Hawke’s Bay is famed for its vineyards and wineries. But what happens if you embark on a tasting experience in the region’s suburbia? Jonathan Brookes finds out.
Hopping from one cellar door to the next is a great way to visit Hawke’s Bay and familiarise yourself with its wines. But on a recent visit I discovered that for the thirsty and curious there are a growing number of great wine places and events to be experienced if you stick to its towns and cities. Make time for some urban exploration on your next wine weekend with places and events like these.
CELLAR 475, HASTINGS
Michael Henley is the 495th Master of Wine, the highest and most difficult to achieve honour existing in the wine trade. Cellar 495 is his baby. A warm and welcoming neighbourhood bistro perfect for a relaxed long lunch or dinner, 495 as you’d expect boasts an exciting wine list. I enjoyed a glass of Easthope Winegrowers gamay, but was very tempted to stay longer and splash out on a (very reasonably priced) bottle of côte-rôtie from living legend Jean-Paul Jamet. That sums up 495’s charm, a wine list full of local gems alongside an astute selection of delicious international drops. Masterfully curated.
SMITH AND SHETH HERETAUNGA WINE STUDIO, HAVELOCK NORTH By appointment only, $150pp
This is unlike any other wine tasting experience you’ll find in Aotearoa. Part of the Smith and Sheth Oenothèque located at the back of the Porters Hotel in Havelock North, the Smith, of Smith and Sheth, is Steve, another Hawke’s Bay local who happens to be a Master of Wine.
With carefully designed sombre lighting the room feels part luxury cocktail lounge, part immersive cinema, and part old world barrel room. As part of the experience you’ll taste from a selection of barrels housed in the studio from recent, as yet unbottled, vintages.
After a glass of Champagne as a prelude, your personal sommelier will guide you through a tasting of exclusive releases from the wineries owned by Aotearoa New Zealand Fine Wine Estates, including Smith and Sheth, Pyramid Valley, and Lowburn Ferry. There’s a short cinematic production for each of the three wineries, meaning as you sit in your soft leather armchair with your glass you get a real sense of the unique people and places across New Zealand who make these wines. All without leaving the comforts of Havelock North.
It’s easy to be cynical about these sorts of “luxury” wine experiences, especially at $150 a pop. But the production values here are high, from the knowledge of the sommeliers / guides, to the dramatic and thoughtful short films and the design of the room itself. The vibe is definitely more authentic than it is ostentatious. Moreover the wines really are some of the best in Aotearoa, reflective of graft and craft rather than just well-resourced marketing.
If you’re after something a bit more casual, the Smith and Sheth Cellar Door located next door offers tastings from $15 (reimbursed if you make a purchase of $50 or more), a fantastic list of wines and delicious platters to share.
MATISSE WINE BAR, NAPIER
You’ll be drawn in by the eye-catching, avant garde exterior – and you won’t be disappointed. Brimming with jovial character, Matisse offers an exciting list of wines from new and established producers from Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand, and around the world alongside a simple, tasty food menu. You can also purchase bottles to go.
PRE-VINTAGE PARTY 2023, BRAVE BREWING CO Hastings, January 29, 4pm-8pm
In the past couple of years a new wave of winemakers has brought the party to wine tasting in Hawke’s Bay, joining with some of the region’s most delicious street food providers and popping up in courtyards and car parks around the region, creating their own mini festivals. Names such as Halcyon Days, Amoise, and Three Fates have been pivotal. These parties reflect a youthful new energy in the region, and are a way for small producers who don’t have their own cellar doors to share their wares in a relaxed and creative urban environment.
Napier-based Hands Down takes locally grown corn and makes maybe the best tortillas I’ve eaten. It hosts regular pop-up taco parties in the car park behind Vinci’s Pizza (another delicious local eatery) usually featuring at least one fresh winery. Capturing the vitality and opportunity of a region where entrepreneurial young producers collaborate, these urban parties bring new meaning to the old maxim that “what grows together, goes together”. Keep your eyes peeled for the next Taco Party in mid to late February (check their socials for details).
First though, at this year’s Pre-vintage Party you’ll find no fewer than 13 small wineries pouring the product of previous vintages as they ready themselves for the incoming harvest. Smash burger maestros Baby G Burger will be there proving perfect wine party pairing supplies. Hastings’ Brave Brewing Co will play host, with tasting in the courtyard, and a wine list take over in the bar.
Vibrant wines poured by the people who make them, cheeseburgers, and an on site brewery. Sounds like my kind of party!
WĀINA / WINE