Woman in wine, Celia Hay

Celia Hay is the founder of the New Zealand School of Food & Wine, which she courageously relocated to Auckland after the 2011 Christchurch earthquake. This unexpected shake put paid to both the building and the business she ran from it in the South Island’s biggest city, so she bravely put her three children and a bunch of banana boxes full of their personal possessions in the car and headed for the hills – the Bombay Hills. She has since forged a reputation as a food and wine educator extraordinaire (and I have been in her employ – there’s my disclaimer), running courses that enable school leavers to find a professional path forward and those in mid or later life to find a new lease of passion in their lives.

This is her story.

  • This is the sixth interview on this website based on the famous Proust questionnaire, which originated in 1886 – find out more here.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

A career? A family? For me, they are so intertwined. As a young woman, I wanted to take every advantage offered to women; a university education; a diverse professional career; financial independence as well as, but at the same time, becoming a mother.

I like to say that I have four children and September is always an auspicious month for me. My three children are born within four days of each other and my fourth child… perhaps the eldest of the bunch, is my business or multiple businesses. Oliver was two weeks old when Hay’s Restaurant opened in Christchurch in 1994.

I have been a serial small-business entrepreneur and learnt this from my parents and grandparents, who fell into food and wine.

A defining moment for me was when my parents, as the Mayor and Mayoress of Christchurch hosted Sir Denis and Lady Blundell, the Governor General of New Zealand at our home. For the occasion, there were caterers and Blue Nun Liebfraumilch from Germany and somehow I was designated to be the server. Sir Denis pointed out the correct way to pour the wines (over the right shoulder) and how to serve the meal and then clear the plates. My mother, who was teetotal, always insisted the wine was poured into her glass even though she never drank a sip. This got me started to find out more.

I have always been fascinated by French culture, haute cuisine, fine wines and the sensibility of taste.

Every day, I share my knowledge with others and this is very humbling and at the same time enormously exciting and satisfying.

I am proud to be a teacher.

What is your current state of mind?

I am a pragmatist and always looking with a focus on the best outcomes for the future.

Do you have a most treasured wine?

I am a wine lover who tastes broadly and am curious to experience new wines from diverse regions. I am a generalist in my tastes.

Where is your favourite wine region?

Marlborough.
The dynamism of this region, along with the entrepreneurial zeal that led to its establishment and diversity is exceptional. We are very fortunate to have this leadership and ambition for innovation for wine in New Zealand.

When and where are you at your happiest?

I take solace in nature.

Even now that I live in Auckland, while still owning our farm in Pigeon Bay, I cannot wait to get out in the fresh air. I have my own morning exercise route around the Hobson Bay Walkway. Every day is different; the tidal sands, the dramatic clouds looking out to Rangitoto and Waiheke, the fresh sea breezes, the tuis and native trees.  At 7am this is so invigorating.

What do you most dislike in wine?

Oxidation is a tragedy of so many good wines especially those served by the glass without sufficient care.

What is your greatest fear?

Nothing in particular.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Dining at Heston Blumenthal’s Fat Duck in 2019 or Eleven Madison Park in 2017. Outstanding hospitality experiences requiring deep pockets.

What is your greatest regret?

Nothing specific.

As an optimist, I never regret but look to the future…

What talent would you most like to have?

I am content with the talents I have and continue to work to build and enhance these.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

In our Canterbury world, we have had many challenges over the last two decades. Certainly the earthquakes, starting in September 2010, undermined the region’s confidence but the terror attack of 2019 happened when I was at the ASI Best Sommelier competition in Belgium. I was texted in the middle of the night and watched this unfold. It was terrible and profoundly emotional for me. Our collective and conscious grief.

What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself?

As an optimist and pragmatist, I don’t indulge in feeling sorry for myself.

What do you most value in your friends?

Fun, shared stories and evolving relationships over decades. Pretty special.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Great!

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what do you think it would be?

Hard to say…

Monday afternoon vino with Neal Ibbotson

The biggest extravagance and the best investment that Neal Ibbotson ever made was the engagement ring he bought for his wife, Judy, who shares in the life of Saint Clair Family Estate, one of New Zealand’s biggest and most successful wine producers.

He got into the wine industry aged 50 and doesn’t do regrets but, if he did, it would be not getting into winemaking earlier. His mother lived to be 104. She was the inspiration behind the eponymous sparkling wine, Dawn, one of New Zealand’s best bubblies, which is made the same way as champagne with its second fermentation in the bottle. But Saint Clair is better known for its Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noirs, sparkling wines and Rieslings, all of which come in a wide range of styles, prices and quality levels.

Meet Neal Ibbotson, the man behind the label, whose adult children now run the winery with him and Judy; the recipient of the best investment that Neal ever made.

  • This is the fifth interview on this website based on the famous Proust questionnaire, which originated in 1886 – find out more here.

What do you consider your greatest achievement? The great feeling of waking up after open heart surgery

What is your current state of mind?

It’s always positive. I’m very lucky to be doing what I am doing with the people I’m doing it with. Great people make great wine.

What is your favourite part of winemaking?

The challenges. The people we work with. Working as a team. The people we have met along the way and tasted wine with from all round the world. Asking the question HDWDIB . How do we do it better? And lifting the bar.

Do you have a most treasured wine?

It’s all about wine and food. The combination of Judy’s roast chicken and a bottle of Saint Clair Omaka Reserve Chardonnay

Where is your favourite wine region?

The village of Saint Emilion, in Bordeaux, for its history and heritage, dating back to the 13th century, its cobbled streets, amazing old buildings and underground wine cellars.

