Paul Mooney is celebrating 40 years of winemaking at Mission Estate, making him one of New Zealand's most experienced winemakers. When Paul started, a block was planted on Mission Estate's Taradale vineyard. The grapes from that block have been used to create Paul's 40th vintage - an old vine Semillon wine with complex and sweet aromas of citrus and beeswax with hints of tropical fruit and flinty notes. Linda Hall talks to him about his long career in winemaking.

MISSION ESTATE was established in Hawke's Bay in 1851 by a group of French Missionaries, Brothers of the Orders. Traditions and winemaking practices have been passed through winemakers, from one generation to the next.

Paul learnt from one of the last of the initial brothers.

"He trained in France so I learnt lots about French heritage. I inherited his French winemaking textbooks which have influenced me lots," Paul says.

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"When I first got the job I was at university studying physics, but instead of going back I decided to take the role as trainee winemaker. I really wanted to get into winemaking so thought why not apply. I worked as a trainee winemaker for three years."

He says the thing he loves most about his job is that it keeps him engaged.

"That's the challenging thing about winemaking, every season is different. There's no time to get bored with such a variety of hand-on work, problem solving and different roles with aspects of responsibility, production, controlling the quality and working with lots of different people from workers to growers."

Paul enjoys making the most challenging wines such as the red varieties in Hawke's Bay like syrah, cabernet sauvignon and merlot.

"Those red blends are the most interesting. They have different components from different vineyards that need to be blended together. You really need to plan ahead and identify a certain block of vines with certain grapes. There are so many variables to consider."

He reckons the 2019 vintage is going to be a beauty.

"It's going to be a nice anniversary present for me. I think it will be right up there with the 2009 vintage."

Paul, who is originally from Hamilton, loves living in Hawke's Bay. "I came here initially for the job but I love the climate, winter's aren't so bad and spring to autumn is great. It's a nice place to live, not too crowded with easy access to the outdoors."

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He says the grapes that grow here just get better and better.

"Older vines grow better wine and some of the vines here are 20+ years old. The 2019 vintage is one of the best we've ever made. It's easy to be inspired when the quality of the wine is as good as it is here. Plus the winemaking is fun, I love coming to work."

Paul is busy working on the next vintage with growers, stakeholders and the sales/marketing team. It takes 4-6 months to plan the process to ensure everything runs smoothly.

He says automation has made life easier. "Winemaking technology has seen great advances in the last 40 years. Traditionally, grapes are the only ingredient required to produce wine. This makes it unique as a food beverage with a history of more than 10,000 years. However, in modern winemaking practice, there are modern processing aids that greatly enhance the enjoyment of wine.

"There's lots of research and development happening at the moment which I find really interesting.

"Locally there's some research with syrah and the challenges of growing it here in Hawke's Bay.

"Our viticulturist Steve Wheeler is involved in this study group.

Auckland University has done some great research on sauvignon blanc and a new research centre is being built in Marlborough.

"New Zealand is probably the best country in the world to grow sauvignon blanc.

"Research will be key to keeping our country as the pre-eminent producer of both sauvignon blanc and pinot noir.

He says sustainability is huge for Mission Estate which operates its own environmental management system.

"We are committed to protecting the environment by reducing our environmental footprint where possible, especially in the production area that I'm responsible for."