If you’re a Hawke’s Bay local, or you know your wine, then the name ‘Tony Bish’ will probably sound familiar. After all, his name is synonymous with Chardonnay being New Zealand’s only Chardonnay exclusive producer. After a successful career in Australia and New Zealand creating a longstanding history in the wine industry, Tony opened his entirely family-owned winery in 2017 - ‘The Urban Winery.'
We sat down with Tony to chat all things wine.
What first drew you to winemaking?
I was looking for a seasonal job to pay for my skiing over winter in the South Island, and that’s the honest truth. I did that for several years, commuting from the North Island to the South Island for fun, and fell in love with wine as a consequence of vintage work, and the wine making process – so much so that I went away to university in Australia.
You are known as the connoisseur of Chardonnay, where did your passion for chardonnay come from, and when did it start?
I’ve always loved drinking Chardonnay, it’s got complexity, and it has, probably as a white grape, the most opportunity for artistic input. It’s a variety that responds to really well to a lot of different treatments as a grape, so you have a lot of choice as to how you want to make your Chardonnay. Other white wines don’t offer so many options and complexity in terms of wine making. So, it’s a grape you can express yourself well with as wine maker; it’s a chameleon. That’s why wine makers like Chardonnay – they like making it, and they like drinking it.
What is your wine making philosophy, that is, what are you trying to achieve with your wines?
I like to let the vineyard speak through the wines – that’s really important. Everything I do in the winery is to enhance vineyard expression, not to smother it. Great wines come from great vineyard sites – wine is a true expression of the land and the hand.
What are we trying to achieve? World’s best Chardonnay. It’s not about the volume, it’s about how good it is – high value, low volume.
I’m also innovating in so many ways, and at my age, I’m bringing a whole lot of new things to the New Zealand wine industry that I’m really proud of. I’ve built concrete eggs, I’ve made them here. I’m the first to market with New Zealand built concrete eggs, and the first to market with New Zealand Chardonnay made in the concrete egg – Golden Egg. I then brought in the Wooden Egg, the only one in the Southern Hemisphere, which I will be releasing a wine from soon.
Have you been influenced by any particular wine maker or wine region?
Burgundy for Chardonnay, categorically. I’ve actually been fortunate with my peer group here in Hawke’s Bay, so my influences are close to home. Warren Gibson from Trinity Hill, Rod Easthope – probably those two. They’re independent thinking, intelligent, and creative men making great wine, and we’re really great friends. Those guys I have to mention as mentors.
What would you consider your greatest achievement as a winemaker?
My proudest achievement is stepping out from a successful career at Sacred Hill to form a 100% family-owned business that involves my children, and particularly my wife, in a daily way creating our own unique urban winery concept in Napier.
Finally, what’s your go-to Spring wine pick?
Golden Egg chardonnay and white bait fritters, in fact, I’m having that for dinner tonight! I can’t think of anything better in spring than that – they go really well together.