For the last 20+ years, Tony and Karryn Bish have worked in the wine industry. Tony was Senior Winemaker at Sacred Hill, while Karryn ran her own business. In a do-or-die move they decided to mash up their experience to create Tony Bish Wines and the impressive The Urban Winery.
It took courage – and support
Tony says it took a bit of guts to give up a salaried job for the unknown territory of a start-up. They had a few meetings with a business mentor and their Kiwibank Business Manager Garth Duncan, who had wine industry-specific knowledge, made sure they had the financial fundamentals right. Overall, though, Tony says that wife Karryn was (and still is) his primary mentor.
They’re all about the innovation
Their dream for Tony Bish Wines was to resurrect the noble Chardonnay grape, so they invested in high-tech concrete egg fermenters, a first on the New Zealand wine scene, along with some innovative wine styles and branding.
“We knew Chardonnay had been somewhat ‘stale’ as a wine category, so our strategy was to innovate, innovate, innovate.” – Tony Bish
While looking for a home for this bold approach to winemaking, they came across the iconic National Tobacco Company building in Ahuriri, located within the Port precinct of Napier – a stunning piece of Art Deco industrial architecture and a “national treasure”. With help from some very creative people they built The Urban Winery, a stunning and unique bar and cellar door.
To celebrate they purchased the most unique and stunning wine barrel in the world – a Taransaud Ovum. This French Oak egg-shaped barrel is the only one in New Zealand and one of only a few in the world.
There was only one way to go: forward
The couple admit it was incredibly challenging to commit all of their financial resources to one project, especially in the fit-out phase when cashflow was going the wrong way. At the same time, this was their first foray into hospitality. While it was a steep learning curve, they say there’s no choice but to commit once you start on a project like this.
“We had to trust that hard work and a common sense approach to business would carry us through.” – Tony Bish
Now, seeing The Urban Winery profitable, teeming with happy customers on a Friday night and the home of some epic food and wine events, they know it’s been worth it. On top of that, exports of Tony Bish Wines to Australia, the UK and the US are going well and getting fantastic endorsements from critics.
Kiwibank partnership built on mutual respect and support
Tony says in his experience the Kiwibank promise ‘when you join us, we join you’ holds up. “We meet our Kiwibank Business Manager regularly to maintain open dialogue and review performance. And he seems to like wine!”
They’re also genuinely proud to be with a Kiwi-owned bank keeping profits in New Zealand.