vidals wines. In the near future all of Villa Maria’s Hawkes Bay wines (including Villa Maria and Esk Valley) will be offered for tasting and sale at this cellar door. Te Awa already has a popular restaurant on site but they also plan to extend the cellar door and add some new features.

The tasting offered the opportunity to try comparisons between similar
varieties from both labels. They are still working out the best way to do this in future especially when there will be 4 labels offering similar varietals. Either way the wines are generally very good to excellent and good value for money at whatever price point you are looking for. I didn’t record the cost of the tasting but it was around $10. My favourite wine of this tasting was the Vidals Legacy Cabernet Sauvignon 2014 closely followed by Kidnapper Cliffs Chardonnay 2014.


Trinity Hill

This cellar door is just across the road from Te Awa and has long been considered to be one of the best-looking cellar door/winery buildings in the country. They have become famous for their Homage Syrah but their next tier of wines, the black label Gimblett Gravels range, are normally of excellent quality and well priced. At this time of the year (winter) the tasting options were limited to this range or to their white label Hawes Bay wines.

trinity hill

In summer there would often be the opportunity to do their VIP tasting (minimum of 2 people and has to be booked in advance) which would usually be taken by their wine maker and would include their Homage Syrah and a visit to the barrel hall. The Black Label Gimblett Gravels tasting costs $20 and my favourite wine was The Gimblett 2015 closely followed by Gimblett Gravels Syrah 2016.


Ash Ridge

This cellar door is a bit further down the road from Trinity Hill and is a boutique producer. They seem to specialise in Syrah but also have Chardonnay, Viognier and Bordeaux blends available. Light lunches are also available. I was interested to see that they sell a twin pack of Syrah from the same vintage and vineyard. Each is made with a different clone of Syrah and for any wine buff with a scientific bent it would be an interesting set of wines to try over a period of time.

The tasting of 6 wines costs $6 and my favourite wine was the Premium Late Harvest Chardonnay followed by the Premium Syrah both from 2016. The Reserve wines were not available for tasting.



This property is on Church Rd in Taradale and was originally planed in grapes in 1851 by French Catholic Missionaries who wanted to produce wine for their own consumption. In 1870 they recorded the first commercial sale of wine in NZ. The main building you see on the hill today today was moved to this site in 1909. Now-a-days they have a popular restaurant as well, as the cellar door, and a new winery on the right as you drive in.

mission estate winery driveway in winter

The wine tastings here are quite straightforward with your choice of 6 wines to taste and costs $6. The options range across all price levels, and wines sourced from different regions, except for the very top Huchet wines. My favourite wine of the tasting was the Reserve Syrah 2016.


Church Road

This is another historic vineyard and winery with the first vines planted in 1897. In the 1920s the owner decided to return to Europe and one of his workers, Tom McDonald, was asked to take over and run the business. He eventually purchased the business and in 1949 produced NZ’s first Cabernet Sauvignon wine. He kept producing wine on this site until 1981, with many vintages a huge step forward in quality. There was a short period of no activity and then Church Road as we know it today produced their first vintage in 1990. They now have a restaurant and a museum on site plus many tasting and tour options. It is by all accounts the most popular wine based activity in Hawkes Bay.

church road winery - taradale napier

I tasted a selection of their McDonald series and Grand Reserve wines. The Grand Reserve tasting costs $15 and tours cost either $20 or $49. Their top tier Tom wines which I didn’t try can be tasted individually for $8 to $10 each or by the glass. My favourite wine of the tasting was Grand Reserve Syrah followed by the Grand Reserve Cabernet Merlot.


The Urban Winery

This is a unique set up with a small winery and barrel hall set up in the old ‘Rothmans’ building in Napier. This was set up by Tony Bish (formerly winemaker at Sacred Hill) who now produces a range of Chardonnay wines on site using several concrete or oak ‘egg’ shaped fermenters. As part of this set up they also offer tasting or sale by glass and bottle of several other wine producers who don’t have cellar doors. Amongst those are the top 4 Sacred Hill wines plus a selection of wines from Easthope Family, Cypress, Bilancia, Squawking Magpie, Decibel and Hopes Grove.

I tasted the top tier wines including Tony Bish Skeetfield Chardonnay 2016 and 3 Sacred Hills wines. The tasting price was $18 and my favourite wines were Sacred Hill Riflemans Chardonnay 2016 and Sacred Hill Helmsman Cabernet Merlot 2015 but all of them were excellent.


On this trip I didn’t try any restaurants because eating alone is not the most fun. However, for anyone staying in or near Havelock North who loves pizza you have to visit Allesandro’s Pizzeria. They have got to make the best pizza dough in NZ!! The toppings aren’t bad either.