Mission Estate, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Mission Estate, Hawkes Bay, New Zealand
Mission Estate Winery overlooks the town of Napier on the east coast of New Zealand’s North Island.

It was founded and is still owned by Marist monks, from the Catholic order of St Marcellin Champagnat who first arrived in New Zealand from France in 1838.

They established a mission station near Napier in 1851 and planted vines to provide wine for sacramental purposes and for the table. They also sold table wine for funds to support their work.

After floods they moved to higher ground and levelled a promontory where in 1909 they moved their grand two storey wooden mansion. This involved sawing it into 11 sections and hauling it on rollers. This building houses the current winery tasting rooms and restaurant with the chapel used for weddings and functions.

With the decline in men entering religious orders the monks handed over management and winemaking duties and in 1991 they moved to Auckland.

Brother John, who studied winemaking in Bordeaux in the 1960’s, was the last of the brothers to be winemaker. He passed on his skills to Paul Mooney who has now been making Mission Estate wines for more than 30 years.

Visitors are given a warm welcome to Mission Estate and invited to taste a selection of wines without charge.

Mission wines are available in several ranges. Mission Estate is the entry level unwooded wines priced at $16.50 (all prices in NZD). The VS range are Vineyard Selection, some see barrel aging and are priced between $20 and $25. The black labelled Mission Reserve come in a $29. Jewelstone range are vineyard specific and aged in new French oak barrels, priced from $40-$50.

A special bottling of 2010 Syrah was named Huchet in honour of pioneering Brother Cyprian Huchet. All 911 bottles had sold out when I visited.

Still available was Fete, a one-off $20 sparkling wine produced from hand harvested Pinot Gris and Chardonnay from Mission’s historic Taradale vineyard. The wine was crafted to celebrate 160 years of Mission winemaking.

I tasted three wines, a Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Merlot blend and Jewelstone Antoine 2011 ($49), a blend of 51% Cabernet Sauvignon,28% Merlot,21% Cabernet Franc all from vineyards in the premium Gimblett Gravels appellation. All were good but didn’t have that extra ‘thing’ to excite me to purchase.

Lunch in the restaurant was on the terrace overlooking vineyards, sheltered from sea breezes that day by a clear plastic wall. Grape vines grew above.
Lamb nicoise were flavoursome tender slices of local lamb on a bed of artichoke hearts and new potatoes with green beans, garnished with miniature plum tomatoes and olives. I chose to accompany this with a glass of Malbec. The Malbec was pleasant lacked the distinct rich and silkyness I’ve found in Argentine versions.

Mission is definitely a place to visit. There are twice daily historic tours where one of the staff with tell you the history, point out features of the mansion building and explain photographs of key moments in Mission’s past.

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Peter F May is the author of Marilyn Merlot and the Naked Grape: Odd Wines from Around the World which features more than 100 wine labels and the stories behind them, and PINOTAGE: Behind the Legends of South Africa’s Own Wine which tells the story behind the Pinotage wine and grape.

Disclosure: Peter F May paid in full for all his travel, tastings, meals and wines.

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