W. N. Irwin (Bill) is born in Gisborne. Considered the father of modern viticulture in New Zealand, it was his drive and enthusiasm that led to the importation of new grape varieties from Europe and America into New Zealand from 1969-1970.
Bill purchases the land at Riverpoint Road at a time when people either raised livestock or grew maize on the Poverty Bay flats.
The vineyards supply contract grapes for the local wineries. As a bookseller with no horticultural background, people laughed at Bill all the time, but the clones propagated by Matawhero were taken up by most NZ vineyards to form the basis of the emerging industry.
To gain overseas experience Denis worked in wineries in South Africa and Germany. In Germany he worked at the Breisack winery on the Alsace-German border.
Denis returns to New Zealand determined and inspired to establish a winery run on similar lines as the family wineries he had worked in overseas.
The first wines are produced under the Matawhero label. The label features the image of the Matawhero Church, the district’s oldest confirmed building. The building started its life as a school room and it was of the few buildings to survive the Maori and European conflict in the area in the 1860s.
Matawhero first gained international recognition at the World Wine Show in Paris where it achieved overall fourth place for the 1976 Gewürztraminer.
On her visit to New Zealand, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II is served the 1976 Matawhero Traminer Riesling at a dinner in her honour at the Prime Minister’s residence, Vogel House in Wellington.
The 1978 Matawhero Gewürztraminer is awarded a Gold Medal at the NZ National Wine Competition.
By now Matawhero is also developing a considerable reputation internationally for their wines with the following accolades; 1980 Chardonnay, sixth place in a New York showing of New World Chardonnays and wins Gold at the NZ Easter Show; Gold Medal at the NZ National Wine Competition for the 1981 Traminer Riesling; The 1982 Chardonnay achieved 8 out of 100 in a wine show in New York; The 1981 Matawhero Gewürztraminer is awarded a Gold Medal at the NZ Easter Show; Gold medal at the NZ National Wine Competition for the 1982 Traminer Riesling; Gold medal for the 1983 Matawhero Merlot at the NZ National Wine Competition and The Matawhero 1980 Chardonnay is awarded 9th position out of 80 Chardonnays tasted in the English wine magazine “Decanter” wine tasting.
1979 – 1984
Swiss born winemaker Hatch Kalberer joins the winemaking team at Matawhero.
Mr Denis Irwin receives a royal telegram from the Queen thanking him for the wine he sent to Buckingham Palace after her visit to New Zealand in 1978, “Her Majesty much looks forward to sampling and enjoying the wine”.
W.N Irwin passes away in May. The 2.5 hectare Bridge Estate vineyard was established in memory of Bill.
Cyclone Bola causes devastation in the Gisborne/East Coast region. Matawhero fortunately survives the brunt, however the crops for this year are down 50% and they decide only the best fruit will go into the Matawhero label.
“Matawhero Magic” or the Matawhero Rose is launched by well-known rose breeder Sam McGredy along with Denis. This is named in memory of his father, Bill.
The last year the Irwin’s make any wine of significant volume.
Denis sells the bottom block of the Matawhero vineyard to Montana leaving approximately 38 acres and the winery.
The Searle Family purchases the Matawhero vineyard and winery at Riverpoint Road from Denis Irwin. The vineyard needs revitalising and replanting. Denis was pleased to the see the vineyard remain as a family business rather than being swallowed up by the big boys and comments, “It was like handing over the baton. It’s great for the district”.
The first of the new release Matawhero wines are released. This heritage label now lives on……
The cellar door officially re-opens at Riverpoint Road in October. The old Matawhero Cellar Door faithfully portrays that idiomatic character the brand is so much loved for.
The Church House series of wines are released and include several new clones imported by Gisborne company Riversun. Our Church House series is a collection of small and unique parcels of wine that serve as a tribute to this historic building and is inspired by the pioneering spirit of our founders.
Our flagship “Irwin” Chardonnay is released as a tribute to the founders of Matawhero, Bill and Denis Irwin.