The Finest Hawke's Bay Wines

The Finest Hawke's Bay Wines

by Westgarth Wines November 04, 2021

Hawke's Bay wines are some of the finest in New Zealand. But how much do you know about its subregion, Gimblett Gravels, that's a unique winemaking location on the east coast of the North Island that was once the Omahu channel of the Ngaruroro River? Let's take a look at what happens when a river changes course … then diverts again.

A massive flood occurred in the 1860s laying the area bare, with alluvial gravels running quite deep. The gravels are made up of alluvial greywacke (pronounced ‘graywacky’), compacted sandstone that was formed about 200 million years ago in the Triassic geological period. Once laid bare, the area was overlooked as a barren and unproductive patch of land until the late 70s when vines were first planted.

There are quite a few reasons why Gimblett Gravels is actually well suited for wine growing and makes some of the top Hawke's Bay wines, although it may have appeared sparse to farmers seeking fertile soils. Water drains quite freely from the gravel forcing vines to dive down through the earth to find the region’s lenses of sand, silt and clay from where they source water and nutrients. This struggle is part of the reason the vines create such rich and enticing grapes.

Of course, it helps that Hawke’s Bay has some of New Zealand’s longest sunlight hours. The stony gravels absorb warmth during the day and radiate heat at night. This gives a boost to varieties that are late ripeners. Gravel and a maritime climate may call to mind the Old World region of Bordeaux and, correspondingly, the first red grape vines planted in Gimblett Gravels were Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc in 1981. There has been growing interest in Syrah of late, as well as Chardonnay and Viognier too.

Gimblett Gravels is unique, but greywacke is in fact the most common rock type in New Zealand. It's so common there is even a winery named after it. One of the premier Hawke Bay’s wineries and also one of the oldest is Te Mata, founded in 1896. Nearly a century younger but also a Hawke’s Bay favorite is Craggy Range. Trinity Hill specializes in expressing unique plots of land—they make a Gimblett Gravels range and their Syrah in their Homage range was first planted in Gimblett Gravels in (as one might surmise) in honor of the Rhône Valley’s Gerard Jaboulet for his influence on the Trinity Hills winemaker.

New Zealand’s modern reputation may have been founded on Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc, but there’s so much more to explore. 

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