Founded by the Preston family, Mills Reef Winery's inaugural vintage was in 1989, embracing a passion for quality Hawkes Bay wines crafted with great care and enthusiasm, in humble facilities located on the foothills of the Kaimai ranges on the outskirts of Tauranga.
The idea for the Mills Reef name was born of a desire for a brand that had unique and special meaning.
The birth name of Patriarch Paddy Preston is Warren Mills Preston. His second name being reference to his great grandfather, Charles Mills, both a sea captain and involved in mining pursuits, prior to becoming a prominent Member of Parliament from 1890 - 1908, latterly as the Minister of Trade and Customs.
The Mills Reef name therefore honours and references Charles Mills pioneering exploits, watching for reefs at sea, mining for reefs of gold, and leading the beachhead development of international trade during New Zealands formative years. At the same time also a fitting tribute to current day family embracing this same pioneering spirit through its hand-crafted wines.
It was very much a family affair in the early days, all helping where necessary, including the winemaking role taken up by father-and-son team Paddy and Tim Preston.
Typical of many great NZ success stories, these modest beginnings combined with determination and hard work soon saw Mills Reef receive significant critical acclaim at both national and international shows. Several years on and with a rapidly growing following of loyal wine lovers, there was a need to expand the winemaking facilities and establish a fitting home for the brand, where Mills Reef lovers could visit to experience and enjoy.
In 1992 the perfect site was found on the outskirts of Tauranga, in the semi-rural setting of Bethlehem. A purpose-built winery was conceived, in a design that honours the art-deco style of Napier City within Hawkes Bay, following its rebuilding after the great 1931 earthquake. The new winery was officially opened in 1995 on Queens Birthday weekend, and continues to be heralded as one of the most stylish and attractive in the country.
Also at that time, Mills Reef was joined by winemaker Paul Dawick, who today with Tim Preston share over 50 years of combined winemaking experience, with a particular specialist knowledge of the Hawkes Bay region that has seen Mills Reef go on to achieve wide and repeated Trophy-winning acclaim at national and international shows, along with being twice-awarded the "Champion NZ Winemaker" title.
Another very important step early-on was the recognition of stunning Bordeaux-varietal red wines that could be grown in a special inland area within Hawkes Bay, where Mills Reef sourced grapes from its very first vintage in 1989, in the Mere Road Vineyard. The warm climate and deep stony free-draining soils proved ideal for exceptional world-class wines. Today those soils upon which the vineyard is sited are known as part of the renowned Gimblett Gravels, as officially proclaimed in 2001.
The Mere Road Vineyard was initially leased by Mills Reef in 1989, of which a 10 hectare portion was purchased in 1993, followed three years later by acquisition of the two remaining and adjoining 4 hectare blocks. The entire 18 hectare vineyard was then progressively replanted from 1993 through to 2001 with ideally suited varieties of the modern clones and rootstocks, including one of the districts earlier plantings of Syrah in 1996 within the east block, going on to become arguably NZ's most successful Syrah.
Mills Reef also sources grapes from other carefully selected sites matched to ideally suited varieties, particularly, Chardonnay from sandier coastal sites enjoying a temperate maritime climate, and Pinot Gris from inland alluvial sites with a greater diurnal variation on the Ruahine foothills, both proving ideal for exceptional wines.
This careful attention to detail and commitment to hand-crafted wines has seen Mills Reef rise to enjoy an enviable international reputation as one of New Zealand's leading producers, its wines enjoyed globally, from Great Britain to the USA, China and beyond!
Whether or not Charles Mills ever found his "Reef" we can't say for sure, but we do know the Preston family has certainly found theirs, in the pleasure and passion of making fine Mills Reef wines.