Hawke’s Bay – Gimblett Gravels & Bridge Pa

Sileni Estate

My advice is that you’ll be arriving in this area onboard your bike as part of the fabulous Hawke’s Bay Trails – this is the aptly-named ‘Wineries Ride’ section of the cycle trail. It’s a magnificent way to meander through the vineyard-filled surroundings, and not have to worry about who’s the designated driver. You’ll mostly be off-road as well – on lime pathways between at least seven places. AA Traveller produce an annual travel guide to the nation’s cyclepaths and it’s well worth a read. Not just this region, but links through to the next one, and you can plan a bunch of touring round the country with tips on hiring bikes, other things to do amongst the trails and so on.

Otherwise, this heartland is easily a day trip of anyone’s time. Maybe you’ve got a driver in hand – in which case it’s not hard to negotiate through. Or book a day trip with a number of local operators.

Although Hawke’s Bay has a rich heritage to it’s winegrowing, the real key to it’s success today is the ongoing innovation that keeps its wine at the cutting edge of what the worldwide consumer is looking for. Names like Vidal and Mission Estate are reminders of the pioneers of modern day winemaking, with the investment and experience that underlines the heart of Hawke’s Bay as the fine wine region of NZ. The premium grape varieties like Syrah and Chardonnay are not only well-suited, but add to the diversity of produce in the Bay – using the free-draining, often gravelly types of soils that many other agricultural products do not thrive in.

If you’re heading towards the region from Hastings, the first winery you will pass in the Gimblett Gravels is Pask at 1133 Omahu Road. The Pask name is known for its role in establishing the new wave of wine in Hawke’s Bay and the Gimblett Gravels – their first vintage, a Cabernet Sauvignon, was in 1985. The company continues to innovate – look out for the ‘Small Batch’ range of limited edition wines, as well as the glorious ‘Declaration’ range which are only made in the best years. Rich, powerful wines that are a personal favourite here at WineFolio. The Chardonnay and the Méthode Traditionelle from this range are well worth a look – the sparkling wine aged for an mazing 9 years on it’s lees.

Their cellar door is open year round for tastings and sales. During the summer, opening hours are 11am to 4pm, and midday to 4pm at weekends. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the Cellar Door is only open for sales from 11am weekdays. www.pask.co.nz

Continuing along Omahu Road, or if you’re approaching from the north on SH50, you may want to take an immediate detour out to where one of the star varietals of Hawke’s Bay first made it’s mark. The place is Stonecroft, and the grape is Syrah. Small, family-owned and making only 3000 cases of Gimblett Gravels wines a year from their organic vineyards. Established in 1982, it was one of the pioneers of establishing vineyards in the area – early neighbours were the gravel quarry and a rubbish dump! 

Stonecroft vineyard

A single row of syrah vines on the property are the earliest cultivations in New Zealand – saved from a research station in Te Kauwhata. They make a range of wines including gewürztraminer and, of course, Syrah. The relaxed Cellar Door is usually manned by one of the owners – it will reopen in Spring. 121 Mere Road, ph: 06 879 9610. www.stonecroft.co.nz

It’s not far from one great winery to another around here, and Unison is at 2163 State Highway 50. Founded in ’92 before Gimblett Gravels was a designated wine area, it remains a family-run property and it’s a busy place, with Cellar Door, eatery and some accommodation too. A range of red wines show off the classic regional styles – Syrah and Merlot in particular go into a few styles, including a merlot-based Rosé called ‘Alluvius’. The Cellar Door and Eatery will be open again from 5th September on weekends 11am to 3pm. Ph: 06 879 7913. www.unisonvineyard.co.nz

Until recently the winery at 2375 SH50 was just home to Te Awa, but with Villa Maria Estate, the country’s second largest wine producer, amalgamating its Hawke’s Bay operations into one place; it now houses Esk Valley, Vidal and Villa Maria alongside Te Awa at the one site. I’ve heard that when the redeveloped space opens again in October it may be called ‘Villa Maria Gimblett Gravels’. Those four labels represent some of the very best quality winemaking in the country, and as such the Villa Maria slogan is, justifiably, ‘most awarded’.

No details on opening dates or times, but we will update when we hear. Until then, read our interview with winemaker Richard Painter here..
or do read our reviews of Villa Maria, Esk Valley and Te Awa wines elsewhere on Winefolio!!

Esk Valley wines

Across the road is another gem in the Gimblett Gravels crown – they just keep coming! This is the turf of Trinity Hill, founded in the early days of 1993, with Warren Gibson now in charge of the winemaking. Included in their range is the lauded Syrah ‘Homage’ – often scoring near-perfect marks in tastings. We tried and tasted some of the recent releases here..

And we’ll be releasing our interview with Warren in the next couple of weeks.

Their Cellar Door is beautiful – it used to be a Barrel Hall and has 5 mete high ceilings and is lined with oak barrels, comfortable seating, a sumptuous bar area, and a large lawn area for the summer. They keep a wide selection open for tastings and there’s a real buzz to the place. You can grab a tasting tray to go through at your own speed, or collar one of the Cellar Door Hosts who’ll fill you in with all the info you could need about the wines on offer.

Trinity Hill

Take a look into the ‘new’ barrel hall whilst you’re here, and my recommendations to try are ‘The Gimblett’ – a Bordeaux blend, or a ‘Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay’. But, really, everything’s great!

