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Travel back to New Zealand’s early wine industry, as we celebrate one of our founding wineries, Church Road, established in 1897

Tom McDonald and his staff

A grainy black and white photograph shows a group of men harvesting grapes among rows of vines, wooden barrels overflowing with fruit and a draft horse nearby. The image looks like a classic scene from the South of France or Italy, except for the macrocarpa tree, number 8 wire fence and hillock marked with sheep trails behind them.

This is an image (pictured above) from the early years of New Zealand’s wine industry, when a handful of enterprising pioneers established wineries in the North Island. One of these was Bartholomew Steinmetz, who founded Taradale Vineyards in 1897 with five acres of Hawke’s Bay land. This is the site we know today as Church Road winery (pictured below, as it is today).

24 years later, a 14-year-old boy named Tom McDonald began working at Taradale Vineyards and over the years grew up to be put in charge of, and eventually buy, the winery (Tom is pictured top with his staff, and second from top with Prince the winery draft horse). Over the next 40 years Tom transformed the site into one of the country’s first modern wineries – introducing tractors, producing New Zealand’s first widely-available cabernet sauvignon, and lobbying government for restaurants to be allowed to sell wine (not legal at the time in New Zealand - imagine that!).

Awarded an OBE after his retirement in 1975, Tom’s legacy remains to this day at Church Road winery, with the 1999 release of the TOM range of wines, one of which – TOM Chardonnay – acknowledges his role in establishing chardonnay as a major varietal in Hawke’s Bay. The new TOM vintage 2014 has just been released and is already receiving accolades from renowned wine writers (available to purchase in stores now, pictured below).

Today, Church Road is one of New Zealand’s most respected wineries, and its winemakers and wines continually receive awards. But it’s not just the 20/20 scores and five stars from the likes of Raymond Chan that have kept Church Road going. It is equally loved by the industry and New Zealand public alike, and the numerous tributes from Liquorland’s Picked By You awards – chosen by everyday Kiwis – are the sort of stuff that confirms its ongoing success.  “Just consistently hits my tastebuds the right way,” (Mike, Church Road Chardonnay). “Affordable enough to be an everyday wine, but so high quality you feel like you’re drinking a premium wine,” (Glen, Church Road Merlot). “Deep, earthy and delicious, it ticks all my boxes,” (Alissa, Church Road Syrah).

To showcase Church Road's 120 year history, the brand has selected five images from its past to decorate limited-edition packaging (available in selected stores for a limited time only), in celebration of this milestone birthday, as a salute to the legacy of Tom McDonald and the winery he helped to elevate.

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