Every wine region needs a hero – a high-flying winery that sets a standard for others to follow, a trail-blazer that shows what can be achieved. Te Mata became Hawke’s Bay’s Hero at about the same time Peter Cowley was hired as their sole winemaker in 1984.
Two years earlier, Te Mata had released the first vintage of Coleraine, a blend of red Bordeaux varieties that stunned the wine community. Few believed it was possible to make a wine of such stature in a country many have labelled as “suitable for white wines only”. The company proved 1982 Coleraine was no fluke by making a wine that was at least as good the following year. Cowley faced the challenge of building on that early success and maintaining a position ahead of the many other labels that would soon follow Coleraine’s lead.
Today Coleraine has cemented its status as New Zealand’s most iconic wine. It’s a “must have” wine for every serious wine cellar and is one of the most traded items on the secondary wine market. A complete set of 32 vintages recently fetched NZD$19,000 at a charity auction which must surely set a national record. Coleraine has set a standard against which all wines of a similar style are judged. I recently tasted two full verticals of Coleraine with 32 wines in each. Collectively, the wines were magnificent. They clearly demonstrated an ability to age well, building great complexity and retaining primary fruit flavours while gaining positive bottle development.
This Special Lifetime Achievement Award recognises Cowley’s significant contribution to Hawke’s Bay, and to New Zealand wine in general. Te Mata Coleraine is clearly the most distinguished wine Cowley has made but Te Mata Bullnose Syrah was one of Hawke’s Bay’s earlier examples that almost certainly inspired others to plant the variety. Te Mata Elston Chardonnay, now approaching its 35th vintage, demonstrates Cowley’s talents were not confined to red wine.
Cowley’s career as a winemaker was sparked at high school during part-time work washing dishes at an Auckland restaurant. A wine waiter at the restaurant shared his enthusiasm and leftover wine at the end of each shift. Cowley began to read about wine and hunted around for new labels to satisfy his thirst for knowledge. He completed a Bachelor of Science (Chemistry) degree at Auckland University and then the Graduate Diploma in Wine from Roseworthy College, near Adelaide. He was awarded the inaugural Hazelgrove Scholarship which involved microbiology research projects at the Australian Wine Research Institute. After a vintage at the Rouge Homme Winery in Coonawarra, under John Vickery, Cowley returned to New Zealand.
He has enjoyed a distinguished career as a wine judge at the Air New Zealand Wine Awards, The Sydney International Wine Competition, The Australian Cool Climate Wine Show and as co-chairperson at the New Zealand International Wine Show since its inception in 2005.
Text by Bob Campbell MW
Photography courtesy of Te Mata Estate