Ash Oldershaw Interview

I’m interviewing Ash Oldershaw, well-known Hawke’s Bay resident, accountant, had his own business in Marewa, and now living in Cambridge. Good morning, Ash. If you can just tell us a little bit about your life history first of all, and your time in Hawke’s Bay, and then secondly we’ll go into one of your favourite subjects, the wine industry.

Good morning Jim.

And I’ll just leave it over to you.

Well now, where do we start? So my family … yeah, I’m probably quite unique in the fact that only one of my grandparents wasn’t born in New Zealand, and they were all pretty old. Well the only one … my maternal grandmother was born in England and came to New Zealand as a young person, came to Napier. The rest of my grandparents were certainly born in New Zealand, and … yeah, well we don’t need to go into their history.

I was born in Waipukurau and I lived in Takapau as a child. I went to Dannevirke High School in the war years, 1940 to 1945. I was very young when I went to high school, so I spent more time there than most people did, and I was still only seventeen when I left after six years.

I had a little bit of maturing to do I guess. I didn’t go to university because at the end of the war it was pretty hard to get into a university and do commerce because those places seemed to be reserved for retired servicemen. So I did a couple of accounting subjects while I was at high school and came to Napier in 1945 and went to work for an accounting firm called Anderson & White. And I stayed there for as long as I could put up with it, in that one of the partners for whom I worked didn’t like work very much and I began to be overburdened with work, and I just couldn’t concentrate on my after-hour work because I was going to meetings and doing all this that and the other. So after about two and half years with that firm I left them and went to work for a private firm so that I could give myself a bit of time to enjoy life a bit and concentrate on my accounting studies.

So I did that, and returned to accounting after about four years and worked for a firm called Prime & Morrell who had an office in Napier and another one in Taupo. And I was the chief honcho there for … oh, I guess about four years. We had quite a variety of practice. Once again the chief partner, or the head partner – he wasn’t very keen on work and I got [chuckle] pushed into a position where I was doing far too much again.

And I made friends with a tax inspector who’d come to Napier from Wellington. His name was Paddy Sutherland … David Sutherland … and we were talking one day and we were both fed up with what we were doing and we were going our own ways. I was going to go to Auckland and he had been offered a position with a tax consulting firm in Wellington. We said, you know – “why the devil should we be pushed into this position? Why don’t we start up in Napier?” So we decided to do that, and on the … I think it was the 9th of April 1956 we opened our office in Napier, and the firm carried on as Oldershaw & Sutherland … couple of other names … until Paddy Sullivan died when he was forty-two – same age as me. And I took in another partner and [a] couple of others after that, and continued on until I was seventy as a partner, and seventy-five as a consultant, when I retired.

I was involved in a lot of sporting clubs during this time. As soon as I came here I was President of the … job as Secretary of the Napier High School Old Boys’ Rugby Club. I became – with my first employer, Tig Anderson, involved with the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union. And I used to, at the tender age of nineteen, take a lot of rugby union meetings as Secretary, and sort of carried on doing that until I left that firm.

I was involved in athletics until I hurt my ankle once and just gave it up and took on tennis – and I’d played tennis beforehand – and I became Club Captain of the Hawke’s Bay Lawn Tennis Club which office I held for probably four years, and I’m still a member of that club. I was on the Executive of the Hawke’s Bay Lawn Tennis Association for a short period of time, but I wasn’t over-interested in that.

I became a founding member and first Secretary of the Hawke’s Bay Squash Racquets’ Club. Shortly after the war, that was started by a band of enthusiastic, probably former Air Force personnel who had played the game in Air Force hangars during the war. And we got that going in an old reservoir on Bluff Hill, and I spent many happy hours playing squash and enjoying the social activities that were carried on at that club.

