Monday, January 9, 2012

Napier: Wine and Dine Headquarters, part 1 - the Wines

The Globe Penthouse Apartments
Napier is an off-the-tourist-path, Art Deco gem on New Zealand's North Island and perfectly located for touring the Wine Trail and indulging in fine dining. With a population of 54,000, it's easy to get around downtown as well as touring north, south or west (east gets you wet; Napier is on the Pacific ocean.

The earthquake that devastated the city in 1931 turned out to be a good thing, as Martha Stewart would say.

• In some 60 seconds it produced "The Gift," 8,500 acres of land that suddenly rose nine feet from the sea.

• It moved the Ngaruroro River off its course, leaving behind the gravely riverbed, Gimblett Gravels, perfect for growing the grapes that now produce 70 percent of the country's red wine.

• The massive reconstruction was done in the cheapest, most durable style, Art Deco, giving it the largest concentration on Art Deco architecture and matching it with Miami's South Beach as a Mecca for architectural historians.

Tip: Few building are over two stories high and those that are all have elevators. Downtown Napier is flat but its residential areas are on steep hillsides. The wooden Victorian homes perched up there are the only things to survive the earthquake.

All in all, it added a silver lining on one of the world's most beautiful landscapes, the fruit bowl of New Zealand and one of the best wine-growing regions anywhere with more than 150 vineyards and 90 wineries.  

Our Church Road wine-tasting line up.
I began my wine trail, heading north of Napier to the 114-year-old Church Road Winery where the late Tom McDonald, considered the father of New Zealand red wine, developed some of Hawkes Bay's best.

Church Road Wine Museum
Crews were setting up for a Steely Dan concert in a few days as we toured the facility and its fascinating wine museum, the only one in the country.

The perfect lunch for a wine tasting
Lunch and tasting followed in the elegant Tom McDonald Cellar and yes, "Old Tom's" reputation is deserved and his legacy lives on.

Tip: Steps here are minimal, although you will encounter a few in the museum.

Just down the road toward Napier I stopped at the country's oldest winery, Mission Estate, founded at a Marist Mission in 1851.

The building is a restored seminary and the grounds are striking, from the 60 plane trees, 100 years old, lining the driveway to the views across the back lawn to vineyards.

View from the Mission Estate back lawn.
The restaurant here is quite popular, but I was too full to test it. While Church Road bottles middle to high end, Mission Estate wines are more in the middle range.

Tip: No steps to speak of here either.

Blackbarn Vineyards, south of Napier toward Hastings, is a boutique vineyard whose wines are all estate grown and hand picked.

Luncheon at Blackbarn was a treat.
Built on a natural amphitheater where concerts are often held, Blackbarn has a superb bistro. If you fall in love with their wines (as you probably will), they don't export but will ship. Like a number of Hawkes Bay wineries, Blackbarn has luxury accommodations as well.

Tip: A few steps down to the arbor level where I ate but not worth counting.

View from Giants winery terrace.
That night I attended a memorable tour and progressive dinner at Craggy Range's Giants Winery south of Napier. Its dramatic setting along the Tukituki River and Craggy Range looking at Te Mata Peak will have you agog and snapping photos left and right.

Dessert before the fire at Terroir.

Giants is only one of several Craggy Range wineries each providing single vineyard vintages. We began on the terrace, dined privately in one of the cellars then moved to its restaurant Terroir, consistently a winner of international accolades, for dessert before a roaring fire. Well worth the splurge as is the intense red 2009 Craggy Range Sophia
from Gimblett Gravels Vineyard in Hawkes Bay and rich 2008 Craggy Range Noble dessert wine. Giants has luxury cottage accommodations, too.

Tip: A few steps.

Naturally, there's an elephant in front of Elephant Hill.

Elephant Hill, a winery estate south of Napier along the Te Awanga coast and Hawke's Bay's newest, is as contemporary as the others are atmospheric.

A pool, vineyards and the Pacific Ocean - how cool can it get.
The view's hard to beat - across vineyards to the Pacific - and the food is outstanding. Wines produced here, fruity and elegant, are all estate grown, hand-picked and fully accredited by the Sustainable Winegrowers of New Zealand.

Tip: Minimal steps.

You don't have to leave Napier to gain an appreciation and understanding and especially a nose for wine. The New Zealand Wine Centre, the only one of its kind, is right downtown in the Art Deco District.

The Wine Centre Market has everything you can imagine connected to wine.
You can learn about wine making and get lost in the wine market and tasting room and a lot more. Many wonderful wines are made at smaller vineyards that don't have tasting rooms and you can find them here.

Sniff your way around the aroma room...
I highly recommend The Wine Adventure there, during which you test your nose on good and bad smells found in wine in the aroma awareness room (I flunked nose) and sample six wines (you choose reds or whites) from Hawkes Bay vineyards after watching a 20-minute film of insights from the vineyard owner or winemaker. It's a real eye or rather, nose opener.
... then test yourself on a flight of whites - or reds.

I barely whiffed the surface of Hawkes Bay vineyards and never got to those in the Marlborough area, but that gives me an impressive to-see-and-do list for next time.

Next post: The food of Hawkes Bay.


Natalie Corkery, Communications Manager, Craggy Range said...

What a great introduction of all things 'wine' to see and do in Hawke's Bay. It was lovely to meet you Judy and share your love of food and wine from around the world.
We're looking forward to reading part two!
Natalie Corkery
Communications Manager
Craggy Range Winery

January 10, 2012 at 4:51 PM

Post a Comment