It was my wife Marion’s idea. Our annual European holiday was cancelled last year and is unlikely to go ahead this year, so Marion suggested we shout the family to a Hawke’s Bay holiday instead.

We needed to accommodate ten people. After a little research, we chose a Black Barn Retreat ten minutes’ drive from Havelock North. A very comfortable lodge with its own all-important pool and spectacular views over the Tukituki River, it was pricey but, Marion reasoned, not as pricey as a trip to Europe.

Hawke’s Bay is a haven for wine lovers. The region is big enough to offer a tantalisingly diverse range of sub-regions and yet compact enough for the reasonably diligent wine tourist to feel they have “done” Hawke’s Bay in five or six days. Hawke’s Bay also offers a better range of winery restaurants than any other wine region. Cellar-door staff seem to try a little harder in the Bay.

Hawke’s Bay has more than 200 vineyards, 70-plus wineries and more than 30 cellar doors. To help you plan your trip visit NZ Winegrowers’ excellent website

We were so thrilled with the Black Barn Retreat that we immediately booked a dinner at the Black Barn Bistro, a very classy restaurant set among vineyards. The bistro is open for lunch on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday and for dinner on Thursday and Saturday.

I had an entrée of raw trevally, verjuice, citrus and avocado and a main course of whole flounder, confit fennel and chardonnay butter matched with a vibrant Black Barn 2010 Blanc de Blanc Méthode, $95, and an as-yet-unreleased but impressive Black Barn Block 191 2019 Chardonnay, $65. It’s a limited-edition three-barrel selection from a top vineyard at nearby 191 Kahuranaki Road.

Villa Maria has always had a strong presence in the Bay. Together with associated companies Esk Valley, Vidal and Te Awa, it owns 148ha of vineyards in the Gimblett Gravels sub-region. In recent times, Esk Valley and Vidal have moved to a new winemaking facility that they share with Villa Maria and Te Awa. The cellar door has been rechristened “Gimblett Gravels Cellar Door”. It offers Villa Maria and Esk Valley wines only.

We booked into the restaurant for lunch and chose an outdoor table. The restaurant offers attractive tasting platters designed to match the wines on offer. Wine selections start at $15 for an “unassisted” tasting of three wines, with a total retail bottle price of up to $130, which seems fairly good value to me. The tasting fee is deducted off purchases over $150.

I liked the $10 “Taste the Icon” options, where you receive a sample of Villa Maria 2013 Ngakirikiri Cabernet Sauvignon or Esk Valley 2015 The Terraces, with retail prices of $150 and $160 respectively. Both are heroic reds that can be appreciated now despite having tantalising potential. It’s worth a visit to taste either.

We visited Clearview at their coastal location, where an increasing number of houses appear to have been abandoned under threat of tidal advance. Chardonnay is Clearview’s signature variety – they’ve been producing winners for as long as I can remember. After I tasted the remarkably good-value 2019 Beachhead Chardonnay, $27, and the legendary Reserve Chardonnay, $45, winemaker Matt Kirby proudly poured a sample of his flagship 2019 Endeavour Chardonnay, $160. Much to his horror, it was badly corked. The next bottle was gorgeous.

I accepted an invitation to drop by Te Mata to taste their 2019 Coleraine, $120. The visit got me out of chaperoning several small children at Splash Planet, a popular water playground in Hastings.

My hosts, CEO Nicholas Buck and winemaker Phil Brodie, took me on a tour of newly planted vineyards and newly installed winemaking equipment. They are at the top of their game but aspire to go even higher. I was sincerely impressed even before I tasted a flight of whites and reds from the stellar 2019 vintage (Buck thinks 2020 is even better).

The wines that most impressed me were a super-stylish Elston Chardonnay that I think is a steal at $39; a plush, ripe and deliciously drinkable Awatea that is ready to be enjoyed now and is a “must buy” at $39, and New Zealand’s most iconic wine, Coleraine, $120, which needs a little time but will be snapped up by collectors, investors and serious wine lovers the world over.

The grand finale, as far as winery eateries are concerned, was the spectacular and sophisticated Craggy Range Restaurant (recently rechristened from “Terroir Restaurant”). We chose a fixed menu priced at $85 a head for adults and $35 for children. We started with a glass of Taittinger Champagne and worked our way slowly through an absolutely delicious range of dishes. My favourite was the slow-roasted lamb shoulder, anchovy, pine nut and parmesan crumb with green beans and roast potatoes, which we enjoyed with Craggy Range 2017 Te Muna Pinot Noir, $49.95.

The sun shone throughout the entire week – on a quiet night you could practically hear the grapes ripening.

Bob’s Top Picks

Investment Wine

2019 Te Mata Coleraine, Hawke’s Bay, $120

An iconic brand meets a terrific vintage. The result is a “must have” wine for collectors and investors. This is elegance on a grand scale and one of the best vintages I’ve tasted. Still youthful and quite closed (it was bottled on the day I tasted it) but with plushness and power.

Weekend Wines

Top White

2019 Craggy Range Mary’s Vineyard, Hawke’s Bay, $39.95

A new label (to me at least) with rich peach, nectarine, hazelnut and citrus flavours supported by exquisite acidity that dives a lingering finish. A real treat. Might be hard to find, in which case wait for the 2020 vintage which, on paper at least, promises to be even better.

Top Red

2016 Esk Valley Winemakers Reserve Syrah, Hawke’s Bay, $59.99

From a cool vintage, which helps to emphasise the wine’s chocolate, peppery, gamey character and perfectly matched the venison sausage served at the winery restaurant. Beginning to show a little bottle age but with plenty of potential.

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