Regional Update Hawke’s Bay – Ben Tombs

This story was part of the Regional Update for the December 2023 / January 2024 edition of New Zealand Winegrower.

Ben Tombs is stepping up to Chief Winemaker at Craggy Range, with Julian Grounds heading back across the Tasman to make wine on the Mornington Peninsula. The New Zealand Young Winemaker of the Year 2020 gives us a taste of the trials, tribulations and triumphs in Te Matau-a-Māui in 2023. 

The Good – On the back of a very challenging vintage, there was some great recognition for the region. The inaugural Chardonnay Symposium held in Hawke’s Bay in October was a great success – a spotlight on the evolution of style and emphasis on individuality the variety can harness. How good is Gimblett Gravels Chardonnay?! The Inclusion of Hawke’s Bay as a Great Wine Capital of the World this year has also provided some great exposure and really highlighted the strength of wine
tourism within the region.

“It’s amazing to be part of such a resilient community.”
Ben Tombs


The Bad – Dealing with increasingly intense seasonal volatility, highlighted by Cyclone Gabrielle hitting right at the break of harvest. The extreme season meant immense workloads in both vineyard and winery. Reducing yields, and strict selection at picking and sorting was paramount. The shift into an El Niño cycle is welcome, but presents a fresh set of challenges, with potential drought conditions this summer.
The deviation of seasons is nothing new, but the intensity of these swings provides the challenge.

& The Awesome – It’s amazing to be part of such a resilient community – the collaboration between wineries after the flooding to check in, pitch in and keep the wheels moving, along with the support from the wider New Zealand wine industry, has been incredible. There’s also a lot to get excited about at Craggy Range as we gear up to celebrate our upcoming 25th vintage. Receiving The Real Review 2023 Winery of the Year was a fantastic highlight for the team.

Photo Craggy Range Winery


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