Winter is a time for work and reflection on the vineyard. The leaves are long gone, and the low winter sun reflects little warmth on the faces of those who steadily prune the vines ahead of the spring growth. Each cut is a careful contemplation of how best to shape the coming season.
Last season’s canopy is trimmed away to strike a careful balance between potential for growth, and restraint against excess production, which produces lower quality fruit.
The members of the Matakana Winegrowers Association are a varied group, with a diverse collection of wines, but all have the same challenges that winegrowers have faced for thousands of years. Place, geography and climate, are the key elements in defining any viticulture region. Elements that are adapted to, but ultimately remain out of human control.
Matakana vineyards have old, clay rich, well-structured soils on volcanic sand and silt sediments. They are dry farmed without the use of irrigation and the soils soak up rain during the wet months. They relinquish this precious moisture throughout the dry, sometimes drought prone summer. Local vineyards are predominantly on hillside sites that have low vigour. That means just enough to sustain a moderate crop and ensure the focus is always on quality.
While grapes were grown at the Seaview vineyard in Snells Beach from the 1950’s, the beginnings of the Matakana wine region as we know it began in the late 1970’s with the Vuletic brothers, Petar and Jim, and their Antipodean (and later Providence) Vineyards. Growing grapes and making wines in a style that aimed to emulate the great wines of Bordeaux. Their meticulous attention to detail and bold aspirations thrust Matakana into the consciousness of an emerging New Zealand wine market, along with other wine visionaries in Martinborough, Marlborough, and Central Otago.
The early success and recognition of those Cabernet/Merlot/Malbec based (Bordeaux styled) wines inspired a wave of vineyard expansion into Matakana. Heron’s Flight, Ransom, Brick Bay, Hyperion, Ascension and Matakana Estate. A new world of different personalities, grape growing and winemaking styles. It was the beginning of a broader sense of Matakana wine becoming something distinct and unique.
Emboldened by experience, and in a shifting wine world that encouraged diversity, the early Matakana vineyards have been joined by many more. They have all embraced the freedom to create Matakana wines as they see fit. Takatu, Coxhead Creek, Ti Point, Greve, Mahurangi River, Omaha Bay Vineyard, Gillman, Saltings, Matavino, Runner Duck, Hawk’s Nest, The Gabion, Merry Fields, Sculptureum, Contour Estate and Nola, have all have brought unique interpretations to the definition of Matakana wine.
Matakana now has one of the most diverse mixes of grape varieties in the country. There are now 28 different French, Italian, Spanish, even Austrian varieties, comprising of 11 whites and 17 reds.
The regional growth of tourism has allowed many vineyards to build wine as an integral part of the local tourist experience. Winery cellar doors and restaurants highlight their vineyards wines and provide stunning venues for weddings, conferences, and concerts. In a modern Matakana take on wine, location, art and culture has intertwined. The region has vineyards as the integral component for world class sculpture installations.
As the wines of Matakana are constantly evolving and better reflecting their sense of place, climate and community, there may be time for reflection on the vineyard in winter, hope for the season ahead even, but no escaping the next cane that needs to be cut.