The wheel of fortune came full circle for Matua Valley Wines this year when their 2011 Single Vineyard Marlborough Chardonnay was named the Top Chardonnay, and then Champion Wine of the Diamond Jubilee Royal Easter Show and; chief winemaker Nikolai St George was awarded the Royal Agricultural Society Gold Medal as New Zealand Winemaker of the year.
It was the latest pinnacle reached by Matua, said to be New Zealand’s most acclaimed wine company internationally, in the last year and could have only been more fitting if it had come in 2015, 40 years since Matua won their first Gold medal at the 1975 Royal Easter Show. As it is, it comes exactly 40 years since Ross Spence, with wife Adrienne, and his brother Bill founded the original vineyard and winery.
The win capped off an incredible 12 months during which the same wine won the New Zealand Reserve Wine of Show and the New Zealand Champion Chardonnay, at the 2012 Air New Zealand Wine Awards and Matua was named New Zealand Wine Producer of the Year at the International Wines and Spirits Competition in London. In all, at the time of writing, Matua has won 102 awards with 10 trophies and 17 gold medals in the last 12 months.
These are astounding accolades for the winery that first introduced New Zealand to Sauvignon Blanc, the varietal that has done more than any other wine, to put New Zealand at the forefront of world wine producers.
World-class is a status quite unimaginable to most, in those far off days when New Zealand wine was largely dismissed. Unimaginable that is, to all but a small group of tenacious believers like self-proclaimed “Westie” Ross Spence, who had a vision that they could put New Zealand wines on top of the world.
Ross was introduced to Sauvignon while studying in California. On his return to New Zealand he bought a block of land, planted grapes, and was invited by Sir George Fistonich to work with him to develop Villa Maria. Six years later in 1973, he and Adrienne set up Matua Valley and the following year invited his younger brother, Bill, to join the company.
In 1974 they produced their first Sauvignon Blanc, from cuttings taken from the Te Kauwhata Research Station vineyard.
Ross Spence is now retired from Matua Valley – but keeps in touch with the industry as a board member of Sileni Estates. He was also a member of The Trusts commercial board.
In his place as chief winemaker is Nikolai St George whose talent and ability already ranks him among the great winemakers. Nikolai grew up in the King Country and later studied winemaking and viticulture at Charles Sturt University in Australia. He was been responsible for more than 20 highly successful vintages for different vineyards.
Transferring his talents to Matua he has continued both its reputation for excellence and his own, to the extent that he now ranks as this country’s top winemaker and through the recent award in London, his name is acknowledged around the world. It is a heady mixture that bodes well for the future.
Matua, meanwhile, has become part of Treasury Wine Estates with vineyards in Gisborne, Marlborough and Central Otago and a wide range of internationally renowned wines that help keep New Zealand at the forefront of world wine opinion. But the historic and spiritual heart of the business remains where it started, in West Auckland’s Matua Valley, Waimauku.