Q&A with Chardonnay expert, Tony Bish
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, F.A.W.C!, and what you can expect from his masterclass ’50 shades of Chardonnay’ at F.A.W.C! Day Out.
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.
Talking F.A.W.C!, your masterclass name is ’50 Shades of Chardonnay’ – can you tell us a bit more about what this means?
I’m grey – I’ve been grey since I was 25! It’s also a cheeky play on the movie, and Tim and I are both known to be a bit cheeky at times, a couple of well-known reprobates from the Hawke’s Bay wine industry! Chardonnay also has a multi-faceted nature, the king of white grapes – that’s really what it’s about.
You’ve hosted plenty of your own F.A.W.C! events to date – what is it about F.A.W.C! that you really enjoy?
We love food and wine combinations, and breaking bread together. It’s about meeting new people and sitting across the table from them, you know, in a food and wine environment where everything is amplified. F.A.W.C! is a great game lifter – in the way we present our wines, collaborations with chefs is innovative and energising, and I believe Hawke’s Bay is the food and wine capital of New Zealand. We have to work at it all year round; we’ve got to build a 12-month tourism destination around food and wine, so Winter F.A.W.C! is genius. It shows the industry what can be done with creative ideas – let’s do fun things with food and wine!
What can we expect from your F.A.W.C! Day Out masterclass?
We are bringing out 6 wines - 3 from myself and 3 from Tim Turvey which will be a range of Tony Bish and Clearview Chardonnays made from sub-region Hawke’s Bay from coastline to inland. From premium un-oaked, lightly oaked to full barrell fermented styles, people are going to see a range of expression from wine maker, winemaking style, and sub region. You will really get a masterclass! Lots of education in a fun interactive, casual environment with banter from the boys.
GET TICKETS TO F.A.W.C! EVENTS AT THE URBAN WINERY
LEARN FROM THE MASTER AT F.A.W.C! Day Out
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