Urban Winery mixes chardonnay with Art Deco style in a New Zealand-first

An old tobacco processing factory may seem like a strange place to be making chardonnay but the allure of this iconic Art Deco building has proved irresistible to New Zealand winemaker Tony Bish.

Traditionally, visitors flock to Hawke’s Bay vineyards to sip wine amongst the vines but a new winery is adding an urban edge to the wine-tasting experience.

Urban Winery - the newest addition to the Hawke’s Bay Wine Trail - is a New Zealand-first in Napier, a beautiful Art Deco city on the east coast of the North Island. The old tobacco processing factory may seem like a strange place to be making Chardonnay but the allure of this iconic Art Deco building proved irresistible to winemaker Tony Bish.

“I have been interested in the concept of an Urban Winery in Ahuriri since 1995, but until now the stars didn’t align. Access to the old National Tobacco Company was the catalyst for this new project,” Tony Bish says.

Napier’s Art Deco architecture is world renowned and if there was a poster child for the city, the National Tobacco Company building would be it. Bish has transformed the interior into a chic, modern space where visitors can come and try his own creations and a few other select drops from around the region, paired with a charcuterie platter or cheese board.

Sourcing local grapes, Bish employs cutting edge techniques to make Chardonnay, a favourite varietal of the experienced winemaker who started his journey in winemaking in 1981.

“Chardonnay is such a wonderful variety to work with. It responds well to a wide range of winemaking techniques and stylistic directions, allowing me considerable freedom of expression.”

Take a wander around Urban Winery and you will see this expression in action. In pride of place in Urban Winery’s barrel room sits a giant egg made of French oak. What looks like a classy sculpture to the untrained eye is actually a Taransaud Ovum, imported from France and one of only a few of such barrels anywhere in the world. This rare barrel adds to three concrete eggs in the winery’s stable, all quietly working away to create the perfect Chardonnay.

The Hawke’s Bay wine region is well known for its Chardonnays, Bish explains, because the wonderful cool climate with relatively low rainfall, along with alluvial and limestone-based soil types, helps create grapes suited to his favourite style.

Bish has worked with some top Hawke’s Bay wineries, such as Vidal and Sacred Hill, and he and his life partner Karryn love living in the area.

“We love the wine and food culture here as well as the proximity to gorgeous beaches, wild rivers, and stunning scenery. It’s a bit more urbane in the city centres compared to some other regional cities, and we like that to.”

Urban Winery is breaking the mould from the traditional winery and the mix of urban sophistication and world-class wines is sure to be a winner for visitors to the region.