The Gimblett Gravels is an appellation just on the outskirts of Hastings in Hawke’s Bay. It is believed to be the first region in the new world defined by a combination of geolocation and soil type. The Gimblett Gravels brand is protected by copyright and members can only label their wines Gimblett Gravels if at least 95% of the vineyard is within the 800ha of designated land.
The Gimblett Gravels is defined by its gravelly soils that were laid down by the Ngaruroro river over thousands of years. A huge flood in the 1860’s subsequently diverted the river’s course, exposing the river bed in Omahu. These exposed Omahu soils consist of fine sand, fine loamy sand - top soil and the famous greywacke stones. Early settlers in the area used the land to farm sheep, but it was considered some of the most worthless land in the whole region. It famously took 1ha of land to feed just one sheep!
It is fair to say with productivity like that, the Gimblett Gravels land wasn’t very high up on the regional councils planning policies. Businesses that occupied the gravels in the 1900s included thunder park (the local drag racing strip!) and industrial buildings. In the 1980s the Gimblett Gravels faced the biggest threat to date. A local concrete company purchased 150ha in 1988 with the intention of extracting the greywacke gravel to make roads. The small group of winegrowers in the area formed a resistance and eventually persuaded the council that the region would benefit from a premium wine growing region compared to a gravel pit - and thank goodness for that!
The importance of the Gimblett Gravels’ terroir can be very simply attributed to the free-draining deep gravel soils which are naturally low in fertility and rainfall (the vineyards wouldn’t be possible without slow drip irrigation technology!). The gravels acts as heat storage for the vines, reflecting the day’s sun into the canopy and ripening fruit, but also absorb the day’s heat to be released at night for warmer nights. The result is full bodied red wines that are rich, ripe and full of concentrated fruit flavours.
A fine way to taste the best reds of the Hawke's Bay is by sampling the prestigious Gimblett Gravels collection that Andrew Caillard selects annually to feature in his top twelve wines. Sadly only a select few across the globe are selected to taste this range, but The New Zealand Cellar founder - Mel Brown was lucky to be one of the select few international wine names who were sent a case to better understand the 2016 vintage. Here is what she has to say about the Gimblett Gravel annual selection...
“Since 2008 Andrew has selected these wines as his 'best in show' each vintage. I was hesitant about embarking on this tasting as Hawke's Bay and in particular the Gimblett Gravels have had such a phenomenal run of vintages (dig out your 2014's, NOW.) I didn't know how it could possibly continue. 2016 certainly didn't disappoint however with an array of wines that were a little more svelte in style (perhaps due to the slightly cooler and drier growing season than that of 2015) we understood and recognised the typicity of the oldest wine growing region of New Zealand impeccably.
Perhaps the only point is these wines were lacking a little depth and concentration compared to the previous outstanding vintages of the region. The 2016 Gimblett Gravels wines require ageing before release and if you have the ability to store them away somewhere safe, they'll be drinking at the very best between 6 - 10 years.
Hawke’s Bay is predominately known for Bordeaux style wines, but Syrah also flourishes in this neck of the woods. However the 2016 vintage dozen was dominated by big bolshy red blends. Typically fueled by a mixture of black fruits, generous spice and broadly textured the wines of Hawke's Bay are certainly making a wave - and we haven't even started talking about whites!”
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