Photo: Florence Charvin

[As published in March/April BayBuzz magazine.]

Anyone who knows anyone, who’s ever had anything to do with anyone living in Hawke’s Bay, will tell you that we love a wine and food festival. 

In fact we’re the original wine and food festival fanatics. We can’t help ourselves. Any excuse to sample the wares of someone offering something boozy to sip from the shelter of a small tent while we sway to some band and scoff tasty morsels – we’re here for it. Have been since the early 1980s. 

Back then our local wine festival was all about 50c tastings and happy hoonery around the hay bales at Tōmoana showgrounds, yet today Hawke’s Bay hosts events that are absolutely world class. F.A.W.C is 13 years old, the Bridge Pa Wine Festival notched up its ten-year anniversary in January, Central Hawke’s Bay has its Spring Fling, and last November saw the revival and re-invention of Harvest Hawke’s Bay out in the Tukituki valley. 

And finally. Finally. In the first weekend of February, someone young and creative and motivated opted to single out a group of wine producers with an affiliation to our coastline and showcase their wares to wine fans far and wide. 

Through hard work, marketing dollars and shoe miles, the terroirs of Bridge Pa’s red soils and the deeply rocky Gimblett Gravels have become internationally known. Yet the “Te Awanga Pebbles” (as Clearview’s Tim Turvey calls them), are well overdue their time in the limelight. So that’s exactly what event promoter Alice McKinley set about to do. 

On Saturday February 3rd, Waitangi Weekend, a clutch of coastal-focused wine producers set up their gazebos in spots spanning from Elephant Hill across to Clearview Estate and south towards Te Awanga Estate, all to help people absorb the atmosphere and flavours of the Te Awanga Strip. Seven wineries and guest bars were connected by trails, pop up destinations, wine masterclasses, live bands and DJs, local guest breweries, distilleries, and food trucks for a jam-packed day along the coast. 

Producers such as Swift Wines, Organised Chaos, Helio, Clearview Estate, Elephant Hill, Topsy Turvey Wines and Te Awanga Estate were there to tell their stories, dish up delicious tastings and champion their cracking coastline. Alice had no idea how many tickets she’d sell. The wineries had no idea how popular they’d be. The weather had Bohemian Rhapsody plans (thunderbolt and lightening, very very frightening), but people braved it all with grins and laughter as they occasionally galloped for shelter. 

There were a couple of stuck buses, and some people were misdirected and found themselves navigating steep ditches instead of signposted winery driveways, but generally all 1,200 ticketholders had a whale of a time. 

Yvonne Lorkin Photo Michael Farr

I was lucky enough to be invited to host a masterclass at Elephant Hill where a sold-out crowd took a sneaky look at some of Hawke’s Bay’s hidden treasures. Wickedly tasty wildcard wines and varieties that people may not have heard of or tried before – and they all hailed from wineries participating in this fabulous little festival. 

We know that Hawke’s Bay is exceptionally good at turning out superb chardonnay, sauvignon, syrah, merlot, cabernet and the like, but bubbling away in tanks and barrels around the Bay are also some lesser-known lovelies that deserve some stardom. 

Wines such as the Swift Wines Albariño 2023, the Organised Chaos Chenin Blanc 2022, the Clearview Estate Reserve Semillon 2022, Elephant Hill’s Le Phant Blanc 2021, Tim Turvey and daughter Katie’s Topsy Turvey Special Parcel Viognier 2020, the Helio Hawke’s Bay Tempranillo Rosé 2023, the Organised Chaos Gamay Noir 2023, Te Awanga Estate’s One-Off Fashionable Bunch Pinot Noir 2021, Swift Wines Cabernet Franc 2022 and the deeply delicious, Elephant Hill RR Tempranillo 2021.

I’m deeply thankful to Simon and Lee at Elephant Hill for setting up the masterclass room so beautifully and making everything run smoothly. Following my masterclass it was time to leap into the festivities. The courtyard at Elephant Hill pumped with fabulously fragrant foodtrucks, people stood sipping at winery tasting tables or happily queueing at the cocktail cart while vibing to the groovy tunes.

Turning into the long, undulating driveway of Te Awanga Estate, I clocked a steady stream of sunhatted, frilly-frocked females and cargo-shorted males emerging from an accessway created as an off-road link to Clearview Estate. They didn’t have to wander long to find tasty entertainment as a drinks and DJ station had been set up halfway along the track where festival-goers could lock in for wine tasting, nibbles and some very decent beats. 

A couple of hundred metres up the driveway more people were enjoying libations on the lawn at Te Awanga Estate’s cellar door, listening to live soul and funk being belted out by a band called Deep Fried Funk. There was much swaying of bodies and the occasional spillage of wine but no one cared. The grins were wide, the laughter loud. 

Speaking of loud, nothing compared to Clearview. Their cellar door was absolutely roaring with power chords and power vocals from a band of youngsters called Wet Denim. Where has this band been all my life? Guitar heavy, huge and thunderous, and so far beyond the normal jazzy faff that winery cellar doors are typically infected with. They were scorching and played like they were at Wembley Arena rather than under an awning. Teenage girls recorded them on their phones.

The occasional stormy downpour did nothing to dampen spirits (unless you were in a queue for the portaloos) and the Te Awanga Wine Festival really felt like the start of something great. A chance to single out those wine folk doing excellent work in this superb little salt-sprayed sub-region. 

To learn about and support the seven participating wineries post-fest, scurry on over to: 

elephanthill.co.nzhelio.wineswiftwines.co.nzteawangaestate.co.nzclearview.co.nzorganisedchaos.co.nztopsyturveywine.co.nz

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