The Maori legend is well known: The giant Te Mata lies where he fell after choking to death on rocks he was tempted to devour. Passion was his downfall.
Te Mata was in love with Hinerakau, the beautiful daughter of a Pakipaki chief. Persuaded by her elders to seduce the warrior from Waimarama who constantly threatened their security, Hinerakau succeeded. The besotted Te Mata fell for her impossible challenge of eating a passage way through the hills from Waimarama to the Heretaunga Plains.
The mythic profile of Te Mata’s prone body is the most prominent landscape in Hawke’s Bay. Nearly within its shadow sits one of New Zealand’s finest wine producers, Te Mata Estate.
Vines were first planted on Te Mata by Bernard Chambers in 1892. He was the third son of Quaker educated Englishman, John Chambers, who arrived in Hawke’s Bay via Australia in 1854.
A lover music and literature, his wine making interests appear to have been generated as much by his desire to drink good wine as commercial considerations, although in time he succeeded admirably in that respect.
The first vines, Pinots and Black Hamburgs, were planted at the foot of the breast shaped hill at the end of Fulford Road. Today a house sits atop, and recently planted vines cover the north facing slope. Bernard Chambers named the vineyard ‘Mamelon’ the French word for nipple, revealing a risqué sense of humour. Perhaps he was also honouring the woman who encouraged him to make wine, French born Hermanze Beetham, who had visited Te Mata and considered the area eminently suitable for grape growing.
After inspecting wineries in France, California and Australia, Chambers applied his research by converting a brick stable into his cellar, and by 1898 was able to record in his diary, ‘My wine is turning out very well. I made claret and chablis and have given a lot away. I won’t begin selling for another year, until the wine is more matured.’
Within 10 years, and under the supervision of Australian winemaker J.O. Craike, Te Mata Vineyards was the largest producer in the country having expanded to 15 hectares of vines producing 55,000 litres of claret, hock and Madeira. Plantings included Meunier, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Riesling and Verdelho. Skilled workers from Europe were given the cost of their passage to work on the vineyard, and the payroll included the names Santoni, Schulz, Caccioppoli and Delavarua.
The greatest threat to Bernard Chambers’ burgeoning wine business wasn’t lack of finance, skilled labour, or weather, but a tiny aphid related insect which feeds on the root of the vine. Phylloxera, which had devastated French vineyards in the 1870’s, was widespread in New Zealand, and rapidly destroying the vines.
‘Unless existing vines were promptly replaced by American resistant stocks the vineyards of New Zealand would disappear one by one’ reported viticulture expert Romeo Bragato in 1895. He recommended the destruction of all infested vines, and the supply of phylloxera-resistant stock from government nurseries.
When in 1903 it was proposed to site a ‘state vineyard’ in Hawke’s Bay, Bernard Chambers sold 30 acres, with an option over a further 84 acres, and the Te Mata Viticultural Station was established.
S.F Anderson, who had managed Henry Tiffen’s Greenmeadows Vineyard from its inception was put in charge, and the nursery sourced vines from all over Europe to graft onto American root stock.
Even though Hawke’s Bay had escaped phylloxera, most of the old vines were uprooted at this time and replaced by the new disease resistant stock from the Government nursery at Arataki.
Bernard Chambers decade of prosperity with wine making came to an abrupt end in 1914. Winter frost destroyed over half the vines, and war was consuming Europe. ‘The vines are in a disgraceful state, unhoed under the rows, and generally neglected’, wrote Chambers in 1916. War, the prohibition movement, and cheap wines imported from Australia had combined to cripple the local industry.
In October 1917 Bernard Chambers sold his winery to merchants, Reginald Collins Limited, and 5 months later he sold the bulk of his 2000 hectare estate. He retained a 50 hectare holding across the road from the winery where he built a new house high on the slopes of Te Mata.
The winery was renmaned TMV Wines and by 1929 only 4 hectares of grapes remained. In 1945 brothers Alrick and Warren Toogood bought the business and for 30 years produced the golden elixir of Havelock imbibers. Sherry: sweet, medium or dry. On friday afternoons there was always a queue filling up flagons from the wooden barrels in the cellar.
Then in 1974, the Toogood’s sold TMV to two men with a vision of winemaking as enthusiastic as Bernhard Chambers’. Reviving the name of the lustful giant, John Buck and Michael Morris, with Peter Cowley, have climbed to the top of the viticulture peak with Te Mata Estate.