Hawke’s Bay Wine Show pays tribute Corban and Chardonnay

I have often wondered what A A Corban would make of New Zealand wine today. The Lebanese immigrant arrived in 1892 to a county reeling in drunkenness and planted some of the first seeds of the now highly successful New Zealand wine industry in West Auckland but Corbans (sic) Wines is but a memory to most New Zealanders. So, for those of us who grew up with this once iconic and powerful wine brand, it was a welcome tribute to see one of AA’s descendents given a place in the Hawke’s Bay Wine Growers’ Hall of Fame. Alwyn Corban has a typically low key, laid back demeanour and if he had any inkling of his accolade, he kept well it hidden throughout the Hawke’s Bay A&P Wine Awards last Thursday night. It has always seemed a tragedy to me that Corbans Wines not only sold to Montana but that the brand itself has all but disappeared because the pioneering role that the Corban family undertook in the early days of New Zealand wine was enormously significant, so, sitting opposite Alwyn at the awards last week, was a privilege.

As it was to attend the annual wine awards dinner. I judged at the show last year and was invited as a journalist to attend the awards this time. I knew Alwyn’s uncle, Joe Corban, very well, having recorded much of his oral history for the Corban family, and Alwyn’s father, Alex, was one of Hawke’s Bay’s first professionally trained winemakers. There are many Corbans involved in wine, most notably Jeremy Corban and his partner, Katherine Jacobs, of Big Sky in Martinborough, and it seems fitting to honour this wine family.

Hawke’s Bay is the second biggest wine region in New Zealand and has remained so for a long time with its 5034 hectares of producing vineyard land, up from about 4600 in 2018. These numbers pale in significance compared to Marlborough but, strangely enough (or not) Sauvignon Blanc rules the vineyard roost in the Bay (1311 hectares), just as it does in Marlborough. Not that you see significant numbers of “Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc” floating around. The region is better known for its second most planted grape variety and its flagship one, Chardonnay, which has 1084 hectares in the Bay and was also the winning wine of the show.

Here are the full awards here.

Hawke’s Bay’s grapes and wines

90% of New Zealand’s Syrah, Cabernets and Merlot producing vineyard hectares are in Hawke’s Bay.

Champion Wine of Show
Villa Maria Reserve Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2019

Hawke’s Bay Wine Growers’ Hall of Fame
Alwyn Corban

New World Champion Commercial Red Wine
Church Road McDonald Series Syrah 2019

 Vintech Pacific Wine Technologies Champion Commercial White Wine
Clearview Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2019

Outstanding Wine of Provenance Award
Clearview Estate Reserve Chardonnay 2009, 2013, 2019

 NZ Frost Fans Champion Export Wine
Villa Maria Private Bin Hawkes Bay Rosé 2020

Wineworks Sparkling Wine
Church Road Blanc De Blanc 2016

Hawke’s Bay Wine Co Sauvignon/Semillon
Church Road Sauvignon Blanc 2019

Somerset Smith Partners Pinot Gris
Esk Valley Hawkes Bay Pinot Gris 2020

Connec+ Rose
Villa Maria Private Bin Hawkes Bay Rose 2020

Jenny Nilsson House of Travel HB Cellar Door of the Year
Elephant Hill

Bay Mazda Hawke’s Bay Premium White Varietals
Quarter Acre Viognier 2018

ATI Engineering Chardonnay
Villa Maria Reserve Hawkes Bay Chardonnay 2019 

Moore Markhams Red Blends, Merlot Dominant
Villa Maria Cellar Selection Hawkes Bay Merlot Cabernet Sauvignon 2019 

No.9 Red Blends Cabernet Sauvignon Dominant
Trinity Hill Gimblett Gravels The Gimblett 2018

Fluidex Transport Ltd Syrah
Craggy Range Gimblett Gravels Vineyard Hawkes Bay Syrah 2019 

Great Things Grow Here Other Premium Red Varietals and Blends
Beach House Cabernet Franc 2019

Hurford Parker Insurance Sweet Wine
Sileni Exceptional Vintage Pourriture Noble 2019

EIT Student Wine
Jordan Tilton-Mist

Hawkes Bay A&P Society & Craggy Range Young Vintners Scholarship
Jordyn Harper

Winetopia worked wonders for morale

How was Winetopia? A winemaker asked me last night at a friend’s house at the end of a long weekend which I spent hosting eight sessions of indepth wine sessions at the event. The sessions ranged from 20 minute blind tastings to masterclasses, stage talks and even a food matching session with Jamie, chef and owner of Olive Cafe in Cuba Street, Wellington

