125 Years of Church Road

A look back at the beginnings of one of Aotearoa's most well-respected wine brands.

It has been 125 incredible years since the journey began on the site where Church Road now stands. 125 years of capturing the riches of the Hawke’s Bay region, harnessing the natural terroir and individual character of the vineyards, and making the best possible wines.

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The winery was established in 1897 by Bartholomew Steinmetz, a Luxembourg émigré who had come to New Zealand to make wine for the Marist Brothers Catholic Mission (now the Mission Winery). Bartholomew didn’t really achieve anything ground-breaking in the New Zealand wine scene but did make at least one excellent recruitment decision. Enter Tom McDonald. A 14-year-old school leaver of Scottish extraction, employed to wash recycled bottles.

As it turned out, Tom (pictured below) was a rather entrepreneurial young man, and by the age of 19, Tom had leased the entire property and ran the business as his own. By the time he was 29, Tom purchased the property outright, before selling a shareholding to raise capital for expansion. Not only did Tom have a head for business, but he also developed a passion for the great wines of France, and at a time when the New Zealand industry was largely entrenched in cheap fortified wine production, Tom was developing the first commercial plantings of Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay in Hawke’s Bay.

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Tom McDonald passed away in 1987, leaving behind a legacy of quality winemaking.

By the 1960’s Tom was producing wines with the help of Montpellier-trained Hungarian-born winemaker Denis Kasza, which became very collectable and are widely credited for pioneering the beginnings of a quality renaissance in New Zealand viticulture. Over time, McDonald became one of the founding fathers of New Zealand winemaking. He was recognised for his contribution with a prestigious Order of the British Empire, awarded in 1974 and is, of course, the man whose name is attributed to Church Road’s TOM wines. In 1991, the first wine was produced under the Church Road label, at the very site that Steinmetz and McDonald had established. The rest, as they say, is history.

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Today, the unique terroir of Hawke’s Bay, represented by the famed vineyards of Redstone, Tuki and Gimblett Gravel, are the essence of Church Road wines. Church Road strives for consistent evolution of our wines and have been awarded some of the highest accolades from global wine writers, and some of the highest wine show awards.  

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Under the steadfast stewardship of longstanding Chief Winemaker, and four-time Winestate New Zealand Winemaker of the Year, Chris Scott, (pictured below) Church Road continues to craft a portfolio of wines, each with distinction and artistry, honouring those winemakers that got us to here……… celebrating 125 years of exceptional winemaking.



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