Kirsten Searle was in Ontario recently to attend Niagara’s I4C conference on behalf of her family’s New Zealand winery, Matawhero. After the Cool Climate Chardonnay conference, she headed up to Toronto to meet with her agency Noble Estates*, the LCBO and a few wine journalists like me. Matawhero’s 2014 Malborough Sauvignon Blanc is slated to appear at LCBO Vintages shelves later this year, and over a late lunch and an informal tasting at the Rosedale Diner (no corkage fees on Mondays!), Searle explained to me that she and her husband and business partner, Richard, are very excited about selling in Canada since we are to be their first international market since the Searle family bought and took over Matawhero in 2008.
Matawhero is pronounced, according to Maori tradition, “Matafero”. Or so Searle explained in her Aussie accent. She met her Kiwi husband in Europe, and they lived in London before Richard convinced her to relocate to New Zealand and join his family’s wine business. Her role quickly became to market the wines, following her business background and a job at well known NZ winery Villa Maria. While they are just beginning to consider export, the Matawhero label is widely recognized in New Zealand where it was considered a pioneering New Zealand wine in the 1970’s and 1980’s, boasting that the Queen herself drunk their Gerwürztraminer.
Their winery is on the North Island in the region of Gisborne. Again, while Gisborne is not as readily recognized among North American wine drinkers as the better known regions like Marlborough, Hawke’s Bay or even Central Otago. But Gisborne is well known in New Zealand and home to many producers. Searle explained to me that it’s a fertile are, that grows fruit as well as vines. High yields tempted growers in the past, resulting in a lot of unremarkable lower priced wines.
Just as the Searle family revitalized Matawhero, they hope to help revitalize the region, by cropping aggressively and making a higher standard product. The wines that Searle brought to I4C, their 2014 Chardonnay and 2014 Church House Barrel Fermented Chardonnay, were very much on this track and they fit in nicely with rich, but lively bottles from Niagara, France, and the Pacific Northwest, many of which were easily double the price. Both wines are being considered for the LCBO’s Vintages releases, and would retail for around $20 and $25, respectively.
The 2014 Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc that has been accepted by the LCBO is not, of course, from Gisborne but from a grower the Searle family has long connection to on the South Island. Kirsten Searle explained that they felt their first wine to market ought to be made from the grape most Canadian consumers associate with New Zealand. On tasting, I could see why this might be the right strategy. The wine was absolutely in the Marlborough tradition, only with all the characteristics of New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc (I think) people really like (passion fruit, lime leaf, a little herby bitterness, and solid line of refreshing acidity) without the things they might not care or like (cat pee). At $21.95, it should attract serious NZSB fans and make some converts too.
Stay tuned for release details…
*Full disclosure: Noble Estates is a Good Food Fighter and helps sponsor this website.