Pinot Noir From a Pioneering Winery

Matua Pinot Noir, 2014
Marlborough, New Zealand, $15.99

In the past, I’ve written about the excellent Pinot Noir being produced in New Zealand. Matua’s Pinot Noir is no exception, and it carries the added benefit of being less expensive than the other Kiwi wines I’ve mentioned.

This bright, dry wine has a full retail price of $16, but I find it regularly for much less, often as low as $10. I must say that I’m at a loss to explain the goofy hows and whys of wine pricing. I suggest you wait for the sales, and with this wine, you’ll get a great bargain.

Matua means “head of family” or “leader” in the language of the Maori people who were the early Polynesian settlers of New Zealand. Matua is an appropriate name for the winery because the founders, brothers Bill and Ross Spence, were the first producers in the country to make and sell Sauvignon Blanc commercially.

Although their first offering was only 400 bottles, the Spences turned the heads of the country’s other wine producers, and Sauvignon Blanc soon became the wine that brought the New Zealand industry to world attention.

The brothers grew up working in their father’s winery, and Bill went on to get a degree in viticulture and Ross received one in winemaking. With the financial help of their mother and grandmother, they bought a piece of land on Matua Road northwest of Auckland on the North Island in 1966.

They started by experimenting with varieties of grapes that were new to New Zealand, and after a number of failures, the Spences settled on four vines that had the greatest potential for success. Sauvignon Blanc, of course, was one of them, and they completed the first commercial planting of the grape in 1969, according to the company’s website.

New licenses to produce commercial wine were difficult to obtain in those days, but the brothers found and bought an old apple orchard with a tin shed and an alcohol license go with it. By 1974, they produced those first wines in that shed, and it changed the industry. Today, Matua is one of the largest wineries in New Zealand with extensive vineyards and production facilities, primarily in the premier wine district of Marlborough on South Island.

Although the brothers sold Matua in 2001 to Beringer-Blass Wine Estates, a large Australian firm that was part of the Foster’s (beer) Group, Ross Spence stayed on for a couple of years, and Bill Spence is still with the company in a reduced role.

Things haven’t been entirely smooth for Matua under the new ownership, but the issues seem to have been more on a corporate level than with the New Zealand winery. Because of mounting wine division losses with its cheap wines, Foster’s reduced its holdings in 2011 and renamed the group Treasury Wine Estates. Last year, TWE closed Matua’s Auckland winery and vineyards, put them up for sale and moved Matua’s operations to the Marlborough region.

Throughout the corporate turmoil, Matua, under winemakers Nikolai St. George and Greg Rowden, has continued to win top international awards for the high quality of its wines.

St. George left the company this year, and Rowden, who joined Matua in 2002, became chief winemaker. On the website, Rowden said he’s poised to move Matua forward and continue to improve the wines. I have no reason to doubt him.

The finicky Pinot Noir grape produces one of the lightest and most elegant red wines on the market. The best wines made from Pinot Noir come from cool regions, such as Burgundy. Marlborough, where the climate is well-suited to allow the grape to ripen slowly, also produces delicate wines with complex flavors of red berries that are well-suited for drinking in warm and cool weather.

Rowden sources the grapes for Matua Pinot Noir from different parts of Marlborough to give the wine balance and uses some grown in Central Otago, where the company grows its award-winning single vineyard Pinot Noir.

The grapes are soaked in cold water for three days to give the wine greater color and develop the flavor. Before bottling, Matua’s Pinot Noir is aged in lightly-charred French oak barrels for six months to compliment the fruit flavors, the tasting notes say.

The result is a wine with complex red fruit flavors with a smooth, but slightly spicy finish, St. George says in the tasting notes.

The 2014 Matua Pinot Noir is ready to drink now. The newer vintages, which will hit the market soon, can be held up to three years to improve the depth of the flavors.

I like this wine and the Matua Sauvignon Blanc a great deal. I find them particularly pleasing when I buy them on sale, but they are still a great buy at full price.

Suggestions of wines in the $10 range are always appreciated. Warren Johnston can be reached at

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