I joined the Maraenui Golf Club in 1952, and I’m still playing golf on a regular basis and it was one of the best things I ever did. But [chuckle] once again, being probably a bit soft and a bit persuaded by some of the older fellows in the Club that I knew, I was asked to become Secretary of that club in 1955. I was elected Secretary in early December 1955, and on the 30th or 31st of December of that year the Clubhouse was burnt down. And for the next several years we were involved in rebuilding a Clubhouse and putting the Club on a sound financial basis. But I gave that up after I think two years, and then was persuaded to become Auditor of the Club and then a few years after that, went back onto the committee and became Vice President. But I didn’t carry on because by that time I was married with a young family. I didn’t want to carry on as President at that point in time, so I gave it up but was persuaded to become a member of a committee again. And I can’t remember the years, but they were all recorded at the Club later on, and took on the job as Chairman of the Finance Committee – had that for all the time I was back on the committee. For six years at this period, became Vice President and President of the Club, and we did a lot of things in that time. The Club was notorious for being very wet, so we decided we’d put drainage in. We wanted a new Clubhouse so we went about building a new Clubhouse, and we thought we should have the best equipment in the Club so that the greenkeepers could do their job properly, and all of it was replaced in my time as Chairman of the Finance Committee and President etcetera. And I was later … for all these efforts … made a Life Member of the Maraenui Golf Club.

I’m thinking of other sports that I’ve been involved in but that’s probably the extent of that.

I’m married of course. I married Lindsay … she was Lindsay Stewart, and we were married in Wanganui on the 19th of May 1962 [1952?], and we … well, we first lived in Riverbend Road and then bought a property in Cobden Road, where we stayed until our family grew up a little and the house became too small. So we then moved to 26 Fitzroy Road – the old Bank of New Zealand residence – where we lived for about thirty-five years before that became too big for our needs, and then we moved out to Greenmeadows where we lived for about nine years before moving to Cambridge.

We have three sons, all married with families. Mark, the eldest, at present has had a number of positions. When he left school he went into … he actually spent a year in the Army Band – just for a gap year – and then went to university and got his degree and went to work for Telecom, and then decided if he worked there too long he’d be dead before he was forty, [chuckle] and then came back to Napier to work for Oldershaw & Co in the chartered accounting business. After some years, didn’t like it and went back to Wellington and did a variety of things there.

Our second son, David, is at present … what’s he? He’s CEO of an outfit called Midland Area Health based in the Waikato and they run oh, about four hundred and sixteen medical practices and that type of thing.

And the young fellow, Michael, is an independent film director. He’s got his own business which operates from Auckland, but he couldn’t take the pace of Auckland and also moved to Cambridge. So we’re happy, with two other families apart from Lindsay and I, in Cambridge.

Shall I talk about the wine industry now?

No, could you tell me just a little bit about your parents, and when they came to Hawke’s Bay?

Yeah, well my father was a veteran of the Second [First] World War and there, he … I’m looking for the word, and when you get a bit older, sometimes you can’t think of it. He became infected with tuberculosis – that’s the word – and after the war had to go to the Pukeora Sanitorium. And during the course of his life he was there five different times. And he lived in Takapau where he had a – when it was a thriving little town, twenty-five shops and all that – and he had a shoe shop there. He came from Pahiatua before that. And my mother – her father was the local baker in Takapau, and that’s where they came from.

And your grandparents?

And my grandparents – my mother’s father was a … well, he was obviously a baker, but he was only a baker of convenience. His parents came from Scotland, and they went to Dunedin and then came to Hawke’s Bay, and I think among the brothers they established a number of bakery shops. But my grandfather reckoned he wasn’t a baker – he was obviously a bright fellow, and was at university in Otago studying languages when his father died, and he had to come back and sort of look after the family business, and set his brothers up and all that sort of thing.

Where were your roots originally? Scotland, or north of England?

No – I think they were the only ones who came from Scotland. My maternal grandmother who came to New Zealand as a young person – her parents were Londoners and they were silversmiths. And they came to New Zealand, to Napier actually, and probably set up a business here – I’ve never ever pursued that one.

The other side of the family – I think my father’s mother had a Welsh connection. And my father’s father – his father was a mystery man, who I think came to New Zealand as a remittance man or something like that. He obviously came with some money because he set himself up in business in Dunedin originally. But I haven’t been able to establish a connection beyond that, except that I know he was connected … his family were in the Army in England. I remember seeing a photograph of a fellow who was a Major in the Indian Army, and his name was exactly the same as my father’s name, so there is some connection in the military there. And the Oldershaw line comes from around Sherwood Forest … Loughborough … that area. So that’s about all you need to know about that.