It’s open 5 days a week in winter – closed on Mondays and Tuesdays – from 11am to 5pm. From Labour weekend it’s open 7 days a week. 2396 State Highway 50 – Ph 06 879 7778. www.trinityhill.com

Before you turn down Ngatarawa Road, we’ll go just a little further along SH50, before turning back. We’re in the heart of the Bridge Pa Triangle here, and at no. 2543 you’ll find Ash Ridge Wines. They have a decent lunch menu and do superb platters to accompany your wine – if you choose to do a tasting, they usually have half a dozen bottles open. It’s a big place and has large outdoor areas and gardens. Keen to see behind the scenes? As well as the Cellar Door and Tasting Room, this is a working winery and offers a Winery and Vineyard tour daily at 11am. OnyerBike cycle hire is based here too. I’d recommend both the Estate Chardonnay – reviewed here.. and the Reserve Syrahs, made of individual clones, are very good too. www.ashridgewines.com or Ph: 06 650 4325. Open 7 days a week 10am-5pm in summer; and Weds to Sunday in winter 11am-4pm.

Head back to turn down Ngatarawa Rd, and on the right hand side you’ll come across the red building of Oak Estate at no. 403. Currently open Thursday to Saturdays 11.30am-5pm, it’s a lovely lunch stop as well as a Cellar Door – ‘The Kitchen’ takes local ingredients and presents a short menu daily. A range of wines is available and I’d definitely recommend a Chardonnay from their ‘Home Block’ vineyard something like the ‘1000 Vines Chardonnay’? 

Oak Estate

Ph: 06 879 7019. www.oakestatewines.co.nz

Continue down Ngatarawa Road, past the sites of a couple of historic wineries, now unfortunately gone (Ngatarawa and Triangle Cellars) and turn right onto Maraekakaho Road. Next place to park your transport and head in for some hospitality is Abbey Winery & Brewery at no. 1769. Currently open at weekends 11am-5pm with the kitchen open until 4pm. Another great spot for food (pizzas and platters in particular) as well as a drink – and uniquely for this area, they do a great range of craft beer alongside the wines. Also well known for events like the Summer Sessions, huge days out for Jazz in the Vines, and a regular stop on the FAWC calendar. Try their take on a ‘port’ style wine – ‘Seduction Dessert Malbec’ alongside an antipasto platter. www.abbeywines.co.nz. Ph: 06 879 6171.

If you’re still with us… just a short distance along the road at 1829 Maraekakaho Road is one of the original properties that helped establish the Bridge Pa Triangle as an official Wine District – Alpha Domus.

Alpha Domus

Still family-owned, and somewhat revitalised in the last couple of years – with smart new livery and labelling. They still serve up some classic Hawke’s Bay style wines – ‘The Navigator’ is a revered Cabernet-Merlot blend, and ‘The Cumulus’ a Blanc de Blanc Méthode Traditionelle. There’s a quirky personality to the Cellar Door that is set up each year from Labour Weekend through to Queen’s Birthday weekend, opening from 11am to 5pm. A sheltered courtyard and a wealth of shady trees encourages you to linger and relax long into the afternoon.

www.alphadomus.co.nz or Ph: 06 879 6752

Keep going! Only two more stops to go! The next one is a biggie – Sileni Estates has one of those Cellar Doors that looks like a Wine Cathedral. You will need to stop and get a photo in front of this place. But don’t dally, it’s a popular Tasting Room and the best spot is at the tasting bar, IMHO. They are at 2016 Maraekakaho Road, down a long, long driveway, and open 10am-5pm Weds to Sunday in Winter, and every day in Summer. You can create your own perfect food platter from a list of ingredients daily, and match it to the wines you prefer. I’d go for a ‘Cut Cane Merlot’, or the ‘Exceptional Vintage Pourriture Noble’. All their dessert wines are standouts though. It’s a welcoming, professional place and can easily cope with the crowds of visitors it attracts – a must-see.

Ph: 06 879 4830. www.sileni.co.nz

Sileni Tasting Room

Ok, last official stop coming up. Just one thought before we call in though – there are lots of places from this famous area that don’t offer a Cellar Door, or make their wines from here but have their premises elsewhere. For example, you’re not far from the ‘inland vineyards’ of Hawke’s Bay that are starting to find real favour amongst winemakers across the region. You’d have to make an appointment, and it’s a short drive out through the small village at Maraekakaho, but see if you can find time to contact Ian and Linda Quinn at the outstanding Two Terraces vineyard, or Rod and Emma at Easthope Family Winegrowers. Also off the map here are some famous named vineyards – the new Rays Road vineyard now producing wines for Kumeu River; the Keltern Vineyard or the Riverview Vineyard overlooking the river, that has made spectacular wines for Leveret and Morton Estates over the years.

So, last stop is Paritua at 2112 Maraekakaho Road, named after the stream that meanders through the property. They make a flagship red blend ‘21:12’ that is designed as an expression of Terroir and made only in the best years, with a varying blend that expresses the best of any given vintage. Look out for ‘Dinah’ a noble Semillon, or ‘Grace’ a barrel-fermented Sauvignon Blanc. Available for tastings by appointment – give the team a call on 06 874 9180

Gimblett Gravels and Bridge Pa map

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