We caught up with Kirsten Searle, owner and General Manager of Matawhero Wines in Gisborne to hear more about the revitalisation of this iconic winery.
Hi Kirsten, thanks a lot for your time today. Let’s get into it!
Who started Matawhero and when?
Established in 1968 by Bill Irwin, Matawhero Wines defied convention and made wines of boutique standing and international acclaim and in doing so, changed the face of New Zealand winemaking forever.
Since its first vintage in 1975, Matawhero has produced many excellent and often adventurous wines. Following in Bill’s pioneering footsteps, son Denis imparted his own colourful style and won fame for his Gewürztraminer – everyone was drinking it, even the Queen.
Purchased by my husband, Richard and I in 2008, the 15 hectare Matawhero vineyard has now been replanted and revitalised. This revival comes from our passion to produce distinctive single-vineyard wines with the intense fruit flavours and roundness that is reflective of the unique Gisborne terroir. We wanted to truly showcase the best of our wonderful region.
Our beautiful Cellar Door is open from October to May each year and faithfully portrays that idiomatic character the brand is loved so much for. This heritage label now lives on!
What is the story behind the brand name?
Matawhero – pronounced MATA-FEAR-O – in the Maori language is a geography that sits seven kilometres west of Gisborne, on the East Coast of New Zealand, and is home to the oldest building in the district – The Matawhero Church, which graces our wine label.
For the original owners, Bill and Denis Irwin, using the Church on the wine label represented more than rich heritage. It served as a symbol for their purist approach to making wines which we continue to honour today.
Number of employees?
A small and fun team; Owner and General Manager – Kirsten, Winemaker Kim, Viticulture – Jeremy and Administration – Lauren.
What’s your signature wine?
Always a hard question! We are famous for Gewürztraminer (first vineyard in the country to plant the variety in the late 1960s), we are passionate about Gisborne Chardonnay and we love doing something a little different especially the French variety Chenin Blanc which we are quickly gaining a good reputation for with our last 3 vintages receiving Gold Medals or 5 Star ratings.
What makes your winery special?
Matawhero was Gisborne’s first boutique winery and its award-winning Gewürztraminer and Chardonnay helped establish the districts reputation for quality wines.
We are a winery with a colourful history and pedigree including the first vineyard in the country to grow Gewürztraminer and the wines have been served to the Queen on a number of occasions.
We are a uniquely Gisborne offering – our wines are exclusively Gisborne and represent sites sourced specifically to showcase the variety being grown. We pride ourselves on sourcing the best fruit we can to truly showcase the unique terroir of Gisborne.
From one family to another. Denis Irwin himself was excited to see the brand and winery passed onto a young family with drive and determination to write another chapter in the Matawhero story rather than passed on to a corporate.
What makes your region special?
Where do I start! Gisborne’s vineyards are the first to see the sun and greet the new day!
Our region is blessed with a warm climate, deep rich soils and cooling sea breezes which help retain natural acidity in our full-bodied wines. We are truly sustainable in that all our vineyards are dry-farmed (we do not require any irrigation or water to grow our grapes).
We have a set of passionate growers and winemakers who aren’t afraid to grow and make varieties that are a little different and not mainstream. At Matawhero we express these wines in our “Church House” series. These wines are small and unique parcels and include varieties like Chenin Blanc, Albariño, and Malbec.
Most memorable winemaking moment?
Receiving a Gold Medal for our new 2015 Church House Barrel Fermented Chardonnay in May. This wine is due to be released later this month. This was a special award as we made the decision 18 months ago to evolve our Chardonnay style using more new oak. We are finding more and more consumers are asking for these bigger more oaked styles and as a Gisborne winery we have the fruit weight to carry this oak component.
In 2015 we had a lovely parcel of young Mendoza Chardonnay vines from the famous Tietjen vineyard which we thought would make a special Chardonnay. Therefore to receive an accolade for this wine helps to reinforce our direction as a winery.
How is Gisborne distinct from the Hawke’s Bay?
Our soils are more fertile therefore producing more fruit-driven and textural wines. Our wines are special because they’re deliciously drinkable when young, and will also develop well with age.
Both regions are located on the coast but our vineyards tend to be planted closer to the sea than in Hawke’s Bay. With cooling afternoon sea breezes, typical of many of the world’s great wine growing regions, these breezes preserve natural acidity and tropical fruit flavours in our wines.
Maddy the black lab and Olly the rag-doll cat. Best of friends and often around to greet the wine traveller that visits our Cellar Door.
Funniest customer tasting story?
I was invited to host a wine tasting at a restaurant in Auckland where I was told that the theme was Hawaiian and that it would be good to dress up appropriately. Luckily I decided to be a little conservative and instead of wearing a grass skirt and coconut bra top went for the Hawaiian shirt and jeans look. When I arrived no one was actually dressed up! A great icebreaker……
Hot spots in your region?
Enjoy our beaches, get adventurous at the Rere rock slide or wild stingray feeding or kick back and relax amongst the vines at our winery cellar doors! Gisborne has it all and plenty to fill in a weekend away!
Our vintage parties are …
“Top secret” and lots of fun!
Thanks Kirsten, we look forward to a trip to Gizzy!