Winter wine tasting in Hawke’s Bay

At this time of year, when the cold weather sets in, it is important to have a few little treats lined up. With our planned three-week trip to Canada obviously cancelled, we decided to head up north to Napier in the Hawke’s Bay region for a few days winter break. Napier is 334km from Wellington, so a doable drive, and we headed up there on Monday morning. (Side note: this was our fourth trip up there in the 7 years we have lived here, though I am often in that region for work).

The real treat of the trip was a full day wine tasting tour on Tuesday. The Hawke’s Bay region is the oldest wine producing area in New Zealand, and the second largest in the country. If you are looking for a European comparison, the climate is similar to Bordeaux. The area is know for its full-bodied red wines, with 88% of New Zealand’s production of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah grapes in 2016. Our tour this time was a full-day tour with The Winemaker’s Tours. It was a private tour with just us and our excellent guide, Don Bird a third-generation New Zealand winemaker with 40 years experience in the Hawkes Bay wine industry. 

Our first stop was Brookfields Vineyards, where we tasted a few different wines, including a stunning Viognier. The featured image at the top of the post was taken there. It was a a very cosy start to the day, before we headed over to Te Mata Estate, one of the oldest vineyards in the region, founded in 1896. As you can see below, the weather was not that great, it being rather grey and rainy, but that did not put a dampener on the day (sorry for the pun!).

Water tower at Te Mata Estate
Outside Te Mata Estate

From there we headed over to Craggy Range, within the wine growing area known as the Gimblett Gravels, an ancient river bed of the Ngaruroro River in Hawke’s Bay. The picture below I think gives a good idea of the landscape in this area. If you look closely in the middle, you will see two states of cows!

Looking out from Craggy Range

This was also where we stopped for lunch. The restaurant here was awarded 2 hats by Cuisine magazine in 2019, and you can see why. The food was superb, with tastes that will stay with me for months to come. To start, I had venison tartare with tarragon sauce, crispy fried anchovy and potato chips (see main picture below) which was honestly one of the best things I have eaten in ages: full of flavour, different textures and just heavenly. My main dish was salmon fillet with celeriac purée, black rice and ‘a crumb of broccoli, capers, citrus fennel dressing’ which was equally excellent. Karl opted for the chicken terrine with celeriac remoulade, bread & butter pickles and buckwheat flatbread followed by dry aged duck breast with pickled and roasted endive, almond cream and quince, both of which also received praise. We had half glasses of matching wines to go with the food. A wonderful experience all round.

Looking towards the vines, Craggy Range

The weather wasn’t good enough for a proper trip up to Te Mata peak for wonderful views over the region unfortunately, but we enjoyed more tasting at Black Barn, Ash Ridge and New Zealand’s oldest winery Mission Estate, as well as an impromptu stop beside some vines to taste some wine our guide had brought with him while we heard more about vines and their care.

After our final tasting, Don produced a bottle of his own tawny port, and we tasted this in the car on our drive back to our hotel. He also gave us a bottle to take home, and I can see us getting this out on cold winter evenings in the weeks to come.

Our final stop

Verdict? I would highly recommend this trip should you ever be in the region. This is a full day trip, and with a private guide, so at the more expensive range of wine tours, but definitely worth every penny. The lunch stop was also a real highlight. Thanks to Don for a great day and to Karl for a great birthday present!

You can find Thistles and Kiwis on Facebook, and also on Instagram@thistleandkiwis.  As for Twitter….am totally inactive these days.  If you want to get in touch, email me on


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