Meet the Winemaker: Matahiwi Estate

Matahiwi Estate is a family-owned winery in the Wairarapa that produces award-winning Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris and Sauvignon Blanc. 

Miles Deenan, Matahiwi Estate’s winemaker, has been in the wine industry since 1996. 

“I come from a farming background in Puketitiri, Hawkes Bay, and after travelling, I caught the wine bug doing my first vintage in 1996,” he said. 

“Growing up in Hawkes Bay, there was always wine around; the first wine that distinctly impressed me was an oaked Chardonnay from Eskdale winegrowers in the early 80s. Still love a good barrel of Hawkes Bay Chardonnay.” 

Deenan was persuaded to try winemaking by someone from the industry he met at a party who predicted it would be a good fit, combining his love of agriculture and drinking. After knocking on a few doors, Deenan was taken in by Evan Ward at Corbans as a harvest cellar hand. 

Matahiwi Estate was founded and is still owned by Alastair Scott. The vineyard was planted in the late 1990s, and the state of the art winery opened for vintage 2004. 

Matahiwi Estate is situated on a free-draining, raised gravel ridge not far from where the Ruamahunga River debouches from the Tararua foothills. The site is in a rain shadow, protected by the Tararuas to the west and Mount Bruce to the north. 

“In the growing season, this is a classic cool, dry environment which is ideal for the varieties we grow: Pinot Noir, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay and Pinot Gris. 

“We typically get clean fruit that combines ripe flavours with great aromatic and structural freshness. The character of your wine will always end up reflecting where the grapes are grown, so it’s best to let it do the talking. As a winemaker, my first job is to capture this in a bottle.”

Winemaking is an ancient activity that hasn’t really changed beyond replacing human and animal labour with machines. 

“What is unique to every winery is their particular combination of people, technology and of course, the vineyard,” said Deenan. 

Matahiwi Estate is part of Sustainable Winegrowing New Zealand, which encourages constant improvements and efficiencies across all processes. 

“Recent projects include biodiversity plantings alongside vineyard waterways, making compost, changing our under-vine management, reducing winery power use through adopting more efficient methods,” explained Deenan. 

In 2020, New Zealand went into alert level 4 in the middle of Matahiwi’s harvest season. Luckily, the most recent lockdown hasn’t affected the winery too much. 

“We basically went through the same Covid protocols we had in place to keep things moving towards the 2022 growing season,” said Fleur Nicol, the sales and marketing manager. 

Export markets are in a different position to what they were last year, as most are getting back to ‘normal’, said Nicol. 

Throughout level 3, Matahiwi focused on these markets but welcomed back its local customers in level 2. 

The growth in online shopping and direct to consumer sales has benefited the winery greatly, Deenan added.

New Zealand is doing incredibly well in the global wine market and has achieved a great reputation with high average prices, said Deenan. 

“Given our very high cost of production and relatively low yields, the challenge for New Zealand winemakers going forward is to sell the wine for more to achieve sustainable margins.

“Marketing to the luxury end of the market by emphasising the quality and scarcity of our wines is something we could aspire to and has worked well for regions such as Champagne, Burgundy and Napa Valley.” 

For Deenan, a great wine tastes of its place and varieties and has the concentration to evolve positively and taste amazing. He advised young viticulturists to travel and work with a range of people before taking what they like and focusing on a project that makes them happy. 

“Oh, and don’t spill it!” He laughed.