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Te Mata Estate – Setting the Standard

By May 23, 2017No Comments
For as long as I’ve been in the wine industry, I’ve had Te Mata Estate as my benchmark. I started buying Te Mata Estate wines before they became icons, my first purchases included gems such as the ‘Chalino’, Rosé and Furmint. I missed out on the 1980 Cabernet Sauvignon, but got my allocation of Cabernet Sauvignon 1981. From then on, I’ve had every vintage of ‘Coleraine’ the Buck family have made, from the inaugural 1982 to the current 2015, and participated in various vertical tastings of the wine since then.

Te Mata Estate was the standard by which every other wine producer could be judged against, as the full range of styles has always been impeccable. In the earlier days, Hawke’s Bay was the scene of New Zealand’s quality wine, so it was very apt to have Te Mata Estate as the point of reference. Even when other regions developed, and Marlborough grew larger, and other varietals such as Pinot Noir became important, one could understand the state of the New Zealand wine industry by how Te Mata Estate behaved or reacted to influences, whether internal, or international. To this day, Te Mata Estate is my go-to if I need to get a handle on what’s going on in a global context. www.temata.co.nz

The Te Mata Estate ‘Brains Trust’
Phil Brodie, Toby Buck, John Buck, Peter Cowley, Larry Morgans, Nicholas Buck
Visiting Te Mata Estate and the State of the Nation
Any visit to Hawke’s Bay is incomplete if one does not go to Te Mata Estate. The Buck and Morris family ownership is now in its second generation, with the Bucks running the business day to day. John and Wendy’s son Nicholas is the CEO, Jonathan is in the vineyards and Toby tends to sales and marketing. The administration staff play vital roles, but my partner Sue and I have gotten to know winemakers Peter Cowley and Phil Brodie pretty well, and of course Larry Morgans who oversees the vineyards, during our contact with each other over the many years. So it was an honour to catch up with John, Nicholas and Toby Buck, Peter, Phil and Larry all in one room. There we discussed the state of the nation!

One of the main issues was the image of the 2017 vintage in Hawke’s Bay. The vintage is unfairly maligned. Their thoughts and conclusions were similar to most of the other informed opinion we garnered around the district. The white varieties had generally achieved good ripeness when the weather forced people’s hands to pick, maybe a little early for some varieties. But high quality fruit was harvested, except for Viognier at Te Mata, where there will be no 2017 wine. The Syrah variety was the red most compromised by the rain, and to an extent Merlot was too. Growers with larger crops for commercial wines were most hard hit, but those aiming for quality with lower yields giving earlier ripening fared considerably better.

A major factor in Te Mata’s relative success is their spread of vineyards in the Hawke’s Bay Region which offers a degree of insurance against total crop failure. Te Mata draws from sites in the Havelock district near the winery, as well as from the Bridge Pa Triangle, where the ‘Bullnose’ and ‘Isosceles’ vineyards are, and the large ‘Woodthorpe Terraces’ vineyard overlooking the Tutaekuri river.

Tasting a Range of 2017 Barrel Samples
It is very rare for visitors to taste out of barrel at Te Mata Estate, as most people except winemakers can’t appreciate the samples. I must admit that I still don’t see all that’s going on with newly fermented wine, whether in tank or barrel. However, Sue and I were treated to this experience – the first time in all my visits to Te Mata. (We may get hunted down, as they may need to kill us for getting this inside knowledge!) I was impressed with what Peter drew from the barrels. Peter was quite chuffed with the wine in barrel, and the foremost question he and his team will be pondering is whether to make a ‘Coleraine’ this year. Certainly there was fruit of the required standard, but there was not much of it. Here are my notes on the wines tasted.

The Whites
We started off with what will be the ‘Estate’ Sauvignon Blanc, the wine just bottled, followed by components for ‘Cape Crest’, and just one sample of Chardonnay, as the variety was going through malolactic fermentation.

‘Estate’ Hawke’s Bay Sauvignon Blanc 2017
This had just been bottled. Pale coloured, the nose is very fine and elegant with fresh, ripe gooseberry and passionfruit aromas, along with notes of tropical fruits. Lovely freshness on the palate, citrus fruits and herbs, and a very fine textural thread. Clean, clear and mouthwatering, the acidity softer than expected. Already very drinkable.

‘Bullnose’ Sauvignon Blanc 2017 Barrel Sample
From a 2014 barrel. Fresh with good penetration on the nose. Lively, bright and refreshing, on palate with good depth of fruit and ripeness for interest. Excellent acid cut. This will be a good backbone.

‘Bullnose’ Sauvignon Gris 2017 Barrel Sample
From a 2015 barrel. Lovely white floral and herbal lift, the aromatics the feature. On palate similar to aromas, but softer in texture and possessing a gentle richness. The floral component carries through the palate.

‘Bullnose’ Semillon 2017 Barrel Sample
From a 2015 barrel. Fruit showing good ripeness, stonefruits rather than herbaceousness. On palate this is rounded with an oiliness to the mouthfeel. The fruit flavours somewhat restrained, but this has weight and presence. Softer acidity.

‘1892 Vineyard’ Havelock Chardonnay 2017 Barrel Sample
Mendoza fruit in second use barrel, undergoing MLF, but considered of particular interest, especially by Phil. Bold aromas of toasty oak and gunflinty reduction. But on palate showing citrussy fruit balanced with the toasty oak, the funky reductive elements quite in the background. Crisp and refreshing, very vibrant.

Peter Cowley, Te Mata Estate, drawing barrel samples

The Reds
With the reds, Peter showed us samples of the Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon. Unfortunately we ran out of time to investigate the Syrah, which would have been particularly interesting. Judged on what else we saw, it would have been pretty smart, all things considered. So the question is: will there be a ‘Bullnose’ or not from 2017? We await with anticipation.

‘Bullnose’ Merlot 2017 Barrel Sample
From a 2013 barrel. Very attractive, soft, fragrant ripe plum aromas. Soft and light on palate, but with goof fruit ripeness. Lovely aromatic floral lift, unfolding tobacco elements.

‘Bullnose’ ‘1990 Vines’ Merlot 2017 Barrel Sample
From a 2015 barrel. Good depth, with ripe, dark plum aromas. On palate quite sweetly rich with very fine-grained, ripe tannins. This has good acidity. The wine builds to form a firm core. This is potentially ‘Awatea’ material.

Havelock Merlot 2017 Barrel Sample
From a new barrel. Tight, with a combination of florals red fruits and spices. Richness features on the palate, with lively, refreshing mouthfeel. But quite concentrated and deep, with fine-grained tannins. The oaking is apparent on the finish.

‘Woodthorpe’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Barrel Sample
From a 2014 barrel. Soft, gentle blackcurrant fruit, no harshness or stalkiness at all. More in the curranty spectrum, a tad on the cool side, but no leafiness. Crisp acidity and fine-grained tannins make this complete. A possible candidate to go into ‘Awatea’.

Havelock ‘350 Vineyard’ Cabernet Sauvignon 2017 Barrel Sample
From a new barrel. Firm and tightly bound, classical blackcurrant and cassis varietal aromas. The oak not intrusive at all. Real intensity, depth and concentration. The extraction is considerable and fine-grained, making this a very serious blending component.

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