Napier vineyards: The Art Deco enclave

As one of the most attractive towns in New Zealand, Napier is often the preferred base for visitors to the renowned Hawke’s Bay wine region – although as many people arrive to witness the beautifully preserved 1930s architecture as they do to sample premium vintages from Napier vineyards

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Few places anywhere can claim such a broad representation of Stripped Classical, Spanish Mission and Art Deco styles of architecture within a single space, but how did this small town in the country’s North Island come to earn a title as the world’s Art Deco Capital? A natural disaster is responsible: On the morning of February 3 1931 a massive earthquake – measuring 7.9 in the Richter scale – shook Hawke’s Bay to kits foundations for more than three minutes, reducing town to rubble and taking the lives of almost 260 people.

Here are now around 72 wineries in the region, although most are small, family-owned boutique estates specialising in the production of premium, hand crafted wines. These include some respected red Bordeaux-style blends that tend to use more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon to create wines with elegant, deep plum flavours – while Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Syrah are also among the region’s signature varieties.

Devastated by the earthquake and the fires that followed, rebuilding Napier started almost immediately and took only two years to complete with the outcome reflecting the architectural leanings of the times – buildings adorned with sunbursts, chevrons, zig-zags and tiered curves that were prevalent in Art Deco designs. Local architect Louis Hay was a huge admirer of the godfather of Art Deco, Frank Lloyd Wright, and used many of his architectural flourishes in reconstructing Napier – while adding Maori motifs to give the town a unique New Zealand character. Today Napier is a UNESCO World Heritage site, with the buildings painted in pastel hues that would not look out of place in Miami, and wandering the quaint streets and seaside promenade is a pure pleasure.

Visiting the town is like stepping back in time, especially when the town’s vintage revival is celebrated every year during the vibrant Art Deco Weekend Summer Festival. Each February, around 40,000 nostalgia lovers descend on the town to bring the 1930s back to life with classic car parades, jazz performances, street parties and Gatsby-themed picnics.

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As well as remodelling the city in period architecture, the 1931 earthquake also had the unexpected benefit of raising the coast by up to 7ft, emptying a 7,000 acre lagoon and creating new fertile land. Consequently, Hawkes Bay has come to be known as the fruit bowl of New Zealand – with Napier vineyards accompanied by lines of orchards producing fresh local produce that came to be wedded as blissful food and wine pairings. While the town claims its own unique history, Napier vineyards are also weighed with heritage – the area is regarded as the birthplace of New Zealand wine with the first vines were planted by Marist missionaries in 1851 and home to the country’s oldest wineries.

There are now around 72 wineries in the region, although most are small, family-owned boutique estates specialising in the production of premium, hand crafted wines. These include some respected red Bordeaux-style blends that tend to use more Merlot than Cabernet Sauvignon to create wines with elegant, deep plum flavours – while Chardonnay, Pinot Gris and Syrah are also among the region’s signature varieties. When not exploring Napier vineyards amid the sun-stained hills, the town also offers incredible views of the Pacific Ocean, with the Marine Parade a sublime spot to watch the sun fall beneath the waves. And, located among colourful gardens just yards from the shoreline is the statue of Pania of the Reef (a Maori mythical figure), which is one of the most photographed tourist attractions in New Zealand – while nature enthusiasts can witness the world’s largest gannet colony at Cape Kidnappers. 

If you are interested in visiting the finest vineyards Napier has access to, contact Wine Paths’ local expert for more information and inspirational ideas before planning and exclusive bespoke trip to New Zealand.

 

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