Church Road was established in the Hawke’s Bay area in 1897, which makes it the third-oldest working winery in New Zealand, and definitely one of the very few to be founded in the 19th century here. The first vineyards were planted by Luxembourg-native Bartholomew Steinmetz on the same location the present winery still stands on. Founder Steinmetz returned to Europe in the 1920s, leaving the winery to one of his young workers Tom McDonald. Identifying the suitability of Hawkes’ Bay for producing quality red wine, Tom will become one of the country’s prominent pioneer winemakers, planting and producing Bordeaux grape varieties and releasing New Zealand’s first commercial Cabernet Sauvignon wine as early as 1949. Although a change of ownership caused the winery to shut down temporally in the 1980s, renovations and investments started in 1989 have allowed Church Road to restore its splendor and continue producing wine to this day.
Today, both locally grown and trained winemakers Chris Scott and viticulturalist Graham Bartleet oversee the production at the winery. Church Road Wines is part of Pernod-Ricard portfolio. Production and team are independent though, and the winery is still often referred to as ’boutique’.
For visitors, Church Road offers pleasing cellar door tasting with food. The winery tour takes you through the modern winemaking facilities as well as the more traditional-looking wooden vats and barrel rooms. An underground museum traces the history of the winery.
Since I have been in New Zealand, I have always been quite impressed with CRW wines. They combine the fruit-driven characteristics of New Zealand wine, with a certain refinement and complexity that is more commonly found in the ‘Old World’. This makes for enjoyable wines, clean, fruity and well-made, but with a depth that should also please the European-style wine lover. Being chauvinistically French, after landing in NZ and trying CRW wines, I was convinced there was froggy staff at the winery, until I was told only the grape varieties had French genes.
Church Road counts with 4 ranges:
- Standard Church Road range is made of affordable yet well-crafted wines of classic Hawke’s Bay varieties: Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc or Pinot Gris. This range also has a rosé and a Pinot Noir-based Methode Traditionelle sparkling.
- McDonald Series, as a tribute to pioneer Tom McDonald, are wines made from selected vineyards, smaller batches with particular attention in the winemaking process. A Syrah appears in this range, as well as the only NZ-made wine from unusual Trentino gape variety Marzemino
- Grande Reserve wines are only made in great vintages, from low-cropping, hand-harvested plots, to reveal the fruit’s full potential
- Flagship ‘Tom McDonald’ Chardonnay and Cabernet/Merlot are rare wines, showcasing the best the winery can produce
My reviews and perspectives on Church Road wines:
To learn more, visit Church Road’s website churchroad.co.nz
Find Church Road’s wines around the world on Wine-Searcher