Today we welcome a rendezvous with winemaker Greg Rowdon, Chief Winemaker at Matua in New Zealand.
When I get the opportunity to work with winemakers, either writing about them or visiting them, I’m always drawn to their balance of creativity and heritage. Creativity, to me, has always held the highest esteem in terms of good-life components. It is the key to playtime, to refreshment, to intellectual and emotional nourishment. Creative work mimics play and is the ultimate in reward. Following bliss. They must have, the winemakers, followed some thread of bliss in order to provide the services they do today.
And in turn I consider that their field of creativity could potentially be limited by heritage, by the rules, by what went before and what worked before. What promise of faithfulness do they have to the land? What about history, family, the others that have made wine before them? How do winemakers take both creativity and heritage in the same mixing bowl and come out with the offering of something as expressive and distinct as wine?
Matua Wine: New Zealand in a Bottle
in 1966 Bill and Ross Spence, sons of a winemaker, worked with family members to purchase land that would later become the Matua wine vineyards. In less than 10 years, they’d released their first vintage, including Sauvignon Blanc. While these days, the varietal practically screams New Zealand, Matua was the first to produce it. Over the next several decades, Matua expanded into vineyards throughout the country, with properties in Hawke’s Bay, Marlborough, and Central Otago.
Ta Moko: A Visual & Cultural Symbol of Matua
The philosophy around Matua aligns with a Maori cultural symbol called a Ta Moko. Traditionally, the symbol is worn on the face in the form of a tattoo, and Matua wears thier Ta Moko on their wines and correspondence. I find the cultural meaning of the parts of their Ta Moko to be a pure and dedicated expression to the balance of creativity and heritage. Follow along to learn about each part, in the word of the estate:
The top knot symbolises Matua’s leadership as the first producer of Sauvignon Blanc in New Zealand.
The forehead symbolises knowledge and Matua’s innovative, pioneering spirit.
The Ta Moko from the eyes to the nose represent hapu or family rank. In our Matua story, these lines signify the Spence brothers and their position of respect amongst the Matua family and local community.
The area on the cheeks below the nose represents respect – in our case, respect for our incredible country, its landscape and our vineyards.
The tongue is a symbol of determination, our determination to make wine that people love to drink, and that takes the world by storm.
Greg Rowdon: Chief Winemaker
Imagine a young Greg, still in high school. He writes a letter to the Matua winemaking team asking for advice: how to become a winemaker? He gets a response with a few tips, stays on course. He earns his Bachelor of Science at the University of Auckland and continues forth with his education towards a Masters in Science degree majoring in winemaking.
In 2002, for the second time, he reaches out to Matua with his enthusiasm and this time he’s offered a job as a cellar hand. While working in the Matua cellars he also works academically to craft his thesis on the evolution of volatile aromatics during micro-oxygenation. (He claims this isn’t the most glamorous topic,but say the words volatile aromatics around most of the wine writers I know, and you might get a big kiss.) During this time his experience and expertise expands with his position: Cellar Hand/Assistant Winemaker to Auckland Site Winemaker to Marlborough Senior Winemaker and then, in 2016, Chief Winemaker…the role he holds today.
L’occasion readers have helped me craft some of the questions that Greg so kindly answers for us as we consider his background, environment and the dedication he illustrates to winemaking in New Zealand.
How did you get into wine making?
I enjoyed science at school but wasn’t overly thrilled at the prospect of a desk job. Winemaking offered that fusion of science and art with a hands on component that really appealed to me. And fundamentally I just love making and drinking wine.
Which one of your wines was the most difficult to craft and what did you learn from the experience?
The Matua Lands & Legends Pinot Noir is notoriously difficult wine to make, at any stage during the winemaking process it has the propensity to go from hero to zero at the drop of a hat. I have learned that you need to be very gentle, hence we hand pick, use a vibrating de-stemmer (Pellenc) for processing and avoid using pumps. We also use pulse air for colour and flavor extraction, which uses large bubbles of Nitrogen gas to manage the cap during ferment. We have found the removal of hand plunging the cap has resulted in a more gentle extraction of tannin and delivers a silky texture to the palate of our Pinots.
What are you most concerned about in your area? Water scarcity, soil erosion, pests…etc…
With New Zealand having a higher rainfall than many other wine growing regions there is the risk of being exposed to grapevine diseases such as Botrytis. It has less of an impact the further South you head i.e. Marlborough or Central Otago but still warrants keeping a constant eye on the rain radar through vintage.
What are your challenges making the new vintage?
Keeping up with demand, it feels like we have barely had time to catch our breath post vintage before needing to get the Sauvignon Blancs blended and ready for bottle.
Which vintage (yours or another vintner’s) will you drink over dinner?
Out of NZ, anything from 2013, absolutely stellar vintage. In particular, The 2013 Matua Lands & Legends Pinot Noir is drinking very well.
When you aren’t drinking your own bottles, what do you drink as your go-to, everyday drinking wine?
I’m a Chardonnay fiend and at the moment I have been consuming more than my fair share of Devil’s Lair Chardonnay from Margaret River in Western Australia. Very good wine.
What wine region inspires you?
Central Otago has huge potential and not just for Pinot Noir. The diverse topography and climatic extremes make for some wonderfully complex wine styles.
Is there someone that works on your estate that you’d like to highlight, thank, gush about?
Our General Manager, Richard Gardner, he provides all the resources we need and then just lets us get on with it. In an industry that can be difficult to justify capital expenditure yet Richard makes it so much easier to make really good wine.
Can you recommend a wine book?
Wine Dogs New Zealand, not a wine book per se but always interesting to get an insight into the lives of NZ winemakers and winery owners.
At Home with Matua
Creativity takes form in our kitchen and truly some of our greatest memories are of preparing and sharing a meal together. My husband made a tender and vibrant Tilapia Vesuvio with the 2015 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc. He dressed potatoes for the oven in olive oil and garlic and grilled then lightly roasted the fish with the potatoes before serving them with the wine and garlic sauce. Cooking with Sauvignon Blanc is one of my husband’s best tricks and we were taken into this meal, and the wine as its partner.
Tasting notes: Mirror-clear, crisp to the tongue, lightly tropical. Fresh and balanced, acidity-aware and food-friendly.
Matua offers a list of recipes to pair with their wines, and it’s my hope that we can do a second round for a fall or winter meal. Visit their blog to learn about their range of wines, history, winemaking team and more.
2016 and Beyond
“Vintage 2016 is now all wrapped up in New Zealand with an array of highlights across all varieties for Matua. Our winemaking team recently held our classification tasting to see how each of our wines are faring, and we are thrilled to report that we achieved a perfect balance of a high yielding vintage coupled with fruit quality that has exceeded our expectations,” ~ Greg Rowdon
Thank you to Greg for providing L’occasion this opportunity to rendezvous and for making wine that inspires our family to be creative and bask in heritage.
Marlborough, New Zealand
+64 9411 5501