About Me

Gavin Hubble - (BSc & Post Grad. Business Marketing) - I started working in the wine industry over 23 years ago in New Zealand. Working in; wine retail, sales, wine production, label & packaging design, marketing, wine buying, consulting and wine education. I am responsible for the Brand Health of 60+ wine brands distributed here in New Zealand. Wine Brands from New Zealand, Australia, France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Chile and Argentina. I work closely with the Trade Industry - (Retail Stores & Restaurants) introducing, educating and positioning exciting and unique brands to wine enthusiasts all over the world.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Winemaker Series:

Welcome to the second in my summer series of winemaker interviews.


Tony Bish - his sense of self-mastery for winemaking ignited in 1981 while working in Gisborne alongside Doug Wilson, Corban's winemaker at the time. Tony embarked on a six year correspondence degree in Oenology at Charles Sturt University in Australia, while continuing to work full time in the wine industry.
Tony began working at Sacred Hill at the beginning, in 1985, and the first vintage, 1986, was just 350 cases, which included the launch of Sacred Hill's first wine - a Fume Blanc. The wine sold out almost immediately, confirming the viability of the Sacred Hill venture.
After the launch, Tony moved on to hone his skills at a number of acclaimed wineries, including Brown Brothers in Australia, Rippon Vineyards in Central Otago and Martinborough Vineyards in the Wairarapa. He returned to work with the Mason family in 1994, and his nose for detail has seen Sacred Hill wines accelerate to the front of the New Zealand & International wine scene. Tony has now amassed more than 100 Trophies, gold medals and 5 Stars - an achievement that makes him one of New Zealand's top winemakers.

I have had the pleasure to know Tony since 1994, when I was visiting my family in Hawke’s Bay, knowing the Mason brothers (the owners of Scared Hill) for several years - I made my way over the hill from Taradale to visit the winery and the infamous cliffs that set the scene for a dramatic vineyard location, plus for a select few - one of the world’s best places to practice clay-bird shooting. Over the years it has been a unique opportunity to see at such close quarters a winemaker and his vines develop and grow together, while at the same time crafting wines that excite and stretch the palates of local wine enthusiasts and international wine aficionados. Tony has truly mastered his own domain i.e. unique terroir and different grape varieties and shaped internationally respected wines.

What first attracted you to the wine industry and as a winemaker?
“First attraction as seasonal work over vintage. 84 hours a week was a great way to fund my winters skiing! After two or three vintages, I got the wine bug bad, and realised the industry had significant potential to make premium and super premium wines”.

Where and when did you study winemaking?
“I enrolled in Wine Science by correspondence at Charles Sturt University in Australia, and spent 6 years commuting twice a year to residential schools. This was 1984-1989”.

What is your favourite grape variety(s) to work with and why?
“Chardonnay - I love its complexity and the way it expresses great terroir. Power, elegance and finesse, a wine that can be so completely satisfying.

Syrah - It such an exciting variety here in Hawke’s Bay! Fun to work with as we are on a steep learning curve while producing better and better wine each year. It’s very dynamic. The wines from Gimblett gravels are so amazing, richly flavoured and smooth textured, ultimately drinkable!

Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot blends - Here in Gimblett gravels we are making world class blended red wines that are rocking the world. I love the complexity of the blending process, and getting Cabernet ripe and balanced is very rewarding”.


Which grape variety would you most like to work with in the future and why?
“Petite Verdot would be a great additional variety to work with our Gimblett gravels red blends. We love Cabernet Franc, and its small but crucial role in great blends, but I would love to add Petite Verdot to the blending table”.

With each new vintage what do you most look forward to?
“The vineyard walks, the critical picking decisions, the buzz when you know you have just picked some really good fruit. The influx of new and keen vintage staff is awesome too. The sense of teamwork and camaraderie is great”.

To date what has been you most interesting/challenging vintage and why?
“The last vintage (the last one is always the most interesting and challenging!). Vintage 2011 was such a vintage of extremes. Brilliant in Marlborough for us, we have already won many Gold medals, but super challenging in Hawke’s Bay, where untimely rain destroyed all our best Chardonnay. But we were able to rock on, and have made some outstanding red blends from later ripening fruit”.

Which person has influenced you the most as a winemaker and why?
“To be frank, no one single person, but many. Mike Grgich, ‘The King of Chardonnay’ in Napa Valley was a positive influence. He was interviewed in his 70’s and asked a question about his winemaking philosophy. He said then that he was just getting the hang of it! Humble, determined, and constantly pursuing quality. Paul Pontallier of Chateau Margaux. I heard him speak about making great red wines many years ago at a Cool Climate Winemaking Symposium. Very articulate, and very clear about what attributes great red wine should possess. Inspirational, as are his wines”.

Which person ‘current’ or ‘past’ would you most like to have met or meet and why?
“I would like to meet and taste wines with Peter Gago of Penfolds Australia. His work with Yattarna and Bin 08A along with his legendary reds, he would be fascinating to talk to and learn from”.

If you were stranded on a desert island and you could take one bottle of wine with you – what would it be and why?
“Well, it would be hot and dry and kind of beautiful. So providing I had ice and a Riedel flute….a Methuselah of 1990 Cristal Brut Millenum cuvée”!
If you could make wine anywhere else in the world – where would it be and why?
“Burgundy, Bonneau du Martray, Corton Charlemagne. Awesome as Chardonnay (& Pinot!)”.

What advice would you give a young person starting out as a winemaker?
“Educate, travel, and find what inspires you”.


If you weren’t a winemaker – what would you like to be and why?
“Tough one. Wine buyer for the rich and famous, advising on what to load the cellars with, travelling and tasting the wines from the great regions of the world (by private jet naturally). Well you did ask!”

In the future, what exciting changes can you see, or would like to see for your wines, wine styles, vineyard or winery?
“Syrah will become a NZ rock star. It’s happening, and the next ten years will be exciting. Chardonnay will make a comeback if there is any right in this world. Marlborough Sauvignon is still the best in the world, so when global market recovery happens and supply tension returns, better times will return for our most important commercial variety. Sacred Hill will be more and more globally recognised as a premium producer of NZ wines, whilst remaining an awesome place to work!”

Sacred Hill Wines are available in New Zealand and around the world from quality wine retailers and restaurants. Or visit their website: Sacred Hill Wines.

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