Good – that’s very good indeed. Now, we’ll get onto your passion of wine …

[Chuckle] Where did I gain that passion? Well I don’t know. Originally it probably wasn’t in business, although we acted for a lot of hotels – Paddy Sutherland and I had fourteen hotels on our books at the one time for some period. And I used to do an awful lot for Leopard Brewery with George Chamberlain and John McFarlane, but I think it just came from the fact that I probably discovered wine on my own. Yeah, I think probably because of the fact that I joined the Wine & Food Society at an early period of time. And I was probably persuaded to do that, although I didn’t take a lot of persuasion, by a few people I knew like Brian Grossman and Keith Monaghan and Hal Nash, and I remember Tony Wain, who was also a solicitor in Hastings. And they actually were members of an unincorporated wine and food society that existed here in the 1960s. Tom McDonald was the leading light if I remember correctly – I think Buck Buchanan was probably one of them. And that flourished for a few years and I got involved in it just before it folded. And it folded for … I guess for the lack of interest, or someone needing to push it along. And then it revived in the late 1960s – I’ve been trying to trace that actually, but they are no longer incorporated so I can’t find out when that was.

But … Tony Wain I think, became the President of an incorporated society called the Hawke’s Bay Wine & Food Society. And I joined – I think they wanted an auditor [chuckle] – was probably the reason why I was involved initially. But I got persuaded by Buck Buchanan I think, to join the committee and I became President eventually, of the organisation, in the early ’70s probably. And yeah, we had a wonderful time.

The Wine & Food Society was sort of forced on people who enjoyed good food and wine, because there were virtually no restaurants where you could go and enjoy food and wine here. There might have been the old Mayfair Hotel in Hastings; Buck’s Stortford Lodge, but that was about the end of it. And they engaged people – they had about four functions a year, maybe more, but they would engage a chef to come and prepare a meal. The Society built up a magnificent cellar – it was the envy of every other group in New Zealand. And that was because Tom McDonald was a member of the Society and he at that time was a Director of Ballins Breweries. And Ballins Breweries had wonderful import licences and they could bring in the world’s best wines, which they did. I can remember going to a tasting of 1961 Premier Cru – four out of the five we tasted at a comparative tasting. I also saw the invoice that was sent to the Club for that wine, and it had ‘Cost N/C’ – no charge – for six bottles of each – twenty-four bottles of Premier Cru wine – these days it costs a fortune.

And they built up the cellar and it was kept at the Stortford Lodge Hotel, underground, apart from Buck’s own wines, [chuckle] and it was regularly audited so that you know, there was nothing ever taken from it. And we enjoyed some great functions, and we had the pleasure here of hosting such notables in the industry in England, like André Simon. We had a barbecue for him out in the old Vidal vineyard in Havelock North. We had various Presidents of the International Wine & Food Society call on us; we had the President of the American Wine & Foot Society call on us.

And as time went by … and I was probably instrumental in doing this ‘cause I was pretty organised sort of person … of getting something special. And we had some wonderful dinners – we had one, and I’ve got the menu here, the Twentieth Anniversary Dinner of the Hawke’s Bay Wine & Food Society in 1978, so the Society must go back to 1958. And the guest of honour was His Excellency the Governor General, The Right Honourable Sir Keith Holyoake and Lady Holyoake. And the menu wasn’t over extensive, nor the wines at that time, but they were representative of New Zealand wines of the period, and the food was very good. It was held at Ormlie Lodge and John Cornish was the chef, and you could always rely on John Cornish to do something exceptionally well if he was in the right mood, and he certainly was that evening. It was one of what I would call a ‘memorable meal’.

I like the sparkling wine that you had.

What was that?

McWilliams Marque Vue. [Laughter]

Exactly. Well – I mean we had in our cellars a better sparkling than that, but we wanted to do a New Zealand thing, and there it was.

The Hawke’s Bay Wine & Food Society was a member of the International Wine & Food Society, and each of the members were given membership of the International Society. And that was … well, it gave you some privileges … a magazine that came out every now and then, probably four times a year. I’ve got every one of those actually, at home, the magazines that they produced. And they decided after … the International Wine & Food Society decided that it was a bit costly, so they incorporated their news in a Wine & Food periodical that you had to subscribe to. And I probably did that for a while, but gave it up because …

I made some notes for another purpose. The people that were involved is probably quite interesting in that the chefs … the early chefs … that we used were … Keith McNaughton was a local doctor and he was a very good cook, and he did a few meals for us. Drago Kovac was a fellow who had a restaurant in Wellington called the Copper Kettle, and he then moved to Napier and he had a restaurant under the Museum, and I think he called that the Copper Kettle as well. I knew him well, and he was a fine fellow. He was a Hungarian.

