How to help celebrate 120 years since the first vines were planted was not a difficult decision for the Church Road Winery crew.

They turned to Tom.

Because for around half a century Tom McDonald had been the driving force behind what is today one of the oldest wineries in New Zealand, and in terms of accolades one of the most recognised and successful.

Tom McDonald was a pioneer in the making of very fine wine in New Zealand so his name has accordingly been applied to the results of what have been classed as exceptional vintages over the past 18 years.


The vintage of 2014 was deemed outstanding by winemakers like Church Road's winemaking chief Chris Scott and the timing for the release of the three latest additions to the history of TOM came at an equally great vintage time.

For back in 1897, across what would have initially been viewed as a formidable landscape to mould a vineyard, Bartholomew Steinmetz, who had arrived from Luxembourg, planted his fledgling vineyard next to what is today Church Road.

He got it established and took on a young man called Tom McDonald, and when Steinmetz decided to return to his European homeland he left it in the hands of the then 19-year-old.

Some years later, Tom McDonald bought the winery and McDonald's Wines began to emerge - to acclaim.

Among them was cabernet sauvignon, and Tom's was the very first of that style released for commercial sales in New Zealand in 1949.

So fittingly a cabernet sauvignon, from the 2014 vintage, made up one of the three TOM labelled wines released to coincide with the 120th year since the first vines went down.

The timing was very good, and to a degree caught Mr Scott by surprise - a delighted surprise.

"Church Road TOM is only made in the best vintages and we were not expecting to have back-to-back outstanding vintages following the highly regarded 2013 season," he said.

"The 2014 season had excellent amounts of rainfall over the summer and a long, dry autumn which allowed exceptional flavours and ripeness to develop."

He said the resulting wines were showing much greater "generosity and plushness" compared with the more focused wines from the previous vintage.

"It's fitting the wines that epitomise our winemaking skill are being released at the same time that we celebrate our history as one of the oldest wineries in New Zealand - in crafting the TOM range we draw on centuries-old winemaking techniques to transform our Hawke's Bay fruit into award-winning wines."

Mr Scott said the winemaking approach echoed that portrayed by Tom McDonald who eventually retired in 1976, and died 11 years later aged 80.

"We are driven by a love of great wine and a tradition of innovation," he said.

Mr Scott unveiled the three additions to the TOM range this week and those who took in tasting were unanimous that the legend of Tom McDonald had again been well served.

As well as the merlot cabernet sauvignon, Church Road has released the TOM Chardonnay 2014 and the second vintage of TOM Syrah 2014, which has added further to the region's growing reputation for creating world-class syrahs.

There was an additional historic touch to the tasting occasion with Mr Scott uncorking a long-stored bottle of 1967 cabernet which created something of a stir surprising everyone how good it still was.

Each bottle of Church Road TOM is individually numbered and hand-finished with a unique presentation box, and volumes are limited.

The response to the TOM reds is similar to what Tom McDonald experienced when he was at the helm. In the wake of his acclaimed 1949 cabernet sauvignon annual quantities rose and year after year the McDonald reds were snapped up.

While he retired in 1976 Tom continued creating fine wines through until 1981 when there was a change of ownership and it slowly wound down into a sort of holding pattern.

But Church Road was renovated and re-opened in 1989 and creating fine reds was firmly at the heart of it, with 1990 seeing the release of a revitalised cabernet sauvignon, merlot and chardonnay.

It is now firmly established in both the country's winemaking history and winemaking accolades.