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Details for Te Awa, Left Field, Malbec

CountryNew Zealand
AppellationHawke's Bay
Te Awa Winery
(click to find out more)

Hawke's Bay

First planted by missionaries in the mid-19th century, Hawke’s Bay is New Zealand’s oldest wine region, and its second largest.  While the rest of the country is planted with white varieties and Pinot Noir, Hawke’s Bay is dominated by Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah.  Relatively warm-climate Chardonnay is the most successful white.
It’s all down to geography.  South Island is too cool for red wine, while much of North Island, including the subtropical far north, is too wet. Hawke’s Bay lies on the east coast of the southern half of North Island.  It has about 350km of coastline but most of the vineyards cluster around the cities of Napier and Hastings at the south end of the bay.  There they benefit from the rain shadow of the Ruahine and Kaweka ranges, making this maritime region one of the very few in New Zealand that is both dry and warm.
Five major river valleys empty into the bay from the mountains, giving the vineyards a great variety of soil types and elevations.  These include deep gravel beds similar to those in the Médoc, where Cabernet Sauvignon and other Bordeaux varieties thrive.  River-gravel vineyards are also found in the Rhône, home of Syrah, and this is the only part of New Zealand suited to that relatively hot climate variety: 85% of the country’s Syrah comes from Hawke’s Bay.

Te Awa Winery

Founded by Gus and Mel Lawson in 1992, Te Awa is one of the oldest wineries in the sought-after Gimblett Gravels sub-region of Hawke’s Bay.  The Gravels are uniquely well-suited to reds so initial production focused on red Bordeaux varieties, with a little Chardonnay.
Te Awa was bought in 2002 by American hedge-fund manager and wine lover Julian Robertson, who expanded the range.  In 2007 Te Awa started a joint project with another Robertson-owned winery, Dry River (Martinborough), to produce premium wines under the Kidnapper Cliffs label.  In 2009 winemaker Ant Mackenzie joined to oversee the project, and remains at Te Awa to this day.
In 2012 Robertson sold Te Awa to NZ wine giant Villa Maria, who owned adjacent land in the Gimblett Gravels.  Ant and long-standing viticulturalist John van der Linden stayed on, being joined by Villa Maria winemaker Richard Painter.  The winery is being enlarged to become the centre of Villa Maria’s Hawke’s Bay operations.
Te Awa produce three ranges of wines: the very high-end and built to age Kidnapper Cliffs, Te Awa Single Estate for classic Gimblett styles, and the more experimental and fruit-driven Left Field, which includes some wines made with fruit from outside the estate.

about this wine About this wine

I’m sure you’re all familiar with Malbec: that macho red from sunny Argentina that goes so well with steaks and barbecues. You’re even more familiar with New Zealand wine: zingy Sauv Blanc and other cool-climate whites, with the occasional cool-climate Pinot Noir. But a Malbec from New Zealand - how is that even possible?
The answer lies in some unique geography. This wine is from Hawke's Bay, the warmest and sunniest of New Zealand’s wine regions and the only one that specialises in reds. It’s also, crucially, one of the driest; there are warmer parts of New Zealand further north but they’re too wet. Merlot and Cabernet Franc thrive here, and Cabernet Sauvignon does well in warmer vintages (much like back home in Bordeaux).
But warmer-climate grapes like Syrah and Malbec struggle. The problem is not so much the overall heat; it’s the way the cooling sea breezes usually prevent daytime summer temperatures from exceeding 25°C. This is fine for achieving sugar ripeness but not quite enough for phenolic ripeness so the tannins remain hard and green.
Geography rides to our rescue again, though on a smaller scale. Five major rivers drain into Hawke’s Bay from the mountain ranges to the west whose rain shadow is so vital for viticulture here. In 1867 the Ngaruroro River experienced a mighty flood which changed its course, leaving behind its old gravel-filled river valley - the Gimblett Gravels.
These free-draining soils were so dry and infertile that the land was useless for agriculture and could only support a handful of grazing sheep. But to make vines focus on ripening grapes instead of growing new foliage you need infertile soils and a water shortage. The Gravels are too dry even for vines, so it wasn’t until the Eighties that the first, irrigated vineyards were planted, and in the Nineties the land grab took off in earnest.
The Gravels have another benefit: the vines on the flat valley floor are shielded from sea breezes by the steep valley sides, and the arid stony soil heats up quickly and then re-radiates heat onto the vines, just like the famous galets in Châteauneuf-du-Pape - another old river-gravel vineyard. Daytime summer temperatures here are 2-3°C hotter than in the rest of Hawke’s Bay, which makes all the difference if you want to ripen Syrah or Malbec.
This is the first varietal Malbec from New Zealand that I’ve ever seen. It comes from two parcels on the Gimblett Gravels (of course) and is produced by pioneer boutique winery Ta Awa, established here in 1992.

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