In a new move, the release of arguably one of New Zealand’s most aristocratic range of wines has taken on a new timeframe.  Church Road TOM is a tribute to Tom McDonald (1907-1987), a visionary winemaker who devoted his life to producing outstanding wines at Church Road Winery (formerly known as McWilliams Wines) in Hawke’s Bay.  McDonald is widely regarded as the father of red winemaking in New Zealand and in terms of chardonnay he was one of the first kiwi winemakers to create high quality examples, and it’s this devotion to creating fine wines that’s seen him leave a remarkable legacy and help cement an enviable future for both Church Road and Hawke’s Bay wine in general.

I was lucky enough to be there when the inaugural 1995 vintage of Church Road TOM Cabernet Sauvignon was celebrated at the opening of the Tom McDonald Cellar at Church Road winery.  There were fantastic stories about this towering man in skill, stature and personality and twenty years later the company have chosen to amend the annual release date of these wines to Tom McDonald’s birthday, September 12.  This year there are three wines given a TOM moniker and they were presented to me at a dinner crafted by the team at The Grill by Sean Connolly at SkyCityGrand over the following menu:


Mega Seafood Platter (scampi crudo, kingfish, snapper, Mt Cook salmon, yellow fin tuna, Queensland prawns, Cloudy Bay clams, Alaskan king crab, Coromandel green lip mussels, freshly shucked NZ oysters, Fermin Serrano, Wagyu Bresaola cold cuts and pickles.


Sean’s beef Wellington, prosciutto, mushroom duxelle, red wine jus, carved tableside by the Chef.  Served with duck fat chips, baby cos salad, radish, chardonnay dressing, Grandma’s carrots, parsley butter.

Church Road TOM Hawke’s Bay Chardonnay 2016 $150

“2016 was slightly more challenging than the previous three vintages” said Church Road winemaker Chris Scott.  “The inclement weather came during the merlot harvest, yet the chardonnay came in beautifully clean, during a period of warm, sunny weather, giving us the opportunity to create a different style of chardonnay this year”.

Golden in the glass, it’s the gorgeous aromas of struck match, grilled pineapple and seared grapefruit alongside roast peach that have you staring into the glass like a goober (technical term there)  What I’m trying to describe is that moment when something smells so good that words become a jumble of consonants in amongst head-nods and satisfied slurps from anyone who happens to be at the table.  Sourced from a clay-based vineyard planted by Tom McDonald in the 1960’s near the mouth of the eastern bank of the Tuki Tuki river, the blend is of two clones (15, Mendoza) that, after being hand harvested and hand sorted, was whole-bunch pressed directly into French oak for wild primary and malolactic ferments and a long, 11 month sleep in barrel before being bottled unfined and only lightly filtered.  However if you’re expecting a big, buxom, butterscotchy number, then steer the ship sideways because this wine is an exercise in restraint and elegance.  Fresh, slippery-textured, stonefruit-centric and showing beautiful fruit balance and tightrope tension, it has both buoyancy and depth and magnificent minerality to finish.  Drink now-2022

Church Road TOM Hawke’s Bay Syrah 2015 $220

“The three vintages of 2013, 2014 & 2015 produced my favourite red wines across all of our ranges” Chris Scott, Church Rd Winemaker.

Sourced predominantly from the rust-coloured, red metal soils of Church Road’s Redstone vineyard in the Bridge Pa, with a 17.5% splash of fruit from the deep, free-draining riverbed known as the Gimblett Gravels, the harvest involved multiple selections from the lowest vigour spots and even part-rows where needed to get just the very best berries.  The fruit was then fermented in a combo of shallow, old concrete fermenters and an old French oak cuve and the wine was left on skins for at least 33 days before being filled to 42% new French oak for 22 months and then bottled unfiltered.  It’s a dark, impenetrably inky thing in the glass and intensely floral on the nose.  Sultry, exotic spices, peppercorn, red rose, it’s all there, while on the palate it has a statuesque, lithe and luscious length and texture.  Dried provençal herbs, smoke, subtle cedar and the darkest of dark berries are dusted with graphite and create gum-soothing goodness that finishes with a tweak of espresso and tannins that have perfect chew.  Drink now-2030

Church Road TOM Hawke’s Bay Cabernet Sauvignon Merlot 2015 $220

63% of the blend of this wine is cabernet sauvignon sourced from the sunbaked, rust-coloured, red metal soils of their Redstone vineyard in the Bridge Pa Triangle “our preferred site for cabernet sauvignon” says winemaker Chris Scott.  An 11% addition of merlot was also harvested from this site as well.  The remaining 23% of merlot was grown on the Gimblett Gravels, just up the highway from Redstone.  Selective passes through both sites enabled only the most pristine fruit, from low-vigour soils were harvested and put through a light crush then fermented in open-topped French oak cuve’s before being soaked on skins for aorund 26 days.  The wine was then filled to a selection of 74% new French oak barrels for a 20-month maturation before being bottled unfined and unfiltered.  The result is a muscular, fleshy wine with a black-fruited, pepper and cocoa core.  Hints of dried herbs and vanilla add aromatic complexity on the nose and palate and help soothe any edges of youth as it slips down.  It’s an aristocrat for every New Zealand red cellar and will only improve with age.  Drink now – 2030