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Tony Bish Wines Hatches Egg Plans

By May 20, 2017No Comments
There are so many puns that come to mind that it’d be a shame not to use one, so here it is in the title of the article. Tony Bish released his first own-label wine in May 2014 with the ‘Fat n Sassy’ Chardonnay 2013. It represented Tony’s desire to go back to ‘hands-on’ winemaking in a business with his wife Karryn. The focus of the project is Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay, made by exploring different styles incorporating traditional and innovative techniques. The wines are to be made in an urban winery, that brings the process of winemaking much closer to the market, and allows Tony and Karryn direct contact with their clientele, enabling much more personal experience that offers the opportunity of much greater understanding of how winemaking is carried out. www.tonybishwines.co.nz

To date, Tony and Karryn have released a number of different Chardonnay labels that clearly show the intent. The ‘Fat and Sassy’ label is a return to the popular style of the past which enamoured many drinkers to the variety. Today, there is a very strong demand for Chardonnays that are, ‘big, bold and buttery’, and this is Tony’s answer to that call. It is now the wine that makes up the major part of his production, comprising over 50% of his wines made, and this is not likely to change. It is richer and riper than most contemporary Chardonnays, and involves plenty of oaking, lees work and full MLF. However, compared to the wines of yesteryear, it retains a degree of elegance, and Tony will not compromise his winemaking integrity to trick the style up with techniques that could make the wine even brassier and more blowsy. At the end of the day, it must still be a true and proper wine to drink in its own right, where fruit is the key, not artefact.

Tony Bish Wines Fat & Sassy Vat

The Egg Wine and Traditional Wines
The most interesting Tony Bish release has been the ‘Golden Egg’, a wine made with a high proportion of it fermented in a 1,600 L concrete oval fermenter. These special fermenters have recently begun being used by some innovative winemakers in France and America, and Tony Bish Wines can be considered a pioneer in their use. Tony and concrete expert Josh Winters have begun making the concrete egg fermenters in New Zealand due to the prohibitive cost of importing them, and they are the fourth producer making them in the world. They have already sold several to other producers.

Among the differences they offer, the egg shape of the fermenters create convection currents which increase the influence of the lees on the wines. The flavours of the wines are different as are the textures. I really like the character they produce, and the wines are eminently refreshing and inviting to drink. (Click here to see my review of the inaugural ‘Golden Egg’ Chardonnay 2015, and the follow-up 2016 vintage by clicking here) At present Tony uses three egg fermenters in the making of the wine, which includes the blending of wine fermented in barriques, in the ratio of one barrique to one egg.

1,600 L concrete egg fermenters

To ensure he doesn’t have all his eggs in one basket, as it were, Tony has Chardonnay wines that are more conventionally made. Initially he released a smart and very accessible ‘Summertime’ café-style Chardonnay from Gisborne fruit, but this has now been discontinued, so as to be able to concentrate on Hawke’s Bay wine. His newly-released ‘Heartwood’ Chardonnay is Tony’s representation of a classic, sophisticated, barrel-fermented wine. With this wine Tony intends to tell the ‘other side’ of terroir – that of the oak wood that is ubiquitously used in making such wines, but is little discussed. Not only is the provenance of the oak important, but how it is seasoned and used. The first release of this wine, the 2016 is a beauty (click here to see my review). His flagship traditionally-made wine is the ‘Skeetfield’ Chardonnay, made from old Mendoza vines from his friend Denis Gunn’s Ohiti sited vineyard. Tony considers the vineyard to be very special, and indeed, his first release, the 2015 is an outstanding wine (click here to see my review).

Coming in the future is a wine made in a 2,000 L wooden ‘Ovum’ fermenter, made from Taransaud oak. This will be the super-premium wine, and yet to be named. Tony uses Taransaud oak, as he considers the quality impeccable. His wife Karryn took over the New Zealand distributorship of the oak several years ago, and it is used by many top-flight winemakers throughout the country. I’m not sure if Tony gets ‘mates rates’, but he has the ability to source and have made special ‘T-5’ barrels and fermenters, such as the ‘Ovum’.

The ‘Ovum’ – 2,000 L Taransaud oak fermenter

The Urban Winery
Tony and Karryn aim to open their urban winery in September this year. It is situated in the ‘Rothman’s building, or what was the National Tobacco Company site in Ossian Street in Ahuriri, Napier. Tony and Karryn have the use of the old ‘Stripping Room’ with its 600 square metres of area. Rebuilt in 1932, it more than meets today’s stringent earthquake codes. There, they will have their winery, administration and cellar door. The winery is positioned so that the barrels, oval concrete fermenters and ‘Ovum’ fermenter are stunningly displayed on entering the building. Tony and Karryn will of course feature their Chardonnay wines at the cellar door, but they will also offer Sacred Hill wines and those of his friends, such as Rod Easthope and Warren Gibson, who also use the egg fermenters, to broaden the range available. High quality platters will be able to be ordered to go with tasting the wines.

The Tony Bish Wines operation will never be a very large business. At present, around 3,500 to 4,000 cases of wine are made. The limit of production of Tony Bish wines is projected to be around 10,000 cases, enough to enable hands-on winemaking. The size of the winery is also a factor. Tony remains the chief winemaker and a shareholder at Sacred Hill Wines, and the Tony Bish Wines project has been developed with the support and latitude of the Tony and Karryn Bish’s good friend Dave Mason at Sacred Hill.

On our recent visit to Hawke’s Bay, this was a priority to see. Sue and I were not disappointed. Sitting down with Tony, with a view into the barrel room, sipping on a ‘Golden Egg’ Chardonnay 2016, it all seemed so natural and right. We could see where and in what the wine was made. We could talk to the winemaker in person. We were in the home of the wines. And the wine tasted a little better than when I reviewed it a month earlier, seeming richer and more vibrant. I’m sure any visitor will experience something similar.

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