There was a time in my life that I only drank Chardonnay. There was a time in my life that I drank anything but Chardonnay. And then I discovered white Burgundy, more specifically the wines of Puligny-Montrachet, home to the most expensive chardonnays produced on the planet. Which is a way of saying that it was a very expensive habit and one that I really can’t afford, even when I lived nearby. Part of the portfolio I used to manage included two of my favorite Chardonnays – Domaine Leflaive from Puligny-Montrachet and Kumeu River from New Zealand. I swear, when tasted blind, on some occasions I could not tell them apart.
One of the reasons I was excited to go to New Zealand was that one of my last visits would be at Kumeu River. Their Mate’s Vineyard Chardonnay had been one my favorite New Zealand Chardonnays. That is until I discovered two Chardonnays from Hawke’s Bay from the same vineyard, Skeetfield, that truly tasted like white Burgundy. Both Tony Bish and Rod Easthope produce stunning examples of Chardonnay off the same vineyard and, since they are both in the Mondiale Wines portfolio, I recently had the chance to taste them side by side. I highly recommend it.
When I arrived in New Zealand, the New Zealand Winemaker of the year awards were just about to be presented and Tony Bish was one of the six finalists. Tony was being recognized for both his work at Sacred Hill and his own Tony Bish Wines. Reading his background on the awards website made me very excited about meeting this skier turned winemaker turned legend. When I found out his winery was also a wine bar called Urban Winery, I was all the more intrigued and excited. Speaking with Tony and his wife Karryn a day or two after the awards ceremony, I was awash in their thrill of the awards ceremony, including Karen’s pictures with Sam Neill of Jurassic Park fame, owner of Two Paddocks and one of the funniest follows on Twitter.
Tony is still a shareholder and consultant at Sacred Hill but since 2013 he has been focusing exclusively on Chardonnay and is producing his wines at the Urban Winery in Napier. Having his own winery has allowed him to experiment with concrete and wooden eggs including a 2,000-liter Taransaud Ovum. The Ovum is the beautiful wooden egg that graces the cover of our website. We will import just a few cases of the Zen Chardonnay, the first Chardonnay in the world made exclusively in an Ovum. While the Fat & Sassy Chardonnay is machine harvested, the grapes for the rest of his wines are handpicked and whole bunch pressed at Sacred Hill. The juice is then brought back to the Urban Winery where all but the Fat & Sassy are fermented in concrete eggs.
I’ll let the winemakers share in future blogs about their winemaking techniques and why they like to ferment in concrete and/or wooden eggs, but for me, in reviewing my tasting notes from my visit with Tony, I was struck by how much structure and mouthfeel was present in each wine made using eggs. Repeatedly, my notes say, “tastes like white Burgundy”. And then, after tasting the Skeetfield Chardonnay, I wrote my highest compliment yet – “investment level wine”, meaning I think the wine has an ability to gain or retain value, to become a collectible wine, just like some of the greatest white Burgundies. For me, that’s the highest compliment I can pay a wine and the man that made it.