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.

Monday morning wine with Ed Donaldson

Getting to know the people behind the wines and learning about their journeys can be as interesting as New Zealand’s best wines taste, which was the inspiration for this interview. It’s the third in a new series on this website, delving into the people behind the scenes.
The following is a refreshing take on wine from the multi talented Ed Donaldson, whose taste in music and food is as legendary as his palate.
Ed is the marketing manager and third eldest of four sons of the Donaldson family, which own Pegasus Bay winery in North Canterbury. Ed is also a trained chef with a degree in cooking from Christchurch Polytechnic, which saw him employed as both chef and marketing manager in the early days of the family winery. He still loves cooking to unwind, finding the ritual of it to be relaxing but these days his job is marketing and sales manager for the winery.
This tends to involve travel, which has been curtailed due to Covid restrictions, so what better time to talk about his life in wine?
First up, a wine for the first half of the week in high alert level lockdown in New Zealand and a significant portion of the world.

The interview follows below, so feel free to skip down for a great read.

2020 Pegasus Bay Bel Canto Riesling RRP $39.99

I’ve always thought of Pegasus Bay’s dry Riesling as a concentrated version of orange zest on speed, thanks to its incredible depth of flavour and impressively lingering finish, which lures you in for another sip or three. It’s a little drier than in recent years in this new 2020 edition, which has about 4 grams of residual sugar compared to about one gram higher, but numbers aside, it’s the wine which impresses. Consistently a stellar Riesling with such purity, complexity, delicacy and power. It’s a wine for the long haul but like all Bel Cantos, it’s a stunner now.
Best enjoyed in a large glass, lightly chilled, with great music and people. 

The 2020 Pegasus Bay Bel Canto Riesling will be released in the next month.

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Special connections, which has resulted in meaningful relationships with a wide range of people, family included. These friendships are one of the most important things in life for me. I also feel a sense of accomplishment for how our brand has evolved into over the years. I’m proud to be part of it.

What is your current state of mind?

Quite changeable at the moment but mostly fairly upbeat and appreciative for what I have.

What is your favourite part of being a winemaker?

Not being a winemaker, it’s tough to answer. My least favourite part is the cleaning. I find it fascinating to work on blends and really enjoy the process.

Do you have a most treasured wine?

I’ve built up a pretty decent cellar over the years but I’m not attached to any particular bottle. I have a set of the three Guigal La La’s from 2010 which I do find my mind wandering to.

Where is your favourite wine region?

Probably Piedmont but Burgundy and the Mosel are close contenders, as is Tuscany. Did I mention the Rhone?

When and where are you at your happiest?

Often when lost in music, either having a boogie to quality tunes with friends or discovering new music in my own company.

On the flip side nature brings me a lot of joy. I love being outdoors with good company, fishing rod optional, cold beer essential.

What do you most dislike in wine?

Fads. I find it strange when people buy into a certain trend in wine because they think it’s cool or fashionable while at the same time largely overlooking the wine itself.

Then again, what anyone else enjoys drinking is cool by me, so what do I care? Like so many things, it’s totally personal.

What is your greatest fear?

Failure. This holds me back from giving it a go sometimes. I’m working to get over this.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Hmmm, there are a few, self confessed lush ‘n all. Probably eating out. In my profession it’s important to do this for many reasons but it still feels extravagant, at times. Especially when I think about how many people struggle to put a basic meal on the table.

What is your greatest regret?

Starting smoking cigarettes as a teenager and not buying more 2016 Barolos.

What talent would you most like to have?

To be more mechanically minded.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

I thankfully don’t find myself miserable too often,  but when  I think too much about the state of the world and what the future might mean for my children I find my mind going to a dark place that’s probably not very useful or constructive. So then I think of my wine cellar.

What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself?

Second guessing myself at times, which is probably closely linked to the earlier question about my greatest fear.

What do you most value in your friends?

Open mindedness and depth of character. I am drawn to people who see the world through a wide lens.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

We got it in before the rain.

What is your favourite meal?

So many but if I had to choose one it’d be yum cha.

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

Definitely one of my cats. They roam as far and wide as they feel like, sleep/chill whenever they want, get feed on cue, endless rubs. Nothing to stress about.

