Southern Hawke's Bay wines up and running
Many years ago, before Montana committed to Marlborough in a big way, it considered breaking new ground in Central Hawke's Bay.
Some of the dirt, or, more specifically, the gravel on which it wanted to plant, was out the back of Waipawa, almost an hour's drive south of what was generally accepted as the Hawke's Bay wine region.
Montana pulled the pin on the project, or was forced to do so, when local farmers objected on the grounds that the presence of vineyards would limit the pesticides they were able to use on their farms.
Ironically, the one who yelled loudest later sold some of the land he owned and it is on part of this that a pinot noir chosen by British wine writer Jancis Robinson in her Top 100 reds of 2012 is now grown.
Robinson is, of course, no ordinary critic, but among the most respected in the world. So when she selects Lime Rock 2009 Hawke's Bay Pinot Noir from among the 10,000 or so wines that she tastes every year and includes it in this list of wines she calls "thoroughly distinctive and superior", it is time to sit up and take notice.
Likewise, when she describes Waipawa as an exciting new New Zealand region with pinot-friendly limestone and the wine as having "a very flattering nose, medium weight and truly Burgundian subtlety".
In fact, it was the limestone, coupled with the soils that cover it, which first attracted the attention of Rosie Butler and her husband, Roger Tynan, when Rosie's brother suggested some land he had bought next door to the family farm might be suitable for growing grapes.
Rosie, one of the country's first qualified female winemakers and her Australian husband, Roger Tynan, an ecologist, thought so too.
They sold up in Australia, where Rosie had been working for Petaluma in the Adelaide Hills and in 2000 began the task of planting a steep north-facing slope (White Knuckle vineyard) and the rolling land below as well as The Secret vineyard, which is just that.
All that then remained was for Roger to apply his expertise to viticulture (he is now the "vit-ecologist") and for Rosie to exercise the skills she first learnt working for Montana.
Since then, their progress has been remarkable - the best demonstration yet that the late Sir Richard Harrison, a former Central Hawke's Bay MP and Speaker of the House, was right when he set out to prove that this more elevated, slightly cooler patch of the Bay (he was even further south) was wine country too.
And it should come as no surprise that the variety he promoted most was pinot noir, though other varieties are now thriving, too.
Lime Rock's triple selection in Metro magazine's recent top 100 included a merlot, for instance, as well as its 2007 and 2009 pinots. It has also received a number of accolades for sauvignon blanc, its pinot gris and pinot rose.
And the Central Hawke's Bay wine story doesn't end here.
There are now three wineries in the area - Pukeora Estate near Waipukurau, run by a former IT man and his partner, a former London lawyer; The Junction, founded by ex-All Black prop John Ashworth and his family on the Takapau Plains further south; and Tukipo River, also on the plains, a more recent project involving a former London wine merchant, his Kiwi wife and her family.
Mangaorapa Estate is nearer the coast in Southern Hawke's Bay. It produces some wines under its own label but sells much of its fruit to Trinity Hill.
To get the taste of Central Hawke's Bay try:
Lime Rock 2009 Pinot Noir, about $35
A lovely berried, cherried, plummy wine that is all that Jancis Robinson says it is. The added bonus is that it's ready for drinking now.
Junction Body and Soul Pinot Noir, about $39
The more expensive of two pinots produced by the Ashworths - both of them rich and vibrantly fruity with good acidity. Twist the cap now.
Pukeora Estate 2011 Ruahine Ranges Pinot Gris, $20
A mouthfilling, stonefruited wine with a hint of spice and a scrape of honey. Dry and fresh.
The Southland Times