Joelle Thomson

Wine writer and award winning wine author

What I am drinking, reading and savouring each week


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? 


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?


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?


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.