Isaac has distracted me from this for a while, expect some more frequent posts to take us through New Zealand and then to some wines consumed during the storm...
We move from the Bay of Plenty to the southeast and the Bay of Poverty. Gisborne sits on this bay while Hawke's Bay, both a region and body of water, is located to the south. Gisborne is best known for chardonnay while Hawke's Bay focuses on red Bordeaux grapes and syrah.
Gisborne has more clouds and rain than Hawke's Bay and white grapes are the focus. More than half of the plantings are chardonnay. As an interesting aside, Gisborne, located close to the International Date Line, has the easternmost vines, which get to be the first on the earth to bask in each day's sunlight. The fruit, or juice, has been used as an addition to many region's local production but I am unfamiliar with wines carrying a Gisborne designation. Chardonnay is a very competitive category and New Zealand has been stuck on one grape name recognition (sauvignon blanc), preventing easy diversification in the U.S.
Hawke's Bay stands the best chance of changing the paradigm of public perception about New Zealand wines. Yes, they make some sauvignon blanc there but the style is much riper and more tropical, sometimes even barrel fermented. However, their calling card is red. Cabernet sauvignon has been planted here since the late 1800s along with its Bordeaux companions merlot and cabernet franc. Syrah has blazed a trail but remains a small portion of plantings. Chardonnay and merlot dominate the acreage totals.
What makes this area so different? Although a wide variety of soils and subsoils exist in the region, the main ingredient for success is gravel, more specifically, Gimblett Gravels. The stones retain heat from sun, and this region enjoys more sunshine than any other wine region in New Zealand, then radiates that heat out over night. This allows full maturation of the red grapes and explains why they thrive here and not elsewhere. Many have compared the look of the area to that of Chateauneuf-du-Pape with many vineyards absent any visible dirt. More Rhone varieties may be seen in the future.
Many wineries produce Hawke's Bay designated wines but are not located in the area. I find the style of reds here Bordeaux-like, meaning they are structured, not generally opulent but usually pleasantly ripe. I have found numerous lean examples and even some I would describe as under-ripe. I view the region as having huge potential but with lots of learning still needed.
I mentioned Mills Reef before and will do so again here, but with the warning that they produce a lot of different wines and have never blown me away. Villa Maria's reds fall under the same general description, but some of them have been the under-ripe, disappointing offerings I mentioned above. Overall, I recommend a sample when available to decide if the style is right for you. To my palate, there is little consistency but the wines may merit more focused attention in the near future.