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Book Review – Wine: Stories from Hawke’s Bay, By Mark Sweet

By January 7, 2016No Comments

The recording the history of New Zealand’s wine industry has been rather sparse to date. For me, the best book to date is ‘Chancers and Visionaries’ by Keith Stewart, published in 2010, and Michael Cooper has a succinct summary in his ‘Wine Atlas of New Zealand’. I’ve been rather lucky in knowing a good number of senior industry people who have shared their knowledge, and a few who have recorded their views and impressions, such as Geoff Kelly. So I have perspectives of the beginnings of the modern age of New Zealand wine that a newcomer will not be able to access easily. Thus, Mark Sweet’s book ‘Wine: Stories from Hawke’s Bay’ is an important one.

The book is aptly titled, as it really is a collection of tales about people and their stories of their contribution to the Hawke’s Bay wine scene. What it is not is a historical record of seminal events and the region’s development, though much of this can be gleaned from the stories told. The fact that it is about people, their personalities and actions, told from written records or from word of mouth, is the book’s charm. The author was born in Napier, and working overseas, he returned to Hawke’s Bay running the Pacifica restaurant until 2007. His intimate knowledge and personal connections with many of the people telling their stories comes through clearly in the way he has captured the essence of his subjects’ tales, and how the people fit into the overall picture.

The Past to the Present
The book has the wine stories in four sections. The first is ‘In the Beginning’ and covers the period from 1836-1920. The historical figures of Bishop Pompellier, the Society of Mary missionaries, and entrepreneurial individuals Henry Tiffen and Bernard Chambers, as well as the significant men Romeo Bragato and Antony Joseph Vidal have their stories recounted.

The second part is titled ‘The Dark Ages’ which is from 1920-1975, referring to the stagnation of the Hawke’s Bay wine scene, primarily the result of the temperance movement. Even in such times, there was much brightness, from the work of the brothers at Mission, and the emergence of Tom McDonald, and the enthusiasm of Denis Kasza, as well as the strength of the Vidal, Bird and Green families. People who are familiar today, such as Peter Hubscher begin to appear on the scene.

Part Three is called ‘The Renaissance’ which is 1975-1995. Here we hear the stories and recollections of the people who set the scene of the Hawke’s Bay industry as it is today. These include John Buck of Te Mata, Ian Clark at Mission Vineyards, Malcolm Reeves, Alwyn Corban, Kim and Trish Salonius, Peter Robertson, the Mason family of Sacred Hill, Hamish Jardine, Tim Turvey, Chris Pask and Kate Radburd, George Fistonich of Villa Maria, and a host of others. This section also has a focus on the Gimblett Gravels, and how this now famous area could have been a shingle quarry.

The last part is ‘The Flourishing’, covering 1995-today. This is familiar territory for anyone interested in New Zealand wine, and the individuals tell their stories as close to first-hand as possible, the author so faithful in his recording. There are some very well-known people here, but also included are those lesser-known, or just beginning to make their mark. The material here is very personal and up-to-date, and there is a very positive tone, showing the author’s bias and the belief of all interviewed or having their stories told of the excellent future for Hawke’s Bay wine.

Between parts two and three is an essay labelled ‘A Premier Wine Region’, written by Peter Cowley, best known as winemaker at Te Mata Estate. This is a more factual and near technical presentation of Hawke’s Bay’s attributes at a top winegrowing region, and well-worth the read for an overview. The other aspect of the book that must be mentioned is the excellent illustration, incorporating historical and archival photographs and the contemporary ones of photojournalist Tim Whittaker.

For many people, this will be a coffee table book. But it is more than this and deserves a thorough read by anyone interested in New Zealand wine. It does credit to Hawke’s Bay and its wine industry, past and present. The passion, perseverance and potential of the people are revealed.

Wine: Stories from Hawke’s Bay, By Mark Sweet
Bay Buzz, Havelock North, 2015 ISBN 978-0-473-33348-5
RRP $69.00


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