THE RIVER OF THE DEAD DOG IS MUCH PRETTIER THAN ITS NAME MIGHT SUGGEST. Actually, the scenery is spectacular along this stretch of the Tuteikuri, one of three rivers flowing from the central plateau to the coast, and along the way, creating the gravel plains and terraces of the Hawkes Bay wine country.
But here, where the foothills begin to rise from the plain, the volcanic ash, limestone and stony terraces traditionally carried sheep and beef. The Mason's farm is located a little way upriver from the settlement of Puketapu, in the Dartmoor valley, and lies across hillside and river terrace on the river's north bank. Unlike the river, the name of the village translates from Maori into English much more attractively - Sacred Hill.
Further upriver, perched at the edge of sheer white cliffs, and not really visible from below, there are vineyards producing one of New Zealand's outstanding chardonnays. But that lay a few years ahead.
In 1985 the Masons launched Sacred Hill's first wine. It was a fumé style sauvignon blanc from vines their father had planted a decade before, and it was a sell-out success.
WHETHER OR NOT THEY SPENT MUCH TIME IN A MILK TANKER parked behind the shed, those early wines, more often than not, proved to be surprisingly good. The Masons had begun what was to become a major wine business.
I first met the Mason brothers on a road trip in 1990. My business partner Peter and I had a few days away from Auckland, when we called in to see David and Mark Mason at their cellar door above the river. We didn't leave until the next day. It was the beginning of a relationship that continued over the next decade and a half.
Creating a brand that expressed the sophisticated down-to-earth style that was at the heart of Sacred Hill, was something of an evolution. Taking the brothers' original triangle and circle motif and combining it with a loosely drawn oval, created a strikingly evocative brand.
WINE VARIETIES: CHARDONNAY, GEWÜRTZTRAMINER, PINOT NOIR, PINOT BLANC, ROSÉ, CABERNET MERLOT BLENDS, AND SAUVIGNON BLANC.