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In the last decade of the twentieth century, the northern Rhone variety Syrah showed its potential in Hawke’s Bay. When made in a lighter, more refined style than the full-bodied Australian Shiraz, it rapidly developed a strong reputation both locally and internationally. Enterprises such as Stonecroft, Te Mata, Trinity Hill, Vidal and others have revealed Syrah’s qualities, and it seems highly likely to become a more important variety in the regions. Other red varieties such as Tempranillo (Trinity Hill), Gamay Noir (Te Mata), Zinfandel (Stonecroft) and several Italian varieties are also being grown successfully. These have shown the possibility of extending the range of varieties in Hawke’s Bay.
Among the white varieties, Hawke’s Bay has a larger area planted in Chardonnay than any other region, but only by a small margin over Gisborne and Marlborough, all three each growing a little over 1000 hectares. Rather surprisingly, Sauvignon Blanc, one mainstay of Bordeaux white-wine production, has only recently began to show signs that it will reach 1000 hectares in Hawke’s Bay. Sauvignon develops aromas and characteristics here quite different from those found in Marlborough wines. With the price of land at a premium in Marlborough, large companies such as Delegat’s, Nobilo (Constellation Brands) and Pernod Ricard NZ have planted extensive areas in both red and white varieties on the gravel terraces of the Ngaruroro River. The area in Pinot Gris has also increased rapidly until over 355 hectares had been planted by 2010. As recently as 2000, just 12 hectares were being grown.
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Such versatility has its drawbacks. It is difficult to give each of the wide range of red varieties suited to the varied sites in Hawke’s Bay the attention it deserves. Hawke’s Bay producers have yet to demonstrate their ability to make Pinot Noir of distinction as consistently as the more southern wine regions of New Zealand. Large companies, notably Montana (Pernod Ricard), have instead used Hawke’s Bay as a source of Pinot Noir for sparkling wines using different clones grown at higher yields. It is difficult to name many outstanding still Pinot Noirs being produced from grapes grown in Hawke’s Bay, although wineries in parts of Central Hawke’s Bay look like changing that.
Asked why he thought Hawke’s Bay had not yet produced many Pinot Noirs of distinction, a very successful Marlborough producer of Pinot Noir suggested, ‘Perhaps they haven’t tried hard enough.’ He was implying that Hawke’s Bay wine companies had a surfeit of choice. Pinot may have not received the attention it deserves because other varieties have taken higher priority. The more conventional answer is that Hawke’s Bay is too hot, or that the diurnal range of temperature is insufficient to produce the delicate flavours characteristic of the variety. As is increasingly becoming apparent, however, Hawke’s Bay has many lightly explored sites further inland, and especially south of the Heretaunga Plains, with the natural environments to produce fine Pinot Noir.