[As published in Jan/Feb BayBuzz magazine.]
While 2023 definitely delivered anger, eye-rolls, heartbreak and tears, peppered throughout the frustrating times were moments of absolute gold, moments of grin-inducing excellence for our wine community and here are just a few of my favourites …
Back in May, Hawke’s Bay was named one of the Great Wine Capitals of the World! One of only twelve regions across the globe to receive this honour. Founded in 1999 the Great Wine Capitals is a network of major global cities and regions which share a key economic and cultural asset: their internationally renowned wine regions. Now Hawke’s Bay, New Zealand’s oldest wine growing region, joins heavyweights such as Bordeaux (France), Bilbao (Spain) and Napa Valley (USA), as the newest Great Wine Capital of the world. I mean, we always knew we were world class right? This designation cements it. Cheers!
At just 22 years old Alena Kamper of Sacred Hill Wines became the youngest ever winner of the Tonnelier Mercurey New Zealand Young Winemaker of the Year competition. Hawke’s Bay born and raised, Alena was a science nut at school who discovered winemaking could be a career after attending a careers day event. Just a few months after graduating in Wine Science from EIT she entered the competition and lo! Her star indeed shone bright. We’ll be watching her career progress like the proud celebrity stalkers we are.
New Zealand’s oldest winery, Mission Vineyards, was awarded Champion Syrah and Champion Wine of the Show at the A&P Hawke’s Bay Wine Awards with their 2021 Mission Vineyards Reserve Syrah. This is a huge achievement because competition is fierce and for winemaker Paul Mooney (who has been making wine at the Mission since the 1970s – yes! The 1970s!), it’s an extra-sweet victory considering this wine, which sells for between $20-$30 a bottle, was also awarded 95/100 by Andrew Caillard MW & included in his Annual Top 12 Gimblett Gravel’s Reds alongside wines retailing at eight times its price! It also made Number 8 in James Suckling’s Top 100 wines of 2022 from around 25,000 wines reviewed globally. Wow!
Church Road was nominated to become the 2023 Red Wine Producer of the Year at the globally prestigious International Wine and Spirit Competition (IWSC) in London. The Hawke’s Bay winery was the only New Zealand winery nominated in the prominent international awards which made long-time winemaker Chris Scott absolutely buzz.
“It’s an honour to see our red wines recognised at these awards and for them to represent the incredible quality coming out of Hawke’s Bay,” Scott said. “It’s a testament to the vibrancy and balance that is achievable in this unique corner of the world, and to the incredibly dedicated craftspeople that make up our small team.” It’s also a darn excellent way to bolster our Great Wine Capitals status out there in the global wine-o-sphere.
Award Winning Winemaker at 90 years old! It’s the dream of winemakers to win medals at competitions, but few could say they’re still doing it in their 90s. But for amateur winemaker Antonio, aka ‘Mr Luigi’, retiring from his passion does not bear entertaining. While he’s won a ton of awards over many decades of making sparkling wine in his garage, this year was special. He scooped gold in the 2023 New Zealand Amateur Winemakers and Brewers Federation national competition, earning Best in Class for his W19 Dry Sparkling and Best in Class for his Dry Sparkling Feijoa. Winemaking was a side-hustle for Antonio, beginning generations back with his family in Italy, however many locals will know him as the charming hairdresser from Hastings.
Brookfields Vineyards & Restaurant Rises from the Silt. As the floods of cyclone Gabrielle cut through Pakowhai and the back of Meeanee, Hawke’s Bay’s iconic Brookfields Winery and vineyards took a massive hit. Yet rebuilding, cleaning, machinery fixing, bottle rescuing kicked in almost immediately and now, almost a year down the track, you’d never know how touch-and-go life at Brookfields actually was. Much of this is thanks to the new Mitzi and Twinn Restaurant at Brookfields which has been booked solid since opening back in October. It features the drool-inducing menu-creation talents of great mates Harriet Twinn and Melissa Rutherfurd, who began catering together back in 2017. The restaurant is humming, the cellar door is buzzing and it’s exciting to see new life breathing in Brookfields again.
Linden Estate and Valley D’Vine Restaurant re-open post Cyclone. Within a matter of a few hours back in February one of Esk Valley’s key vineyards, cellar doors and hospitality spots was swamped with silt. The areas which remained dry became a safe-haven and meeting place for people needing emergency assistance or just somewhere to rest, talk and grieve. In October, after months of backbreaking work, Linden Estate, under the eye of manager Olivia Walding-Karaitiana, is back in action. Winemaker Alex Hendry is working hard to create wines with recovering vines and highly awarded chef Greg Miller is operating their 100 person capacity restaurant with his usual flair and great cheer. Esk Valley lives!
Pask Winery is finally due to open its doors soon with an incredible new restaurant and cellar door experience, craft brewery and relaxation space on Omahu Road. It’s designed to be a very tasty link for hungry and thirsty wine tourists between Hastings and the Gimblett Gravels. Owner John Benton has been making plans for years to revive the old Pask cellar door, to create new carparking, a new gastronomic experience, corporate spaces and much more for one of Hawke’s Bay’s busiest traffic areas.
Hawke’s Bay Gets Fizzicle! Finally, thanks to winemakers and entrepreneurs Jascha Oldham-Selak (34) and Sanne Witteveen (29), our region has its first dedicated sparkling wine facility and a brand new, high-level sparkling wine brand to enjoy. The newly opened NZ Methode Traditionnelle sparkling wine bottling facility is located at 23 James Rochfort Place, Hastings.
“It was in my first year studying wine science in 2014 that I decided to dedicate my winemaking career to Methode Traditionelle,” says Jascha, who is from the pioneering Selak wine family. “And ever since, I’ve only produced this style of wine.” Look out for their single vineyard sparkling wine ‘Vilaura’ which joins the two words ‘Villa’ & ‘Aura’, meaning the ‘House of Energy’.
The new Mitzi and Twinn Restaurant at Brookfields has been booked solid since opening back in October. It features the drool-inducing menu creation talents of great mates Harriet Twinn and Melissa Rutherfurd, who began catering together back in 2017.