During the planning phase of my first trip to New Zealand, Martin Cahnbley (Planet Wine) and I were discussing which wine regions I should visit. I said that I really wanted to go to Central Otago, Marlborough, and Martinborough. Martin insisted I add Hawke’s Bay to that list. He said there were some very small, very innovative winemakers there that I needed to visit. I was not happy with his suggestion.
New Zealand is an immensely beautiful country, but it’s also difficult to get around for someone like me who does not like driving on the other side of the road. And this was a road trip – five flights within New Zealand and driving myself from winery to winery. Including one harrowing drive from Wellington to Martinborough over a mountain in the rain while gripping the steering wheel so hard my hands ached. Visiting Hawke’s Bay would mean arriving on a Friday night and visiting wineries on a Saturday and Sunday. This was also in late January when most Kiwi’s are enjoying their last days of Summer holidays before school begins. I didn’t think it would work.
I didn’t want to go for other reasons too. In all my wine studies and tasting experiences, somehow, I got Hawke’s Bay and over-ripe Merlot burned into my brain. Just like we all have Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc seared into our palate memory, I had Hawke’s Bay and Merlot forever intertwined. I was insistent on not going. Martin was very insistent on my going. That’s when I said, “I am NOT going to f***ing Hawke’s Bay!” Martin laughed at me and my ignorance, told me to relax and he would set me up for visits with two people I just HAD to meet before I left New Zealand.
Martin set me up for an appointment on Saturday afternoon with Tony Bish, former winemaker at Sacred Hill winery, who now owned his own winery and wine bar, Urban Winery in Ahuriri in Napier. Tony is still a consultant and shareholder at Sacred Hill but left to focus on his true passion, Chardonnay. Tony told me that the idea for starting out on his own came while on a trip with Rod Easthope to South America to watch the All Blacks play. Rod had been the winemaker for Craggy Range and had come to a similar decision while on the same trip. During that trip, both had visited wineries using concrete eggs and both now use them in production. Martin had set me up for a Sunday morning visit to Easthope Family Winegrowers. If they were up for a Sunday morning visit, well then, I could do it too. A visit to Hawke’s Bay offered appointments with two well respected and internationally renowned winemakers who struck out on their own and used innovative winemaking technics. How could I resist?
I’ll write separate Blog posts about my visits with Tony and Rod in coming posts. I wanted to make this post about opportunities that come along that completely change your plans – and for the better. I had started out my trip to New Zealand not really being able to define Mondiale Wines and Martin had kept telling me I needed a vision and had to define it. Not until my last two visits of the entire trip, with these two amazing winemakers, having met their families and learned more about them did I find my vision. My perception about wines from Hawke’s Bay had completely changed and maybe I could help others discover that there are truly unique wines coming from visionary winemakers in a place that deserves discovery. As I sat outside with Rod to eat lunch just before catching my flight back to Auckland, I said “you know, I didn’t want to come here. Martin made me. I am so glad he did.”