Winemaker Tony Bish is literally ‘living the dream’, producing his beloved chardonnay in his urban winery in Hawke’s Bay. He’s daring to be different and loving every grape-soaked moment of it.
It was back in the early 80s when Tony Bish began his life journey with wine. Cash-strapped but keen to fund a season skiing at Mt Hutt, Tony’s first vintage with Corbans in Gisborne was a pragmatic start to what has become a forty-year career of passion.
After the snow melted and the dollars disappeared, Tony did a two-year stint with Vidal Estate in Hastings and it was there that winemaking became his future focus.
Six years on, following study completed by correspondence and bi-annual ‘residentials’ at Charles Sturt University in Wagga Wagga Australia, Tony graduated with a Bachelor of Applied Science in Oenology.
By that stage Tony’s new-found knowledge and experience was already being put to good use, having co-founded Sacred Hill Wines in rural Hawke’s Bay with the Mason brothers, David and Mark in 1986.
Nurturing this fledgling venture called for more cash, so Tony headed to Central Otago to work as a winemaker at Rippon Vineyards. It was a pioneering role, working with the region’s first commercial vineyards and wineries, and was followed by a three-year challenge establishing French Farm Winery on Banks Peninsula from 1990 to 1993.
By 1994, Tony had returned to Sacred Hill as senior winemaker, with wife Karryn and the first of their four children in tow.
Nowadays, Tony is forging his own way forward with a future exclusively focused on innovation with Chardonnay. Tony Bish Wines was launched in 2013, and produces six chardonnay styles direct to fellow chardonnay lovers around the country and, increasingly, around the world.
Not only is Tony re-inventing chardonnay and rekindling demand for this wine category, he is also taking an innovative approach to making it.
Tony’s creative spirit was unleashed in 2013, following a trip to South America where he experienced wine produced in egg-shaped tanks. A plan to import these tanks was abandoned once the exorbitant price of freighting over two tonnes of concrete was confirmed. Instead, with some kiwi ingenuity and local know-how from Hastings-based NZ Tanks, Tony built New Zealand’s first concrete egg fermenters. Now the kiwi ovoid tank design has been perfected, and NZ Tanks is offering these to the New Zealand and Australian wine industry.
Unsurprisingly, eggs have become Tony’s preferred means of fermentation in his pursuit of the perfect chardonnay. The country’s first concrete egg chardonnay ‘hatched’ in 2015 and Tony now has five concrete eggs filled with fermenting juice, plus an impressive oak Ovum, a massive sculptural giant egg made from French Oak that holds the equivalent of 2,400 bottles of ultra-premium Chardonnay.
Tony’s eggs are nested in Bish Wines’ Napier base, The Urban Winery in Ahuriri.
Contemporary in design but housed in an iconic and historic building, it’s a working winery, a cellar door and a space for gourmet experiences as well as the distribution centre for Tony Bish Wines and the New Zealand operations of Taransaud Cooperage.