Napier and Hastings are almost entirely encircled by the Hawke’s Bay’s wine country, one of New Zealand’s largest and most exalted grape-growing regions. Largely the province of boutique producers, it is threaded by the Hawke’s Bay wine trail, which wends past 35-odd wineries, some offering free tastings and many with a restaurant, or at least the chance to picnic in landscaped grounds.
With a climatic pattern similar to that of the great Bordeaux vineyards, Hawke’s Bay produces fine Chardonnay and lots of Merlot. Cabernet Sauvignon is also big but struggles to ripen in cooler summers. Many winemakers are now setting Hawke’s Bay up to become New Zealand’s flagship producer of Syrah, a subtler version of the Aussie Shiraz (though it is made from the same grape) that utilises the original European name.
Much of the country covered by the wine trail is also part of the region’s art and food trails.
Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s longest-established wine-growing region: French Marist missionaries planted the first vines in 1851, ostensibly to produce sacramental wine. The excess was sold, and the commercial aspect of the operation continues today as the Mission Estate Winery. Some fifty years later, other wineries began to spring up, favouring open-textured gravel terraces alongside the Tutaekuri, Ngaruroro and Tukituki rivers, which retain the day’s heat and are free from moist sea breezes. In this arena the vineyards of the Gimblett Road – the so-called Gimblett Gravels – produce increasingly world-renowned wines.