Hawke’s Bay is wine country, and Maurice notes that “vineyard visiting [is] a pleasure here – some of country’s best wines [are] available for sampling.” I like to imagine Maurice having a bit of a “Sideways” adventure. Out in Napier making notes for the third edition of the Shell Guide, he finds himself and/or gets sloshed in the region’s tasting rooms.
In particular Maurice singles out the Mission Vineyards, “begun in mid-19th century by French priests, and [is the] oldest wine-making enterprise in the country.” But it’s not all booze and priests. The winery is “set among hedges, shrines and large old trees [and] is extremely picturesque.”
These sounded like good footsteps to retrace, so I got the bus out to Greenmeadows and made my way up the Mission Estate Winery’s long, tree-lined driveway.
I’d scheduled my visit so I would arrive in time for the daily 2pm tour of the winery, but the sole pourer at the bar explained that she was the only person working that day, so the tour was off. Selling wine obviously took precedence. Instead I was welcome to have a wander around the old seminary building and grounds.
In a side room, a large television played a DVD of Cliff Richard’s 2003 concert at the estate. Every year the Mission holds a big ol’ outdoor concert where baby boomers bring along camping chairs and get boozed up on wine while they politely bop along to such artists as Chris de Burgh, Tom Jones, Olivia Newton John and Dave Dobbyn. A cabinet displayed the special wines bottled for the occasion. Hey, let’s crack open the Dionne Warwick and drown our sorrows as we listen to “Walk on By”.
The tasting bar was crowded with tourists, all wanting to get their specially discounted airport-compliant three-pack of wine, so I wandered into the gift shop. It turned out to be full of insane crafts, the tail end of the 1970s fashion for twee handmade crafts, with little acknowledgement of the modern craft resurgence. Things like little pottery plaques with handwritten mottos on such topics as doing the dishes, turning 40, having a messy home and how getting older is (somehow) like a tree. And because it was a Catholic craft shop, there were lots of crosses – wonky, consciously handmade crosses. For the Catholic who enjoys a shabby chic aesthetic.
I was excited by Maurice’s observation of shrines, but I didn’t find any. There was one room with information on the history of the Marist order, but most of the seminary building didn’t feel particularly Catholic. I guess there’s a balance between having a serious-money tourist attraction and a religious centre.
Outside there were splendid views of Napier, stretching all the way to the sea, with long rows of grapes extending out in front. The gardens were immaculate, in a “oh, this would be a nice place to have our wedding, darling” way, and I was happy to spot a neat little hedge, just like Maurice did. It was, indeed, picturesque.
There’s a photo in the Shell Guide showing a priest in a long black cassock, cigarette in hand, sharing a joke with a vineyard worker. The trainee priests are now all in Auckland, and the Mission Estate feels like a fancy winery with a sideline in fine Catholic souvenirs.
I had to leave to catch the hourly bus, so I didn’t have the chance to further search for secret shrines. Wait, secret shrines? That sounds like something out of “The Da Vinci Code”. Actually, that would be quite cool – killer wine-making monks in Napier. Maybe they could switch to that if the whole pop-concert thing doesn’t work out.
Back in town, it was time for one last adventure, but I didn’t feel like following Maurice’s directions any more. It was time to go off-book and head straight to prison.