Imagine Hawkes’s Bay without its  grapes…without its wineries.  Viticulture shapes so much of our regional identity.  Yet most of us know only bits and pieces of how the wineries came to be.  In many ways, as Mark Sweet will show, the story of the wineries is a fascinating  history of Hawke’s Bay.  This month’s article, the first in a series, begins with the coming of the grapes and the origins of what is now known as the Mission Estate Winery

The story of wine in Hawke’s Bay begins in Lyons, France, when Pope Gregory XV1 appointed the Society of Mary to be the Catholic missionaries in Western Oceania.

On Christmas Eve, 1836, newly appointed Bishop of the South Pacific, Jean-Baptist Pompallier and nine Marist priests, set sail from Le Harvre aboard the Delphine for Oceania. They first landed in Valparaiso, Chile, in late June 1837 to re-provision for their journey across the Pacific, and on 8 November Father Pierre Chanel and Brother Nizier were set ashore on Futuna Island, now part of French Polynesia.

The Delphine sailed on to Sydney, then to Hokianga where Bishop Pompallier set up the first mission, and planted vines. None of the vines survive today. They were killed off by careless spraying of 2,4-D in the late 1970’s.

In his search for the origin of the Pompallier vines, Dr Richard Smart, who headed the New Zealand national viticultural programme in the 1980’s, revealed a fascinating possibility. The vines planted by Pompallier, came not from France, but from Chile.

In 1983 he visited Poi on Futuna Island. A vine planted by Pierre Chanel still survived. He named it the ‘saint’s vine,’ because Chanel was beheaded in 1840 after persisting in his attempts to convert the son of a chief. He was later canonised as Patron Saint of Oceania.

Dr Smart thought tracking down the origin of the vine would be easy. It had distinct deep, lyre shaped leaf lobes, red petioles and forked shoots, but no such vine could be found in old French vine amelography books. However his research assistant, Doris Zuur, found a variety called Moschata Paradisa growing in Mudgee, New South Wales, which had the same characteristics as the ‘saint’s vine’.

Most of the early vines in Mudgee came from James Busby’s collection, which after being assembled in Europe, were planted on a site which is now the Sydney Botanic Gardens.

Dr Smart surmised that when Bishop Pompallier visited Sydney on his way to New Zealand he still carried cuttings of the same vine that Pierre Chadin planted on Futuna and some were planted in Busby’s European collection.

In 1986 while lecturing on table grapes in Santiago, Chile, Dr Smart saw a vine with the same characteristics as the ‘saint’s vine’. He picked leaves of the vine and they were identical to those growing on Futuna. His ‘fair guess’ was that Pompallier took cuttings when the Delphine landed in Santiago in June 1837. The vines were dormant, so the right time for cuttings; and they were Pacific vines with more chance of being re-established in the region to which the missionaries travelled.

Vines were first planted in Hawke’s Bay at Pakowhai in 1851 by missionaries from the Society of Mary, and it’s reasonable to assume these vines originally came from Pompallier’s plantings in Hokianga.  Their journey, however, was not direct.

The ship carrying the missionaries was blown off course by a seveer southerly storm and driven past Napier to Gisborne. There Father John Lampila, and Brothers Florentine Francon and Basil Montchalin built a small shelter and planted crops, including vines. When they received news they were in the wrong place, they packed up their possessions and made their way south on foot.

The settlement which was to be the first home of the Mission Winery was established on seven acres of land beside the Ngaruroro River near Pakowhai Pa, and was under the protection of Puhara Hawaikirangi, a catholic convert.

Fr Lampila had been ordained at Hokianga in 1842 and headed the Whakatane mission in 1844. Vines flourished in both locations and it seems likely it was he who bought the vines to Hawke’s Bay.

Within a few years the Mission was self supporting and earning from its surplus. The Brothers farmed sheep, cattle, pigs and poultry. They grew maize, wheat, hay, vegetables and fruit.  Butter, cheese, and honey were produced. And ever increasing quantities of wine.

These was turbulent times in Hawke’s Bay, however, and in 1857 war broke out between rival Maori over ownership and the sale of land. The conflict was ignited when Te Hapuka of Ngati Whatuiopiti from Whakau asserted ownership over a small clump of bush at Pakiaka. He was challenged by Tareha te Moananui of Ngati Kahungunu. In his History of the Plains,’M.B Boyd asserts that ‘Moananui sought utu for an insult to his sister, Te Hapuku’s wife, whose feet were cut off because her coffin was too short.’

The conflict lasted seven months. Three battles were fought, and in the last exchange of fire Puhara Hawaikirangi, patron to the Mission was killed. He was te Hapuku’s father-in-law.

As The Hawke’s Bay Herald reported at the time, ‘His death will be regretted by most of us for many reasons, but chiefly because of the consequences which will entail, we fear, upon the Catholic Mission who, upon the death of their principal adherent, will find themselves obliged to move from their present location in Pakowhai where a considerable amount of industry and capital have been expended in forming the station whose hospitality to the wayfarer and charity to all who needed it will never be forgotten.’

The first home of the vines in Hawke’s Bay was abandoned on 28 February 1858.  As Doreen Keogh explains in her history of St Mary’s Parish, Fruit of the Vine, ‘The Missioners transferred all their belongings, equipment, stock and harvests, including the Mission House cut into sections, by bullock dray across the Tutaekuri River at Powdrell’s crossing to their new property at Meeanee Flat.’

So a new chapter began in the story of wine in Hawke’s Bay.

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