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Te Mata Estate Winery Ltd
John Buck entered winegrowing through the front door of marketing. After studying accounting at Victoria University for a BCom, he immersed himself in all facets of the wine trade for the next decade of his career – first at Hughes & Cossar in Khyber Pass, Auckland in 1962 before he was apprenticed until 1965 at Stowells of Chelsea in London (the wine division of Whitbread), rotating through different mentors including Masters of Wine courses and most of a year in France. On returning to New Zealand in 1966 he was in partnership with Graham Kerr in wine and food promotion in Wellington for nearly three years, before starting Avalon Wines and Spirits with two friends. Contemporaneously, he owned two wine shops, one jointly with a friend.
From the beginning of his commercial ventures, John’s accountant and friend Michael Morris has been involved. Michael and his wife June became minority shareholders with John and Wendy Buck when an agreement was signed to purchase Te Mata Vineyards in 1974 with possession of the winery in 1978. Sale of the Buck wine shops provided the capital to get the new commercial venture under way, after which John worked for Douglas Myers who was setting up New Zealand Wines and Spirits in Auckland. He commuted from Havelock North until 1980 when he worked full time in the Te Mata Wine Estate. Vineyards were renovated, the buildings put on the triage table – the sound ones rebuilt, the others demolished.
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Hawke’s Bay had not been John Buck’s sole focus in the search for a vineyard site. He ‘flirted’, as he says, with Auckland, where his friends Bill and Ross Spence live, even looked at Waiheke Island, and had several visits to the emerging Marlborough region but decided that ‘for the style of wine I was interested in, it was clearly too cool’ – an assumption that has been proven to be correct. His interests lie in the Bordeaux blends and Chardonnay, a coming together of the two most renowned still wine regions of France – Bordeaux and Burgundy.
Te Mata branded their two Bordeaux blends Coleraine and Awatea. Both were first made in 1982 and sold in 1984. Initially they were both single-vineyard wines, but as their new vineyards – Bullnose in the Ngatarawa Triangle and Woodthorpe on the terraces of the Tutaekuri (Figure 6.7) – came into production they have selected their fruit more widely. Elston, their premium Chardonnay, was first made in 1985.
Bullnose was bought in 1988, with the first crop in 1992, and Woodthorpe in 1993, with the first crop in 1997. Each has a different shareholding. Capital from Wendy’s family is involved in Woodthorpe, although it was refinanced in the early twenty-first century. The name Bullnose is linked to the surnames of two of the vineyard’s main shareholders, Michael Morris and skilled winemaker Peter Cowley – a car produced by the English company Morris Cowley was nicknamed ‘Bullnose’ due to its distinctive radiator. Te Mata has also sold grapes from the Woodthorpe vineyards to Montana.