I remember when I came on the committee of the Wine & Food Society Ian Vigor-Brown was the President, Hal Nash was the Secretary, Tom McDonald was the Patron. Then Ray Foster became the President and I was Vice President under Ray, and then I became President – no, sorry – Buck Buchanan was President before Ray actually, and then I think Mike Hewitt. And we had some wine people – John Buck – he didn’t attend very often, and I don’t know that he was ever a member, but he was visible. Bob Knapstein of course was a very good cellar master as was Ian Clark, who is still active in the industry in Auckland. And the fellow who was the winemaker at McWilliams when Tom was there, Denis Kasza was involved with the Society … he was the winemaker at McWilliams Winery. And he was Hungarian as well, and a fine fellow and a very good winemaker. He probably didn’t get the credit from the industry that he deserved, because I think he made a lot of the good cabernets that were attributed to Tom – I mean Tom had a big influence.

So that’s where I really got my interest in wines. And then I was talking one day to my friend the garage proprietor at Bay View, called Jim Young, and I said “what are you up to, Jim?” And he said “I’m going to grow some grapes”, and he said “why don’t you come and grow grapes with me?” And I said “I haven’t got any land, or don’t know anything about it”. And he said “well okay – well, there’s some land next to me … about twelve acres. We can put mine in and we’ll form a partnership and we’ll grow grapes”. So I said … after a bit of persuasion … “okay, we’ll do that”, I said, “as long as I don’t have to [chuckle] go and work in it”. So I became – well our family – became grape growers.

And from that I remember talking to Ian Clark and John Buck, whom I’d met in Auckland, about the Hawke’s Bay Vintners’ organisation that was being talked about, and actually I think it had been formed. And they were looking for someone to look after their books and give them a bit of guidance, and I didn’t have to be persuaded very much to say “yes, I’m only too happy to do it”. So I became involved in Hawke’s Bay Vintners, and that was probably in the early 1970s. There weren’t very many wineries operating – I think the original crowd that was there when I came in would have been McWilliams, and maybe Vidals – yes, I think they were there because Warwick Orchiston was about.


Brookfields – most certainly, yes. Mission. There was a fellow out on the Tuki Tuki Road … Morton … what was his other name? Morton was his Christian name. He had a winery that started with A. And also the Greens from Havelock North, and Tony Green actually became Secretary I think. When I first became involved Peter Robertson was the Secretary, and Peter gave up at the end of the year and Tony Green took on the job for a while.

Peter Robertson was with Brookfields, wasn’t he?

Peter Robertson purchased Brookfields. He’d previously worked with McWilliams as a chemist. And yeah, so we got this thing going together, and – how do we fund it? And I thought ‘well, the only way to fund this is to work out a levy according to the amount of wine produced by each winery’. And we thought that might be a problem because McWilliams, in those days, was so big, they would’ve had to contribute about eighty per cent of the levy. But they agreed to do that for a period of time, and they could see that the industry was growing. And I set a levy – I wasn’t allowed to let anyone else know what the other’s production was – it was all kept very quiet.

Tim Cooper the manager of McWilliams in those days?

No, I didn’t know him. No – the manager of McWilliams was Tom McDonald still, and Bob Knapstein took over from Tom. And that was a long time ago. No, I didn’t ever know Tim Cooper – he must have been a relatively recent person. But Warwick Orchiston and Peter Robertson stayed on the committee, and Alwyn Corban came along after a few years.

And the Society got bigger and bigger, and it tried to promote itself to the public by having events that the public were asked to come along to. And Warwick Orchiston came along with a proposition … he said “would you guys be interested if Mission had a concert – would you come along and do the wine?” And we said “well, it’s a no-lose situation – yeah, of course we will.” So for a number of years the wine at the Mission concert was provided by the Vintners as a group and we used to man the stalls. I ran the finance for the whole thing and yeah it was one of our big events, and the only money that was made by individual wineries on the amount of wine they sold there.

