Hero photograph
Br. Stuart (John) Cuttance
Photo by Mission Estate Winery

Profile: Brother Stuart (John) Cuttance SM 1941 - 1945

Jacqui Anderson/Br Stuart Cuttance/Paul Mooney —

A St Bede's Old Boy with a remarkable life

Brother John, or Stuart Cuttance as he was known while a student at St Bede's, was here from 1941 - 1945, gaining a place in the Second XV(back row, last on the right) and his Higher School Certificate. He was a Day Boy, who biked from Spreydon to school every day, a round trip of about 18 Kilometres.

Image by: SBC

After he left school, he went on to study at the College of Pharmacy in Wellington, before coming back and working in Christchurch. In 1954 he entered the Novitiate of the Society of Mary to become a Brother, with his first posting at the Mission Estate Winery, New Zealand's oldest winery, with a starting date of 1851.

Br. Stuart (John) Cuttance SM — Image by: Mission Estate Winery

While at the Winery, he worked in the Cellars with Brother Basil Watt who was the chief wine maker at the time. While working at the Winery, he was granted a scholarship and travelled to France for a year, to different vineyards mainly in the Bordeaux region learning the French art of making wine. 

The French Oenolists called these Tomes "The Bible"  — Image by: Mission Estate Winery

On his return from France, with his Tomes, or "The Bible", 2700 pages of the most erudite treatise on winemaking at the time, (shown above) he took over the wine making at the Winery. He first started experiments in 1961 to make a bottle of fermented sparkling wine. The first wine was sold as Fontanella. The Rector of the Mission at the time, Fr. Kelly S.M. quipped the name when he first saw the wine: “ Fontanella, it reminds me of the little fountains I saw in Rome.” A conscious decision was made not to call the wine “Champagne”. It was first released in February 1963, sold for 21 shillings and sixpence a bottle and limited to one bottle per customer as the production was limited.

It was the first true Method Traditional wine to be made in New Zealand and was a tribute to Br. Stuart’s resourcefulness.

In those days the equipment required to produce sparkling wine in this traditional way as used in Champagne was not available in New Zealand. Br Stuart had to get some of the equipment specially made from scratch by local engineering companies.

Today, the modern equipment mechanises the process. For Br Stuart it was quite a labour intensive process done by hand to make the wine.

Luckily for Br Stuart the correct Champagne variety to make the Fontanella with Pinot Meunier was grown at Taradale. These grapes were planted by the fathers in the early 20th Century.

The wine was highly successful and Br Stuart was Mission Estate's chief wine maker for the next 15 years during which time he mentored their current wine-maker Paul Mooney (who has contributed information for this article). Br Stuart is still very respected by people who were the leaders of the New Zealand wine industry in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s for his contribution to the local wine industry.

Br. Stuart (John) Cuttance SM — Image by: Mission Estate Winery

From 1982 - 1988, Brother Stuart returned to St Bede's as a teacher, (known as Brother John Cuttance SM) teaching Agriculture, Science and Religious Education. He also coached basketball and cricket teams.

After teaching at St Bede's, Brother Stuart went on to teach at Chanel College in Samoa. Chanel started as an all-boys Boarding school, then became Boarding and Day Boys' school and then in 1992, became co-educational. Brother Stuart taught there for 5 years.

After 5 years in Samoa, he came back to New Zealand, to Blenheim where he contributed to the Parish outreach. From there he was appointed to Wellington, where he became involved with the Wellington Activities Centre, a place for troubled youth. He said "it was about gaining the trust of the Youths to be able to help them". The next step in his career was to Wairoa where he lived for 17 years and worked for 9 years with SPELD, an organisation helping people with Dyslexia .

By now, at what should have been well into his retirement, Brother Stuart returned to Napier and worked with Aged Concern, visiting elderly who were alone and wouldn't leave their homes. His role was to spend time with them in their homes and help them to get back into society.

Brother Stuart retired in Napier two years ago at the grand age of 92. Although he has now retired, he is still a busy man, a man who continues to inspire people.