Mission Estate Winery :: History


Please confirm you are at least 18 years old before continuing:

I am sorry, you must be 18 years of age to enter this site.

I am over 18
I am not over 18

Home > Our Story > History

Buy Wines

To experience what 160 years of winemaking tastes like, view and purchase from our extensive range of Mission Estate wines. We will send the wine to you or as a gift, anywhere in New Zealand and many overseas destinations.  Please enquire

Buy Now


Book Now

Our History

Established in 1851 by the French Marist religious order, Mission Estate Winery is New Zealand's oldest winemaking concern still under the same management.

The Beginning

Our story begins with a group of French Missionaries who sailed to New Zealand in 1838 with little more than their faith and a few vines.

The Society of Mary was founded near Lyon in France. With the blessing of the Pope, a group travelled to the Pacific, arriving in New Zealand in 1838.

Besides being a teaching order, in 1851 the Fathers established a mission station near the Ngaruroro River between Napier and Hastings at Pakowhai. They followed the tradition of running a balanced farm property - fruit trees, cattle, and a vineyard.

In 1858, the missionaries moved to land they had purchased at Meeanee and a major community was established. A cottage for living quarters was transported from Pakowhai and later a Church, school and study halls were built. Vines were planted to produce both sacramental and table wine for their wine-drinking tradition. The first record of a commercial sale dates back to 1870 when a parcel of mostly dry reds was sold. The Cellar Master at the time was Brother Cyprian Huchet, who retained this position until 1899 and is considered the pioneering winemaker of New Zealand.

In 1880 a new two-storied house costing £2020 and 10 shillings was built. It was known as La Grande Maison or the "big house" and became the home for the early French Marists for three decades. In 1897, following a disastrous flood, it was realised that the land was subject to periodic flooding and higher land needed to be sought.

In 1897 the 800-acre Mission Estate (the current site) was purchased from the Tiffen family. The Marist brothers travelled each day from Meeanee to work the new land where a small orchard and some vines were planted. The first grapes were tended on the gently sloping land of the southern spur and the terraced area that is now used as the venue for the annual Mission Concert.

In 1909, Father Smythe decided to move the Mission community and the big house to the present site. In 1910, the Mission building was cut into eleven sections and rolled on logs and pulled by traction engines. The journey, just under five kilometers, took two days.

The old Meeanee site became the community Parish and the Church Road site became the centre of winemaking activities and the Seminary for training Marist Priests.

The 57 English Plane Trees which still stand today were planted in the driveway in 1911. In 1914, a new Gothic Chapel was been erected and the name Mount St Mary's replaced Maryvale.

In 1930 a contract was let for the construction of a three-story concrete accommodation block. On 2nd February 1931, the students moved into the new building. The next morning 3rd February 1931 at 10.47am, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale struck Hawke's Bay causing serious damage to the region, and the entire Mission. Two priests and seven students who were meditating in the stone chapel were killed when it hit. The new accommodation block was fractured and partly collapsed. The students moved elsewhere temporarily, but in February 1932, they returned and set to work to restore the grounds.

A wooden Chapel was built and still exists today, and by 1935 there were 80 students in residence. Since 1991, all seminary students have moved and are now in residence in Auckland.


Today, Mission Estate sources fruit from several sub-regions, including its own well-managed vineyards, blending old world artistry with the latest technology, to produce an award-winning range of distinctly New Zealand wines.

The winery underwent a major expansion in 2007, doubling grape pressing capacity to 2000 tonnes. The new production facility has been designed to deliver maximum energy and water efficiencies - a vital element in our ongoing commitment to the environment.

This multimillion dollar upgrade was a pre-requisite in terms of growth, and most importantly, was designed to maximise energy efficiency. The winery has had ISO14001 accreditation since 1998. This recognises our ongoing commitment to sustainable viticulture and wine-making practices.

Over the years we have introduced leading edge viticulture techniques, including Precision Viticulture which identifies the variation in the vineyards using different sensors that are linked to GPS. This enables us to produce maps which optimise a vineyard's performance and produces better quality wine.

Proceeds from the winery and vineyards help support a Seminary for the Society of Mary, whose members staff numerous parishes and secondary schools in New Zealand, and are also involved in various missionary activities both in New Zealand and overseas.

If visiting La Grande Maison of Mission Estate, as you progress down the driveway, there is still one row of Muscat grapes that have been grafted over the years from the very original stock bought to Hawke's Bay by the Marist Fathers in 1851.