The call came, but I wasn't thinking straight. Would I be keen to fly to the Hawke's Bay to celebrate Church Road's 120-year anniversary, with a wine tasting of its top-shelf TOM wines, followed by lunch and then an afternoon at The Farm at Cape Kidnappers with dinner and an overnight stay in one of its luxurious suites?
I'd love to, I say, but my husband's away for the week, someone needs to mind the kids and it's on deadline day. Sorry.
Five minutes later, realising I'm an utter fool, I ring back. I'll find a babysitter, the magazine will be put to bed early and yes, I will be there. With bells on.
A week on, as our plane descends into Napier airport, I notice how many swimming pools there are in suburban backyards. I take it as an omen that wine country is doing well, with the Hawke's Bay property market soaring in the past couple of years, thanks to hordes of Aucklanders picking up sticks. After collecting our bags, our party is shepherded into three 1950s Packards for the 10-minute trip to Church Road.
Holding court on the tiled steps of the Tuscan-style winery, chief winemaker Chris Scott laughs as he admits the area surrounding the winery is probably one of the worst places to grow grapes in the Hawke's Bay, its terrain too boggy. All of the grapes for Church Road's vintages — including Church Road, Church Road McDonald Series, Church Road Grand Reserve and Church Road TOM — are grown offsite. But the winery, the third oldest working winery in New Zealand has other attractions, including two different winery tours on offer.
We are here to celebrate one of New Zealand's earliest wine pioneers, Tom McDonald, in whose honour the TOM vintages are named. Church Road was established as winery by a Luxembourg emigrant, Bartholomew Steinmetz, who, according to Scott, "didn't do a lot for the wine industry other than establishing the site and then making the very good decision to employ a lad named Tom McDonald, who was 14 at the time."
When Steinmetz retired, McDonald leased the winery, before buying it outright aged 23. It was hard-going: he had to survive the Prohibition, the Great Depression, and the low opinion of winemakers back then.
"A guy who had worked with Tom said that when he started you wouldn't tell anyone you were a winemaker because your social status in New Zealand was about one up from a drug dealer," Scott says.
McDonald pioneered the first commercial cabernet sauvignon release in Hawke's Bay in 1949, as well as pioneering chardonnay production in the 1960s, laying the foundations for what would become Church Road's signature wines. To honour his legacy, Church Road launched the TOM cabernet sauvignon in 1999, later introducing a chardonnay and, in 2016, a syrah, with all bottles individually numbered and hand-finished.
After a light lunch in the winery with accompanying Church Road wines, we take the 40-minute trip to The Farm at Cape Kidnappers. Owned by billionaire hedge fund manager Julian Robertson (who also owns Kauri Cliffs in the Bay of Islands and Matakauri Lodge in Queenstown), The Farm features 22 guest rooms as well as a four-bedroom owner's cottage, all with jaw-dropping views of the Pacific Ocean. Robertson bought The Farm, a working sheep and cattle farm (which it remains) in 2000, on some 2500ha. The Tom Doak world-class golf course was built first, before Robertson realised guests would need somewhere to stay. The lodge opened in 2007.
Part of what makes the lodge so special is that it is a bird sanctuary: Robertson paid for a 10.6km predator fence to be installed, stretching from ocean to ocean. It keeps out possums, stoats, weasels and has led to a thriving kiwi population, with 95 per cent of chicks making it to 100 days, a far cry from the few who survive in the wild. Morning or afternoon tours are available, along with a guide who monitors and weighs the kiwi. You may even hold one.
If you visit between September and April, make sure you see New Zealand's largest gannet colony at the top of the Cape's dramatic bare cliffs. With no predators, the gannets are remarkably chilled, taking little notice of the humans a couple of metres away as they nest on what is some of the country's most expensive real estate.
Our trip ends with a five-course celebration dinner at the lodge, prepared by head chef James Honore. I could have eaten the butter poached scampi with jerusalem artichokes, washed down with the Church Road TOM Hawke's Bay 2014 Chardonnay, for breakfast, lunch and dinner. After a nightcap we slip back to our suites and fall into the comfort of the king-size bed as I dream of staying here for not one night, but forever.
TOUR AND TIPPLE
Behind the scenes tour: A chance to sample directly from Church Road's cellars, glass in hand as you learn how the good drops are made. The tour concludes with a tutored wine tasting, where each wine is accompanied by a perfectly matched small canape. Daily, 11am, 1.5 hours duration, $49 per person, bookings essential.
Winery and museum tour: Soak up some of the history of Church Road, including its wine museum, with some of the oldest wine relics from around the world, housed underground in old concrete wine vats, while learning about the winemaking journey along the way. Includes a tasting. Daily, 2pm, $17.50 per person, bookings recommended.
Staying there: The Farm at Cape Kidnappers has a Lodge Life special offer available until September 30, including accommodation, $400 lodge credit, pre-dinner drinks and canapes, dinner and full breakfast, Wi-Fi, non-alcoholic minibar, early check-in and late check out, priced at $1650 + GST per room, per night, based on double occupancy.
Michelle Hurley was a guest of Pernod Ricard.