When and where are you at your happiest? 

On the deck at our bach at Kaiteriteri beach, overlooking the waters and beaches of Able Tasman, with family and friends enjoying a lunch time glass of rosé.

What do you most dislike in wine?

Cork closures, which have in the past destroyed many great wines.  To make quality wine with all that entails and to stuff it up with a bit of rotten bark, was a frustrating and demoralising experience. Thank god we have moved on with screwcaps.

What is your greatest fear? 

Spilling a glass of really good red wine over the hostess’s white dress.

What is your greatest extravagance?

The best investment I ever made. Borrowing money to buy my wife Judy’s engagement ring.

What is your greatest regret? 

If I did regrets it would be that I didn’t become involved in the wine industry until I turned 50 . Because I don’t do regrets, I’m just so fortunate that I became involved when I turned 50. It’s been an amazing ride.

What talent would you most like to have? 

It would be great if I had all the handy man skills. But then I would not have enough time to enjoy the wine business

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery? 

Negative people. How sad.

What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself?  

Not being able to play to the golf handicap I had 30 years ago 

What do you most value in your friends?

It’s the camaraderie, the ability to both listen and share thoughts and experiences. It’s great when the people you do business with around the world who are our distributors and importers then become friends.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

HDWDIB – how do we do it better? GWYTAT is another one – o while your tyres are tight.

What is your favourite meal?

So many. Judy is a great cook and has produced  two recipe books. One of these featuring famous dishes from our distributors from all round the world. Its enjoying her cooking and dining at the end of the day with a great meal and great bottle of wine.  

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing what do you think it would be?

A rock star. To be able to sing in tune, with a great voice and guitar to match.

Friday morning drinks with Tony Bish, king of Chardonnay

If Tony Bish has anything to do with his own reincarnation, he says he would like to come back as a game changer. Some might say he has already achieved this admirable trait by forging a name for himself as Hawke’s Bay’s king of Chardonnay and in building a family business in one of Napier’s most iconic and once neglected buildings, the National Tobacco Company at Ahuriri.

He loathes greenness in wine, loves humility in people and has a life time motto to live life to the full because, as he has learnt due to the death of a very close one, “Life is not a practise run.”

His most marked characteristic is stubbornness. Something many Taureans may relate to.

This is the fourth interview on this website based on the famous Proust questionnaire, which originated in 1886 – find out more here.

Wine of the week 

2019 Zen Chardonnay $149.99

This is the pinnacle of Tony Bish’s dry, full bodied whites made solely from the great Chardonnay grape and named for the way the winemaking process felt to him. This is a multi layered, creamy textured, full bodied dry Chardonnay with beautiful ripples of ripe citrus flavours balanced by waves of incredibly lingering acidity. Flavours of freshly crushed macadamias and other nutty notes add complexity. The grapes in this wine are grown on the Skeetfield Vineyard in Hawke’s Bay and were aged fermented in a Taransaud oak ovum, a large egg shaped fermentation vessel, made specially for Tony, which optimises lees contact during winemaking.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Raising four amazing children to delightful adults each with their own independent attributes that make them awesome people. 

In vinous terms, creating my own wine brand and vibrant business without outside help or investment. And building a 100% Bish family business that two of my children want to be an active part of.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

The right friends and family at the right time and place with the right wine and food match.

What is your current state of mind?

Relaxed and happy in the sense of my own wellbeing. Frustrated with Covid restrictions and the impact it is having on my business and people I love. Excited for the future. There’s so much to do that I enjoy.

What is your favorite winemaking task?

Blending. Creating unique and compelling wines from batches we have worked the previous year to create. There’s a sense of wonder and magic when it all comes together.

What is your most treasured wine?

My last bottle of 1982 Chateau Lafite.

What or who is the greatest love of your life?

My partner and my kids.

Where is your favourite wine region?

The one I’m drinking now. It’s a wide world of wine, with so many vinous delights. Whether it’s a Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay, Barolo or a wine from Mt Etna in Sicily or Priorat or Burgundy… wines that taste of their people and their place.

What is your most marked characteristic?

Stubbornmess. A Taurean through and through.

When and where were you the happiest?

Happiness is unlimited. Last night at sunset with my beautiful partner and a glass of Golden Egg Chardonnay.

What is it that you most dislike in wine? 

Greenness.

What is your greatest fear?

Running out of wine.

What is your greatest wine extravagance? 

When I was a very poor wine student in Sydney, I spent an entire week’s earnings on a bottle of Petrus. I needed to know what greatness was.

What is your greatest regret?

A dysfunctional relationship with my father.

Which talent would you most like to have?

A photographic wine memory.  Oz Clarke has this. He can remember the time, place, people and vintage of every wine he has tasted, apparently.

Where would you like to live?

I have just finished building a beach house on the Mahia peninsula. It is the most incredibly beautiful and ever changing place I have ever experienced. I feel totally blessed to have the opportunity to be living in such raw beauty.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Death of a close one.

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?

Selfishness.

What do you most value in your friends?

Honesty, humility and a sense of fun.

Who are your heroes in real life?

Sir Edmund Hilary, gifted teachers and parents who raise balanced children.

Which living person do you most admire?

Right now, Lisa Carrington.

What do you consider the most overrated virtue?

Temperance.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

Froth it. Ay!

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

To have a better memory.

What is your favourite meal?

One cooked with love and made with fresh ingredients.

If you were to die and come back as a person or thing, what do you think it would be?

A game changer hopefully.

What is your motto?

Live life to the full, it’s not a practise run.