One of New Zealand’s oldest wineries, Church Road winery, has played a central role in the creation of the Hawke’s Bay wine region. We talk to Chris Scott, award winning senior winemaker at Church Road
Twenty years ago, Chris Scott was studying for a business degree, and knew very little about wine.
“I was heading down the accounting path,” says Chris, who was named New Zealand Winemaker of the Year in 2013 by Winestate magazine. “But I’m not the most organised person and I have a feeling you probably should be to be an accountant!”
Luckily a new passion for wine lead him to a Bachelor of Wine Science at EIT Hawke’s Bay, working at Church Road vineyards in the summer months. Two decades on, he has risen through Church Road’s ranks and says he can’t imagine being anywhere else.
“Church Road has character,” he says. “It’s one of New Zealand’s oldest wineries [established in 1897]; it’s a really nice environment to work in, with a family feel. Most of us have been here a long time.”
From a winemaker’s perspective, he says it’s the exceptional standard of fruit and the team’s shared commitment to quality that makes Church Road so great.
“We have a huge amount of experience in the viticulture team – some of them have been in the industry 40 years. And we’re all on board with the fact this is a quality, not quantity, operation.”
Church Road wines have a very textural quality about them, as a result of a long association with French winery, Domaines Cordier, from Bordeaux, in the 90s, when many wineries were focussing on big flavour.
“The French came in with a different approach; their focus was on texture and mouthfeel.”
This influence is obvious in Church Road’s core range, that all exhibit ripe, distinctive fruit characteristics with flavour and textural intensity.
The McDonald Series are crafted with a focus on traditional winemaking techniques, resulting in a subtle complexity of character that doesn’t rely too heavily on oak.
The fruit used in the Grand Reserve range are selectively harvested and hand sorted, to ensure only grapes of optimum ripeness make it to the fermentation process. The white wines are wild fermented, while the red wines are matured in 100% French oak barrels.
“Church Road wines are full of body. They have richness and viscosity on the palate, with a lovely backbone and dry, fine-grained tannins,” says Chris, who loves to push the winemaking boundaries.
“Vintage comes around once a year; most winemakers will only work about 35 to 40 vintages in their life. That’s your chance to experiment as much as you can.”