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Mills Reef – dedicated to excellence

Mills Reef - dedicated to excellence
A toast to success: from left, Tim Preston, Nick Aleksich and Paul Dawick.

Bringing premium quality wines to market in a popular tourist destination has built a successful business for a Hawkes Bay winery.

Paddy Preston and son Tim founded the Mills Reef Wines nearly 30 years ago, their passion for red wine and in particular the French Bordeaux varieties leading them to seek out some of the finer parcels of vineyard land in what is now known as the Gimblett Gravels wine growing district in Hawke’s Bay.

They set out through their commitment and dedication to excellence to establish the Mills Reef brand as one of New Zealand’s premium labels.

With foresight they also looked to their lifestyle and their potential market, establishing the winery some 3.5 hours drive north of Hawke-s Bay in Tauranga – initially converting a humble milking shed into a winery on the Kaimai foothills, then six years later in 1995 building the stunning landmark that Mills Reef is today, set on seven hectares of beautifully landscaped grounds.

Mills Reef’s five vineyards are spread over a variety of sites in Hawke’s Bay.  For white wines they farm the sandy soils nearer the coast to produce ripe expressive Chardonnay, and the alluvial soils of the southern foothills to make fresh lively Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris.

But, says company general manager Nick Aleksich, it is the stony soils of the warm inland Gimblett Gravels district, the “jewel in the crown,” which produce the world-class grapes from which the finest Bordeaux-varietal reds and Syrah wines of Mills Reef are made.

Nick credits much of the company’s success to the careful matching of grape variety to “terroir,” the environmental conditions – especially soil and climate – in which grapes are grown and that give a wine its unique flavour and aroma.

The temperatures in the Gimblett Gravels Winegrowing District are between 2 and 3 degrees Celsius warmer than in other Hawkes Bay areas, says Nick.

This extra heat combined with gravely soils ensure ripe full flavoured grapes and is especially suited to the red varieties typically grown around the Bordeaux and Rhone regions in France, making both “very exciting wines at the moment,” he says.  “They are really capturing national and global attention.”

To prove it the company won the trophy for Champion Cabernet Sauvignon and Blends for its Mills Reef Reserve Cabernet Merlot 2016 at the prestigious NZ Royal Easter Show Wine Awards earlier this year.  Mills Reef has also twice been recipient of the prestigious New Zealand Winemaker of the Year Award.

The wines are well known by customers, including some 45,000 visitors who each year come to the prominent Mills Reef winery and restaurant located close to the Tauranga CBD.

The winery complex boasts full winemaking and bottling facilities, two underground barrel cellars, an aged wine cellar, spacious wine tasting areas, and an award winning 150 seat restaurant.

While Paddy is now retired, he still enjoys a governance role while son and Mills Reef cofounder Tim is now chief winemaker. Mills Reef now employs around 35 full-time staff across the winery and vineyards, swelling to 75 at harvest time.

Nick puts the success of the family enterprise down to the high quality focus in all stages of making the wine from vineyard to the winery, the family’s passion for red wines, insightful planning of vineyard locations, and the fortuitous decision to build the Tauranga winery “in New Zealand’s favourite holiday destination on the doorstep of the biggest population – Auckland.”

Whilst nurturing long-term relationships with suppliers, staff and ultimately the customers, many of whom become “loyal customers for life,” is rated right up there too. Through commitment and dedication to excellence, the Mills Reef brand has established itself as one of New Zealand’s premium wine labels.

From its 55 hectares of vineyards (half of which belong to the company, the other half are leased or contract grown) they produce 30,000 cases of premium wine each year.

Around 20 percent is exported, with China in particular embracing the full-bodied red wines and rapidly growing in importance as a major export market. Other markets include Japan, the USA, Europe and Australia.

With the remaining 80 percent of sales onshore, Mills Reef sells the wines through selected wine stores, some Foodstuffs (New World) outlets and through their extremely busy restaurant and cellar door.

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