I had the good fortune of tasting with Alwyn Corban the owner of Ngatawara Winery as part of my two days in the Hawke’s Bay region of New Zealand. He was a great resource for the history of the region, as well as offering some insight into where he thinks the future lies.
Alwyn is a graduate of the UC Davis wine program in 1976. He’s one of the most experienced members of the Hawke’s Bay wine community and he shared several stories of the region’s evolution. Corban’s family has been making wine in Hawke’s Bay for 110 years. He remembers an important turning point.
“When the better planning of site and soils led to a more well informed decision of which varietals to plan, we started to make significant progress..”
In the 1960’s and early 1970’s Chardonnay was king in Hawke’s Bay. In the late 70’s and 80’s Merlot became the top varietal, but the older Merlot vines were more susceptible to virus. In the early to mid 90’s, many in the region recognized the potential for growing distinctive Syrah in the region, according to Corban.
Alwyn identifies these three varietals as the region’s top grapes, along with the ability to grow premium cabernet in some very specific sites. Syrah may hold the greatest future in Hawke’s Bay, but currently only represents 4% of total plantings. Many wineries are investing in new planting of Syrah and in some cases are taking out vines producing other varietals in favor of Syrah.
Corban credits Alan Limmer for pioneering the idea of Syrah as the region’s top varietal. Limmer was instrumental in saving the Gimblett Gravels sub region of Hawke’s Bay when it was almost sold to the Fraser Shingle Company. The great old vines of the region came close to being ripped out in favor of a quarry.
Here’s a look at a few wines I tasted with Alwyn Corban:
2014 Glazebrook Chardonnay
Fresh stone fruits with distinctive minerality interwoven and a hint of topical fruits ion the finish. 30% aged in barriques and 70% on larger format French barrels
2015 Glazebrook Rose’ (92% Merlot and 8% Pinot Noir)
Vibrant magenta color with fresh violets and raspberry on the nose. The strawberry and raspberry on the palate is bright with enticing acidity dancing on the tongue.
2014 Proprietors Reserve Syrah
Blackberry and green herbal notes with fresh red / black fruits eucolyptis and savory spices on the finish. Great now and highly ageable.
I would like to thank Alwyn Corban for spending time with me during my visit. It was a great learning experience for me.