Talks included Why Dry Riesling Rocks (and I included a medium dry wine to show that ‘dry’ is a relative term when it comes to the balance of acidity with residual grape sugar in this great white wine). And it was no surprise to find that most people who attended the 20 minute Riesling talk left it happily armed with a newfound appreciation for a wine that is so often dismissed due to being completely misunderstood. I’m not about to predict a Riesling revival any time soon or any time at all, for that matter. More left over for those of us who do love it, but it was a real privilege to have the chance to put great Rieslings in front of wine lovers who were open minded to not only try great Rieslings but to hear why they are worth revisiting. Riesling is not all sweet and not about gloopy texture or over the top flavours; it is one of the most refreshing white wines on Earth, along with Verdicchio and Chenin Blanc, for me. Two other vastly under rated wines, but I digress. It was also a privilege to host a master class called the Power of Pinot, another titled Why you should drink Marlborough Pinot. Why not? So many great winemakers in Marlborough have headed for the hills to plant Pinot Noir on sloping sites where ripeness is both intensified and staggered, and the results are staggering. Just think of Astrolabe, Auntsfield, Dog Point Vineyards, Fromm, Giesen, Greywacke, Nautilus, Whitehaven, Zephyr… there are many more, too numerous to name in this mini round up of what turned out to be an outstanding, power packed two days of Winetopia in Wellington this year.

The event was originally scheduled for July and was cancelled due to Covid-19. It was then rescheduled for October, which had both organisers and presenters on tenterhooks, wondering if it would be allowed to go ahead, what with looming threats of more outbreaks.

Thank the great guru in the sky that it did.

Winetopia surprised, amazed and exhausted me, all in good measure, mostly due to the genuine interest of those who paid to attend. It’s always fun to be asked to talk about a subject I love, but so much more rewarding when those listening have profound questions and thoughts of their own to throw in the ring. So, here’s a toast to organiser Rob Elliott and his talented, hard working Winetopia team.

New old wines… Wines of this week

It’s always a great experience tasting wine with Mat Donaldson, one of New Zealand’s most talented winemakers and, as fellow wine writer Bob Campbell MW has described him, one of the most thoughtful. This comes across in all the wines he makes at the family owned Pegasus Bay Winery, but this week’s top drops are aged Pinot Noirs that have been re-released this year as part of an intentional cellar programme that the family began in 2006.

These wines show that New Zealand has many strong strings to its Pinot bow, even if the best known Pinots come from Central Otago. This pair are made from the Waipara Valley in the heart of North Canterbury. They are made with grapes grown on vines with an average age of 25 to 30 years, many of which remain ungrafted on their own roots. Winemaking is a risky business at the best of times but ungrafted vines? Surely that’s just asking for trouble? Aside from leaving vines open to the risk of phylloxera (an aphid that destroys grapevines by gnawing into their roots), it can also mean that grapevines have to struggle against other predators, which grafting could prevent. On the other hand, ungrafted vines are often highly prized because they can be seen as expressing their flavours without an intermediary of a different rootstock. I won’t delve any further down that rabbit hole this week. Suffice to say, this pair of 10 year old Pinots from North Canterbury are both drinking insanely well right now but clearly have more time up their sleeves too.

Thanks again to the Donaldson family for sending their great wines in for rating and review. The quality, style and deliciousness of the range are exceptional for their consistency.

Wines of the week

2010 Pegasus Bay Pinot Noir Aged Release $52
Dark, smooth and full bodied, this is North Canterbury Pinot Noir at its best. The 2010 vintage was warm, sunny and long, providing great quality grapes and wines with structure and complexity to last for the long haul, in the best possible way. A must try for lovers of great Pinot Noir.

2010 Pegasus Bay Prima Donna Pinot Noir $120
Pegasus Bay Winery started its aged release programme in 2006, setting aside a few cases of their key wines, Riesling and Pinot Noir, with the intention of releasing them 10 years later. This gives wine lovers an easy way to see what great old wines taste like when they have been cellared in ideal conditions such as the cool, dark, temperate stable cellars at Pegasus Bay. This wine is made from one of the warmest vintages in North Canterbury which had nearly four months of constant sunshine. It was an impressive wine at the time of its first release about eight years ago but now it’s all about complex earthy, mushroom and truffle flavours. Deliciously good. 

Prices are approximate RRP and may vary. 

Find out more and buy the wines here.