History tells us that in the early 1800’s, French Missionaries, Brothers from the Order of Saint Mary, at the direction of France’s Pope Gregory XV1 in Lyon set sail for Nouvelle Zealandia, or Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud) armed with their bibles, sacramental robes, rituals and seedling grape vines.
Their destination, a collection of sparsely inhabited islands, (except for its indigenous race who named them) in the South Pacific.
Here, these pioneering Marist Brothers chose Hawkes Bay, a Province in the North Island of their adopted country consisting of 1.4 million hectares on 350km of Pacific Ocean coastline, to settle.
An eastern sea board and famous for being the first country in the world to see the sun rise on every new day, it climbs from sea level to several hundred metres inland to the Southern Hemisphere.
Warm north-facing hillsides, its natural river valleys and terraces, offered them then and winemakers now a diversity of low vigour vineyard sites offering a divergence of varieties prospering on a handful of different soil types from clay, limestone, sands, free draining gravels to red metals.
Despite the new settlers trials in a pristine land covered in virgin native forests, there was no infrastructure, sparse roads and scant communication. These colonists of the country and Christianity, established their vineyards, their gardens and self sufficient holdings, spoke the local language dialects and overcame social, local and political conditions.
They gathered many converts, created churches, and schools in a remote and rural landscape with its wide rivers, a mountain backdrop and common inclement climates. In essence they fashioned a sophisticated liturgical and philosophical lifestyle, around themselves where their fledging vineyards flourished.
During the mid century, their vine plantings brought about The Mission Estate, heralding the birthplace of New Zealand wine and the countries oldest winery . Triumphantly, it seems because the samples of the Brother’s wine from The Mission Estate during the 1885 to 1888 period, won silver medals at the Paris Exhibition of 1892.
Reference: Wine stories from Hawkes Bay, Mark Sweet, published Bay Buzz NZ
A three part series by Isabel Palmer will follow and will include interviews with three New World Wine Industry expatriates from Japan, France and USA.