John Hawkesby

John Hawkesby is a wine writer for Canvas Magazine.

In the name of quality wine

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Tom McDonald Church Road Winery in Hawke's Bay. Photo / NZ Herald
Tom McDonald Church Road Winery in Hawke's Bay. Photo / NZ Herald

You know you've arrived when they name a wine after you. So when you get an entire series dedicated to you, obviously your contribution has been stellar.

And so it is with Tom McDonald whose life and legacy is still remembered with great fondness by the New Zealand wine industry. He was a larger-than-life, dogged character who devoted himself to producing outstanding wines at the current site of Hawkes Bay's Church Road Winery.

Born in Taradale in 1907, he was just 14 when he embarked on a winemaking career under the European-trained Bartholomew Steinmetz. Steinmetz died in 1936 and McDonald bought the facility and associated vineyard, creating additional vineyards in 1949.

McDonald carved out an enviable reputation for premium complex wines that were the forerunner for much of the success that New Zealand wines enjoy today.

The mantle "Father of Red Wine in New Zealand" sat easily on his shoulders and he forged an exciting future for Hawkes Bay winemaking until his retirement in 1976 and his death 11 years later.

But still McDonald casts a long shadow and in 1995 a wine, "Tom", was created in his memory and is only produced in exceptional years.

Now a portfolio of wines bear his name, including a merlot, cabernet sauvignon, chardonnay, pinot gris and sauvignon blanc. A couple more - syrah 2010, marzemino 2009 and sauvignon gris 2011 - are available only at the cellar door and selected restaurants.

The wines are designed to be complex, textural and a bit like McDonald himself - full of character.

"We're becoming more confident with traditional French winemaking and this new series was produced utilising some of these techniques," says Church Road senior winemaker Chris Scott.

"Overall there's less intervention and we bottle the red wines with minimal fining and filtration - it's all about letting go of the reins and working with what nature provides."

All the wines are excellent and are in the $29-$33 price range.

Recommended

2009 Church Road McDonalds Series Cabernet Sauvignon, $33
An inaugural release, this is a wine with power and a graphite-like complexity, big aromas of rich berry fruits, black olives and hints of cedar, lavender and a wisp of chocolate.

2009 Church Road McDonald Series Pinot Gris, $33
An aromatic and full-bodied wine made in a medium-sweet style with a silky structure and lively acidity, it is herby and spicy. Perfect with pate, cheeseboards and Asian cuisine.

- NZ Herald

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