In 1838 a group of French Missionaries (with the blessing of the Pope) arrived and established a Marist Mission in the north of New Zealand.
In 1851 a mission station was established near the Ngaruroro River between Napier and Hastings at Pakowhai. 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. The first record of a commercial sale dates back to 1870 when a parcel of mostly dry reds were sold.
A new two-storied house costing 2020 pounds and 10 shillings was built in 1880. 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 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.
Father Smythe decided to move the Mission community and the big house to the present site in 1909. Then in 1910, the Mission building was cut into eleven sections and rolled on logs and pulled by traction engines. The journey 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 English Plane Trees were planted in the driveway in 1911. In 1914, a new Gothic Chapel had 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 10h47am, an earthquake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale struck Hawke's Bay causing serious damage to 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.
Mission Estate is Hawke's Bay's oldest winery, with a well-respected reputation in the New Zealand market as a producer of consistent quality, value for money wines.