It was a special occasion, the Squires birthday, and we chose to visit the superb Mission Estate Winery. Though there is more to this place than food and wine.
This well-established winery sits proudly perched high up in the Taradale Hills of Hawkes Bay. An iconic place is as much a history book as it is a vineyard. Approaching the extensive property, the first thing to steal your attention is an avenue of plane trees, the solid trunks, 57 in total, have stood sentry here alongside fields of vines since 1911, chaperoning visitors up to La Grand Maison in all its opulence.
With breathtaking views to the countryside and the distant sea, it is a stunning location. What grabbed our attention the most while escaping the hot summer sun was the Mission’s history. The walls are covered with photos and artefacts, clues that help to unlock the mysteries of the estate’s rich history. Arriving home, I was more curious to know more about this stunning wineries history.
Let’ start off this story in France, during 1838, the seeds of this fruity tale were sown when a group of French missionaries were granted Papal permission to head for the seemingly godless isles of New Zealand.
The brothers, unafraid of adventure, packed up their monastery and sallied forth to the Antipodes. All aboard the good ship Dauphine, the brothers took with them everything they’d need to offer Holy Communion to the savage souls they hoped to convert along the way. Of course, holy water wouldn’t suffice for they’d need wine, and plenty of it, sacramental and for drinking with meals. No need to rough it entirely just because you’re headed to the very end of the earth.
And around the globe the brothers sailed, tending their beloved vines as they went.
Arriving in Russell, the Hellhole of the Pacific, the first Mass was said alongside the Anglicans and then off to Hawkes Bay they went to start their own patch. Their mistake realised when the brothers got quite lost. Arriving in Poverty Bay, thinking they were in Hawkes Bay, the men began to put down roots. Two years later, a search party found them and told them they’d got the wrong bay. Oops. Maps weren’t as detailed back then. In fact, few had even been drawn. So they upped sticks and set off again, walking for six weeks until eventually, they arrived at their correct destination, Hawkes Bay.
To cut a long story short, after a few dead ends and false starts, in 1858 the missionaries bought land at Meeanee and established their community. In 1880, for the grand total of £2020, La Grande Maison was built.
One photograph [which I forgot to photograph!] was captured by a very talented NZ photographer Marti Friedlander sometime in the 1950s, shows Brother Sylvester talking to Michael Hannah, a strapping chap who boxed for New Zealand at the Vancouver Commonwealth Games in 1954. After his fighting life was over, Hannah took Holy Orders and became Brother Leo. The two men, the downright handsome Brother Leo and twinkly old Brother Sylvester, are clearly sharing some fabulous joke. Cheroot in hand, Brother Sly looks as if he has a hidden glass of red behind his back.
It doesn’t really matter whether he had or not, it’s merely one of those images that tells a great yarn about the world the men inhabited and the lives they must have lived. For all this being a monastery, there’s a sense the brothers weren’t all about toil and that they understood the importance of good, clean fun.
To read more about our trip to the Hawkes Bay, click the link below.