Coastal New Zealand boasts a singular and enviable terroir: Locals credit the region’s bright and abundant wine production to the way cool Pacific breezes coming off the black sand beaches temper the blazing sun, which can sneak up on you even when it’s not that hot.
I managed to slip in and out of the esteemed Hawke’s Bay wine region, on the east coast of the northern island, just a few weeks before the first case of COVID-19 was announced there. And because the nation’s badass PM Jacinda Ardern worked fast to shut down the spread, New Zealand has become a success story—one of the first countries in the world to emerge mostly intact. While I was based in the adorable art deco town of Napier, safe and sound, I enjoyed a spectacularly indulgent week of farm-fresh salads and cheeses, fine seafood, and numerous wine tastings, courtesy of a pair of local vintners: Clearview Estate and Mission Estate.
Clearview is laidback and rustic—it felt like an endless picnic, partly because I parked myself at a picnic table for most of the afternoon and didn’t get up until I tasted what seemed like all the region’s bounty. When owner Tim Turvey wasn’t letting me taste his wines straight from the barrel, he was watching over each bite I took of the grilled kingfish and my every sip of his deliciously peachy 2018 Beachhead chardonnay.
At the more manicured Mission Estate—said to be the oldest winery in the country, having started in 1851—Chef Ricky Littleton and wine pourer extraordinaire Connor Hirst were rather ecstatic about the winery’s rosés. For me, the lighter the better when the sun is shining, so I was partial to the low-production 2019 Jewelstone Gimlett Gravels version, paired with Littleton’s signature pumpkin gnocchi. But I also loved the fuller flavor of the 2018 Old Vine sémillon.
Ardern just made news for advocating a four-day workweek to help promote domestic tourism. My kind of PM. Once again, she knows what she’s doing. That move should help keep these precious wineries afloat until the world comes rushing back. I suggest being part of the first wave.