Born and bred in Hawke’s Bay and immersed in the wine industry since her teenage years, Nic Olsen turned her heritage into her profession and is spreading the love for wines from the bay as the HB Wine Ambassador.
Grape grower and social media/influencer extraordinaire, Nic loves sharing unique insights into New Zealand’s oldest grape growing region.
Let’s find out a bit more about her and her passion for Hawke’s Bay wines and its makers…
Hi Nic, thanks a lot for your time. What do you do?
I work full-time at Pernod Ricard Winemakers as a grape grower based across two Chardonnay
blocks in the Tuki Valley and Havelock areas.
Alongside that I host industry superstars at Church Road Winery and help out there in the cellar door as much as I can. HB Wine Ambassador is both aligned with this, and also independent as it is a role I solely created myself, to eventually represent our region in the most passionate yet approachable way I know how. Hopefully continually learning along the way not only about the brands, people and the wine but about myself also.
What is your connection to Hawke’s Bay?
I have lived here all my life, raised by grape growers and worked for some high-profile wineries since my early teenage years.
What is so special about this region, its people and its wines?
Hawke’s Bay is so special because it is filled with shared knowledge and innovation, and I really love the way people are always on the go with new projects which in its own way unifies the industry here in Hawke’s Bay and across all of New Zealand wine.
Everyone here is a little crazy with passion, but I love that, as I seem to fit in very well for this reason. It’s a really hardworking, vibrant and driven community in which I love to indulge and be a part of!
Not to mention the wines here are world-class, as are the little pockets of soil they are grown on.
The sub regions allow for ever evolving, creative wines to constantly be produced here vintage after vintage.
When and why did you fall in love with wine?
At first like many it was just a love of drinking wine for no other reason but to enjoy it…
But then as I began to be more involved, I found myself understanding more and appreciating first-hand the work and intensive process it takes to get that wine to bottle.
I then refill in love with wine, but more so with the people I met, the stories, and the journey it takes you on. All wines are intended as an experience, whether its atmosphere, a memory or education. And that’s the romantic part for me.
If you were a wine, what would you be?
I actually relate myself a whole lot more to a grape-vine. There’s a noun in viticulture we use to describe the strength and vitality of the vine called vigour, or vigorous, meaning strength, stamina, eager, keen, intense and wild.
All similar words I would use to describe my energy and enthusiasm for the role I have created as HB Wine Ambassador.
What’s your go to wine at the moment?
Like most I’m a seasonal drinker, so in the warmer months it’s all Rose, Viognier, Riesling and
And in the cooler months it would be big reds such as an aged Syrah from the Bridge Pa Triangle or a soft yet rich Cabernet Sauvignon from the gravels.
Though Chardonnay is my absolute love so it’s my go to all year round.
Which wines are you saving for a special occasion?
Well, I’m actually a wine hoarder across all NZ wine! I have a growing collection of ‘noble rot’ wines, but my top three Hawke’s Bay gems I intend on saving for special occasions would have to be a 2009 and 2011 Alpha Domus Navigator, a couple of Craggy Range unlabelled reds from a Gimblett Gravels vintage 2013 blending session with winemaker Matt Stafford, destined for their prestige collection at the time. And of course a 2013 TOM Chardonnay, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot.
Wine and Dine, what’s your favourite match?
That would have to be spicy food and Gewurztraminer! It’s so damn good and a perfect example of how your food can intensify the characters of the wine.
Share a fact about yourself only a few know
I have a few OCD tendency’s which can lead to some very comical situations at home and also at work with my colleagues.
I have a huge issue with even numbers, I can’t see or even hear about them, for example volumes on radio stations, tvs or when counting I’ll do everything in sets of three or five. And I count everything! Even sips of a drink. It can be really annoying that’s for sure.
Hidden gems and favourite wine spots in Hawke’s Bay
One of my favourite hidden gems or maybe not so hidden any more would have to be Bareknuckle BBQ in semi-rural Hastings. Jimmy Macken’s Texas style slow cooked brisket, ribs or hot wings paired with a bucket of beer or your favourite local wines are literally a match made in heaven. Jimmy has created a very genuine atmosphere there, aided by his barn like design and his really cool but passionate wait staff…
My most frequently visited little hot spot would have to be Roosters Brewery in the industrial area of Hastings. I call in on the way home most Fridays! I love it there, owned by Chris a local barista legend, once again offering a tasty menu paired alongside local wines such as Element and Sacred Hill. And of course his very popular hand crafted ales.
Otherwise we are pretty much surrounded here by little hot spots or local gems, we are lucky
enough to have many wineries in very short distances from each other, whether you are looking for somewhere out on the beach front or inland towards the Bridge Pa triangle or Gimblett Gravels growing district.
Things you still want to do?
I of course would love to travel to all the obvious great wine regions of the world such as Bordeaux and the Napa Valley. But more realistically I would just like to get good at what I do and I want to continue on focusing on being the Hawke’s Bay Wine Ambassador.
I plan on building new relationships and maintaining existing ones through networking and events, I also plan on learning more and more about the wines, the people and our region that I love so much. It’s something that I really believe in and give a lot of myself to.
Advice on buying wine?
You know what, my only advice would be to just drink what you like, when you like, with whom you like – as long as you are in good company you can’t go wrong, Wine is an experience best shared with others. But if I can, I encourage anyone to try something new as often as they can.
Dead or alive, who would you like to share a glass of vino with?
Honestly it would be my Pop. We were tight when I was younger and then I grew into somewhat of a troubled teen after some bad life choices. Sadly, he passed, so he never knew me as I am now. I would love to sit with him and a glass of iconic Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay and tell him all about it! I think he would be pretty chuffed!
Thank you so much for your time Nic!