Friday morning wine with Duncan Forsyth

Lifelong friends, a bloody Mary and a slushy machine all rate highly for Duncan Forsyth, of Mount Edward Winery in Central Otago. He was the first in New Zealand to sell high quality Pinot Noir on tap to restaurants. He rates southern Spain as his favourite wine region, among a couple of other regions, and finds working from home to be a bit of a distraction but life and work go on, as he shares this Friday morning in this website’s new wine take on the famous Proust questionnaire, which originated in 1886 and of which you can find out more  here.

Duncan makes one of Central Otago’s best Chardonnays, in my view. It is made in a classic style from organically certified vineyards with wild yeast fermentation, full malolactic, lees aging and no filtration. A typically quality driven approach from a producer who makes finished wines he actually wants to drink. Now that’s refreshing.

Wine of the morning

2019 Mount Edward Chardonnay RRP $29.99

Fabulously classic old school Chardonnay from a new world wine region. Mount Edward Chardonnay is certified organic, full bodied, dry, creamy and tastes like ripe grapefruit with a lemon zest-curd like acidity, adding edginess and depth of flavour that lingers in the memory. It was fermented with native yeasts in old oak and left on decomposing yeast cells for 10 months followed by full malolactic fermentation and bottling with no filtration.

The interview… 

What do you consider your greatest achievement?

Having lifelong friends, children who are decent human beings and, most importantly, refraining from being a dickhead enough that my wife is still with me.

What is your current state of mind?

Different from when I first read this question. No doubt, it constantly changes, generally super positive which is what I try and maintain. I mean, it has to be, doesn’t it?

If you aren’t trying to be happy and making others happy, then what is the point?

What is your favourite part of winemaking?

Harvest for sure. I can briefly abdicate from nearly all my other responsibilities for a short time and enjoy everything from driving the forklift, cooking lunch fixing challenges, mechanical and intellectual, getting all wines on ferments, using experimental grapes; during harvest, it’s the only focus. It’s like a busy holiday with a happy sort of pressure for me.

Do you have a most treasured wine?

Not really, although I did once have sex in the La Tache vineyard, so if ever I have one of those wines it brings back quite happy memories.

Where is your favourite wine region?

On the basis of the previous question, I should say Burgundy but I guess the Jura as it has better cheese, jamon and pastries. I like the simple pleasures of that region as well as the people I was lucky enough to meet, especially being a non French speaker.

If not there, then Jerez. Its Moorish architecture is out of this world and the tapas and the Spanish are way cooler.

When and where are you at your happiest?

Likely with my wife and it could be anywhere, although at a festival dancing wouldn’t hurt.

What do you most dislike in wine?

Wineries being lauded when they have no real intent from an environmental or social perspective

I pay attention to very few ‘experts’ for this very reason. It’s more than just about the wine or brand but most are too afraid to have an opinion on something objective or are too middle of the road. When was the last time you heard an expert say “You know, these wines are pretty good but the way they look after their land is poor, so it’s a no from me.”

Irrelevant reference is that I loved being part of bringing wine on tap to this country, if only for the fact that it came in a tumbler… “Err, but the glass matters?” said some, who missed the point. These were the very same commentators I refer to above.

What is your greatest fear?

Not enough time for the next project.

What is your greatest extravagance?

Spending money on frivolous things. I did just buy an old golf cart to turn into an art car for LUMA, an arts festival I help run. The money should probably have been spent in a better fashion and we do own part of a slushy machine, which is equally useless but in the scheme of things, it does bring a smile to our friends’ faces. So maybe it’s money well spent afterall.

What is your greatest regret?

See first question. Any time I’ve been a dickhead in the past.

What talent would you most like to have?

To be more mechanically practical enough to fix said golf cart, without having to ask my friends for their help with a project that I started but they now have to help finish.

What do you regard as the lowest depth of misery?

Given my frame of reference, which doesn’t really include all of the real world suffering out there, my answer is a first world response of seeing people who are racked with self doubt, anxiety, depression or poor mental health of any description, which incapacitates their lives in any way.

What is the trait that you most deplore in yourself?

That I honestly have no problem spending an afternoon on the couch. Laziness.

What do you most value in your friends?

Silliness and seeing the absurd in so much, both real and imaginary.

Which words or phrases do you most overuse?

And another thing.

What is your favourite meal?

Choose one? All things considered, a bloody Mary comes closest.

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

Well, selfishly, a killer whale would be pretty cool but if karma has anything to do with it, most likely a goat.