Tell me, what was the grape in those days … in the early days?

Well in the early days I mean the grape that – the only grape that Jim Young and I were allowed to plant were a Palomino and Riesling Sylvaner – Müller Thurgau, but they called it Riesling Sylvaner.

Chenin Blanc?

No Chenin Blanc, not in those days. And that was it, and most of the wine that the wineries made was sherry, not table wine. McWilliams made a couple of sparkling – Cresta Doré White and Baccano Red. Tom would occasionally, in a good year, make a Cabernet Sauvignon, and every now and then a Chardonnay would appear. And McWilliams actually turned out some … their 1958/59 Cabernet Sauvignons were very good, and about the same time they produced some very good Chardonnays. But I mean the quantity of Cabernet and Chardonnay grown in the whole of Hawke’s Bay was negligible. It was sort of … you know, if you knew Tom McDonald or someone like that you might get a case or you might not.

And then it changed a bit. One or two … like John Buck came in, took over the old Te Mata Winery and he was quite determined right from the start that he wasn’t going to make anything other than the best quality wine. And he grew Cabernet and Merlot grapes for reds and he grew Chardonnay, and that was that for a start, and started to produce some exceptional wines right from the word go. I think he produced his first wine in 1981, that’d be right?

Would be.

And it was an instant success and he’s kept that standard up and widened his range, but certainly the quality has improved. And if in any year the grapes of a particular variety weren’t good enough, well then he didn’t make the wine. And others followed, and people like John Hancock of Trinity came along and you know, kept the thing up. Alwyn Corban, Alan Limmer – winemakers like that who all were involved, not only in the local Hawke’s Bay Vintners but they became involved in the Hawke’s Bay … in the New Zealand wine industry and served their time on the Council of that body. And now of course it’s a highly professional organisation. It changed its name and incorporated the wine growers as well as the wine makers into a new organisation called Hawke’s Bay Winegrowers, and they have an office staff and people in the field. And all the wineries are obviously levied to fund this organisation.

I remember way back in the early days with wine my father always used to keep a case of Von Seidler’s Madeira in the hot water cupboard.

Did he? Well von Seidler came from Gisborne, and I met the man once – he was a quaint old fellow. He certainly had a following, and I mean the person that really put Gisborne on the map was the Gewürztraminer man, Denis Irwin, and he made some wonderful Gewürztraminer wine. I think his father actually had planted the grapes, and Denis decided he was going to make some good wine and he did. I remember hosting the International President … International Wine & Food Society President … in my home and I thought once, ‘what am I going to give him to drink?’ And I gave him some of Denis’s Gewürztraminer, and he was astounded that wine of that quality was produced in New Zealand without him knowing about it.

That’s very, very interesting – it’s great to get the history of Hawke’s Bay and what happened in the early days.

Yes. Ian Clark, who still has some – he originally, with Tony Marinkovich, had a wine and spirit business in Napier and then he later went out to run the Mission Winery – he had a piece of paper that I would love to get my hands on, that was something that told you the essential qualities for growing good grapes, and there are twenty things that were documented as being the essential part of an area that grew good grapes. And there were two places in the world only that had the same qualities, and they were Bordeaux in France and Hawke’s Bay in New Zealand. Some other places had you know, most of them, but they were the only two places that had the same qualities. And they were things like heat summation days – well, I mean that’s a common thing, but it was soil types, the number of rainy days six weeks before vintage, and all sorts of things like that. You know, that particular thing gave the grapes a boost in size. Soil types, and another one was the proximity to a large body of water, whether it be a sea, a river or a lake. Yeah, all of those things were most interesting.

Ian Clark was a real knowledgeable guy on the winery, and then he went to work for George Fistonich and he’s still there.

He’s still there in some capacity. Yes he is.

Well, that is a story that you’ve given us.

There’s probably lots more, Jim. Off the cuff you know, you can’t think of them.

But on behalf of the Knowledge Bank thank you very much indeed. As I said before, it’s a good story and well worth while recording.

Okay, well thank you for giving me the opportunity.

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Interviewer:  Jim Newbigin


  • Ash Oldershaw

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